Divine Reserve 18 Is the Biggest Beer Saint Arnold Has Ever Made
Saint Arnold’s latest Divine Reserve (#18) is an Imperial Stout, checking in at a beefy 13.4% ABV. It’s a malty beast, boasting 4 times the volume of grain as a Lawnmower. Plus it’s the biggest beer in terms of ABV Saint Arnold has ever made, and it was fermented using the same yeast strain used for the standard everyday brews like Amber Ale and Ale Wagger. If that’s not enough, it was aged on vanilla beans. This beer is a technical achievement – but how does it taste?
DR18 pours an inky black, with a very narrow ring of foam from the initial pour. This is black hole dark – I think it might actually be absorbing light. The aroma is a little figgy with dried fruit (prune and raisin), but it’s decidedly sweet with smells of toasted sugar and dark chocolate. Alcohol is definitely notable. As it warms in the glass the vanilla starts to bloom out.
The flavor hits hard with the dark roasted malts, tons and tons of plum and more raisin, a slight alcohol burn and something akin to the astringency of the peel of a stone fruit and the striking bitterness of a nibble of baking chocolate. Some Belgian-like yeast esters are behind all this I think, not so much earthy and peppery as stone fruit and green apple – but just a hint of that latter. I get the vanilla quite a bit more as I breathe out through my nose between sips – but in the beer itself it’s a flavor component and not a dominating element. The alcohol comes and it goes rather than just heating up the entire experience, which is pretty amazing considering the ABV. As it warms it gets decidedly better. The chocolate/roasted malt flavors really pick up, and the beer really rounds out at just above room temp, as it gets warmer the alcohol just takes over. Those magical moments at just the right temperature are really something special – all of the fruitness, a deep, rich dark malt experience and just a hint of vanilla – but they don’t last long!
My overall impression of this beer is mixed. Admittedly, whenever I drink a massive American imperial stout I can’t help but think of Deschutes Abyss and Avery Czar, which are my personal hallmarks. With that in mind, I want a little more dark roastiness than this beer gives me through the entire experience. The vanilla does a heck of a job of helping this beer wring as much of the ‘house’ character out of the Saint Arnold yeast as must be possible.
I am left wondering if all this fruitiness and heat are going to meld together into a greater whole as this beer ages and the vanilla falls away. Maybe in 6-12 months this beer will bring these big flavors together and deliver that transcendental experience I’m looking for. Given how previous Divine Reserve releases have improved over time I’d bet on it!