It tastes like someone decorated Amber Ale for Christmas, the strong scent of cloves mixing with that signature caramel sweetness: This is Altared Amber, the second in local brewery Saint Arnold's "Moveable Yeast" series, in which the brewery's standard beers are pitched with a different strain of yeast, and it's hitting taps around the city today for a very limited time.
Only 60 barrels of the Altared Amber were made, so named because it's the standard recipe for Amber Ale made with Belgian Trappist yeast. Brock Wagner, the brewery's founder, liked the correlation between Belgian abbeys and altars and the play on words it created and came up with it on a whim.
In a similarly fortuitous move, the Altared Ale was initially set to be released about a month ago, but was held up until after Thanksgiving. And the brew, with its strong clove scent, couldn't be more appropriate for the Christmas season.
Sampling the beer yesterday afternoon at the brewery, I chatted with head brewer Vince Mandeville about the Belgian Trappist yeast used for this second experimental beer in the brewery's Moveable Yeast series.
"We get it from White Labs," he said. It's the same yeast bank that holds the special proprietary yeast strain that is used in every Saint Arnold brew. "We don't have the personnel to store that yeast on site," he explained, as I took in the view from his office, lab coats and microscopes dominating the landscape far more than bottles of beer, as one might expect.
"It's the same yeast we'll be using for the next Moveable Yeast beer," he continued.
The third beer in the series will be Bitter Belgian, Elissa IPA wort pitched with that fragrant Belgian Trappist yeast. Mandeville told me how they'd just finished a test batch of the Bitter Belgian, which is scheduled to be released next February.
For now, however, anyone who sampled the first beer in the Moveable Yeast series -- Weedwhacker, which was Lawnmower brewed with a German hefeweizen yeast -- knows that these limited production beers are, like its Divine Reserve brews, something seriously special. And that something special is going to go fast once those few kegs are tapped.
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You can catch the Altared Amber starting today at Saint Arnold's weekday brewery tour, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Or if you can't get out of work, head to one these fine establishments below:
Flying Saucer (705 Main, 713-228-9160): Tapping at 11 a.m.
Anvil Bar & Refuge (1424 Westheimer, 713-523-1622): Tapping at 5 p.m.
You can also keep an eye on Saint Arnold's Twitter feed for more locations as they're announced today. But get it while you can: 60 barrels means there are only about 20,000 servings for all of Texas and Louisiana combined.