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Hoptown Girl: A traditional Belgian brewery makes its home in San Diego’s North County

Posted: May 13th, 2010 | Food & Drink | 2 Comments

By Lauren Duffy
SDUN Columnist

Tomme Arthur leads a double life. As the co-founder of and director of brewery operations for Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey, Arthur oversees two distinct craft beer lines. On the one hand, he pursues bold, boundary-pushing West Coast–style beers under the Port Brewing label. This takes his tenure as head brewer at Pizza Port Solana Beach a step further with familiar beers such as the Wipeout IPA and Hop-15 and special releases such as the fresh-hop High Tide IPA and Midnight Sessions, a smoky black lager.

On the other hand, he runs The Lost Abbey. The Lost Abbey is a delightfully creative concept, a traditional Belgian brewery without a Belgian home. Under the label, Arthur creates modern-day versions of classic abbey ales, marrying centuries-old techniques with his inventive twist.

Arthur describes his approach as flavor-driven.

“We do a lot of tasting and sampling,” he explains, which often leads him to “come across malt and yeast flavors that we want to capture.”

These flavors become a launching point – each Lost Abbey beer has a central characteristic around which the rest of the recipe is then built.

In the four years since Lost Abbey was formed, this approach has lead to such outstanding creations as Lost and Found, a beer brewed with caramelized raisin purée, and Gift of the Magi, a holiday beer brewed with frankincense and myrrh. But these are just a starting point. While many of The Lost Abbey beers are available in bottles year-round or seasonally, Arthur is most renowned for his special releases – small batch beers aged in oak barrels, fermented with wild yeasts or blended in small batches, some only available at the brewery itself.

To dive into Lost Abbey beers is to travel on an exciting journey, where each bottle is a different adventure along the way. Even choosing a bottle is an experience, for each beer carries its own back-story. Next time you spot the abbey-like arch gracing a 750-ml bottle, take some time to inspect the artwork and read the story on the label.

“You might not understand the IBUs, or the technical aspects of the beer, but the story is the important part,” Arthur says. “The story is what you’ll remember.”

Avant Garde
Avant Garde is Lost Abbey’s answer to a Biere de Garde, an ale meant for “keeping.” Driven by the flavor of bread fresh from the oven, this is a beer that is smooth, chewy and comforting. The near-opaque tan hue comes from custom-toasted malt that was roasted in small batches in pizza ovens. Hops play a supporting role; prominent are flavors of honey, toast, and flowers. If you are looking for an introduction to Lost Abbey beers, Avant Garde is an excellent starting point – Arthur designed this beer to be a “pathway to the artistry and impressionism” that shape Lost Abbey’s approach.

Carnevale
This annual spring release recently hit shelves, and is a quintessential example of the Lost Abbey style. This twist on the traditional saison incorporates West Coast hops; wild, unruly yeast and a mix of oats, wheat and barley. The first whiff is heady and distinctly yeasty – characteristic of the wild yeast strain used. The first sip brings crisp, light flavors of wheat and oats, which give way to mild, sweet, tangy fruit. The finish is moist and refreshing – this is a wonderfully balanced beer that is easy to drink yet full of complexity.

Angel’s Share
The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing has a growing collection of more than 600 bourbon and brandy barrels that they use to age beer; a good portion of them are devoted to Angel’s Share. This annual release is aged for a year in French oak, producing a strong, dark ale, nearly pitch black in color and full of dark coffee, chocolate and vanilla notes. It varies slightly from year to year – in 2009, it was aged in brandy barrels; the 2010 release was aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Both are still available at some stores, which makes for a wonderful vertical tasting opportunity. Open this 375 ml bottle after a rich dinner – enjoy it on its own or pair with a rich chocolate dessert.

Where to find Lost Abbey beers
A wide selection of Lost Abbey bottles are distributed to the following bottle shops:
Super Jr. Market, 1036 7th Ave., Downtown, bestdamnbeershop.com
Clem’s Bottle House, 4100 Adams Ave., Kensington, clemsbhouse.com
Serv-All Liquor, 1279 University Ave., Hillcrest

A few for the craft beer calendar
May 16: The annual North Park Festival of the Arts will feature a Craft Beer Block as part of the daylong festivities. For $25 ($30 at the door), sample eight beers and enjoy five tastes of food from area restaurants. From noon to 6 p.m. on Ohio Street. More at northparkmainstreet.com.

May 17-23: A handful of craft beer establishments are celebrating American Craft Beer Week with special offerings. On May 18, Small Bar will have nine “classic American IPAs” and will offer half pours for $2.50. If the words “Union Jack,” “Sculpin,” “Idiot,” “Ranger” and “90 Minutes” entice you, head on over. On May 18, Blind Lady Ale House will unveil Firestone Walker’s Parabola, a much-anticipated barrel-aged Russian imperial stout (also served May 19 at Pizza Port Carlsbad). And Stone Brewing is devoting all 32 taps in its bistro to Southern California craft beers all week. More at americancraftbeerweek.org.

May 22-23: If you’re up for a short jaunt to Anaheim, May 22 is the Bruery’s second anniversary. The two-year old brewery is celebrating with four three-hour sessions – each which will allow guests to sample 10 of some of the Bruery’s standard as well as most unique beers. Tickets are $40 and available at brueryprovisions.com.

June 4-5: Once again, it’s time for the Real Ale Festival at Pizza Port Carlsbad. Real ale, or cask-conditioned ale, is served through a traditional hand pump without using carbonation. This festival features 45 cask-conditioned beers, and $25 gets you eight taster tickets and an imperial pint glass. Plan ahead, as this event often sells out. More at pizzaport.com.

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