American craft brewers are increasingly looking abroad for brewing inspiration, knowledge, and experience. Sierra Nevada, the nation’s second largest microbrewery, recently released its Ovila Dubbel, brewed in collaboration with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairveaux.
This joint effort between brewery and monastery – both located in central California roughly 20 miles from each other – will produce three Belgian style beers that will partly contribute to restoring the abbey’s Ovila Chapter House, which stood in Spain between the 12th Century and 1931, when it was purchased by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who dismantled parts of the House with the intention of using them for his estate at Wyntoon, located in north-central California’s woodlands. Traditionally, the Chapter House ”was the place where the monks came to encounter God by listening to the Word that came through the Rule, talks, conferences, and sermons.”
Each of the three beers will be released in 2011 by season: the Dubbel, recently available, for springtime; the Saison for summer; and their Quad for autumn. In the spirit of true collaboration, a portion of the sales of this series will be used to reconstruct the Chapter House as it originally stood in Spain.
Domestic craft brewers have drawn inspiration from European brewers before. In 2009 Sam Adams and Germany’s Weihenstephan Brewery jointly produced Infinium, a champagne-like beer produced according to Germany’s centuries-old Reinheitsgebot. I treated myself to a bottle last summer and wasn’t too impressed. The beer was indeed refreshing but far too carbonated and bitter for my taste.
Likewise, the Ovila Dubbel disappointed. True to its name, the beer was thick and strong, which was to be expected. Yet its flavors – malty, toasty, and a bit bready – were contrasting rather than complimentary, producing a sharp, harsh, and overly heavy taste. The disappointing taste made it difficult to finish the large 750 milliliter bottle, another nod to the beer’s Belgian aspirations.
I haven’t given up hope in Sierra Nevada’s Ovila project and am still looking forward to their two additional beers. Hopefully my disappointment with the dubbel will be forgotten when the Saison and Quad are released. I’ll remain optimistic American microbrewers can eventually replicate the quality Europeans have taken hundreds of years to achieve. I’m sure they will have figured it out by summer.