Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ovila Dubbel

I first heard about the Ovila range of beers on Craft Beer Radio, as part of their coverage of SAVOR 2011.  In one of the private tasting salons, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Father Thomas of the Abbey of New Clairvaux discussed their release of the Ovila beer series.  The Ovila project is a collaboration between the brewery and the Abbey, which is located in Vina, California.  The project's goal is to develop a series of beers that follow the traditions established by centuries of monastic brewing.  Many monasteries traditionally brewed beer, both a a mechanism of self-sustainment and to allow them to trade or earn money for other supplies.  These traditions exist today, most notably in the Trappist breweries of Belgium, which we briefly discussed in a previous post.

In addition, the proceeds of the Ovila project will benefit the Abbey's attempts to rebuild the 12th century Spanish medieval Santa Maria de Ovila chapter house.  The chapter house was built in 1190 was originally located in Spain, near the village of Trillo.  In 1931, a wealthy California newspaper owner named William Randolph Hearst found the chapter house in disarray and purchased it for transport to the United States, stone by stone.  It was never reassembled and was eventually given to the city of San Francisco, where the pieces were subjected to vandalism and fire.  In 1994, the Abbey of New Clairvaux gained possession of what was left and began restoring the chapter house.

The Ovila series of beers include a dubbel, saison, and quad.  The tasting notes for the dubbel, which I managed to obtain, include:

"Clear and deep copper in color, this Abbey Dubbel has a complex and rich malty sweetness with hints of caramelized sugar.  The aroma is a heady and layered mix of fruit and spice with hints of clove, raisin, and black pepper from the user of an abbey-style yeast."

For my tasting of the beer, I found it to pour a rich amber, almost garnet color.  The beer was topped by a thick layer of course bubbles that almost exploded into the glass with carbonation.  The head quickly faded, but left a nice Belgian lace down the glass through the tasting.  The dubbel has a rich aroma, loaded with dark caramel, figs and spices.  The complexity of aroma is consistent with some other dubbels I have tasted and is one of the elements I like best about the style.

The first impressions of flavor I experienced were mostly around mouthfeel.  The beer has a thick and rich texture that is counterbalanced nicely with its carbonation.  The mid-palate has a significant caramel character, along with some hints of black pepper that come through more in the finish.  The pepper is  character is subdued, though, and does not approach levels that throw me off of some other Belgian beers.  The finish has a nice alcohol warming (7.5% ABV), but finishes surprisingly dry for the rich flavor characteristics.

I was very pleased with the beer, both because of its flavor and its backstory.  In fact, I would argue that the backstory, the very uniqueness of the beer's origin, increased my enjoyment of the beer.  The visceral act of tasting food and beverages is such a subjective experience, that the environment and setting in which it is done plays a big part of the overall effect.  Identifying with the product being tasted plays a significant role, which is perhaps why I seem to enjoy beer from breweries I know more than those that I do not.



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