A few weeks back we talked a bit about The Lost Abbey, a brewery in San Marcos, CA about 30 minutes North of San Diego. It is brewed at Port Brewing Company. Port Brewing also brews some of the beer for the Pizza Port, a nearby local chain of pizza brewpubs. The head brewer of Port/Lost Abbey is Tomme Arthur, who used to be the head brewer at Pizza Port. It's a weird little triangle of brewing, all of which are world-renowned for their high quality.
You can go here to decipher the brewing details of The Lost Abbey. Basically, The Lost Abbey is a line of beers brought to you by Tomme Arthur. The beers under this brand are in the Belgian Monastic Abbey and Farmhouse tradition. What does that mean? Belgian brewing has two great traditions: the Trappist beers brewed at monastic abbeys by monks, and farmhouse ales, often called Saison.
In the first case is the line of Trappist beers brewed for centuries by the seven breweries that are members of the International Trappist Association ("ITA"). The ITA a certification group that assures both quality and source; the logo of the ITA assures consumers that beers (and in some cases, cheese and other monastic products) bearing the logo are produced in accordance with the monastic tradition and by monastic breweries. Thus, any brewery bearing the logo is certified as complying with both the subjective and objective standards required by the organization. Of course, other breweries can produce similar beers, but none can be called "Trappist" (or, even "trappist-style"). It's a very powerful source of protection and a guarantee of source and quality.
The Lost Abbey makes beers in the same style and spirit as these Trappist beers. Some of the beers are lighter, some are darker, but they are all handcrafted and bottle conditioned and made to exacting standards.
The other type of beers made by The Lost Abbey is another traditional Belgian style called Farmhouse ales. Farmhouse ales brewed in Belgian Flanders (the border along France and Belgium) are often called "Saison." They are brewed in the winter using the best barleys from the summer/fall harvest, they are then bottle-conditioned in large bottles and set to age through the winter and spring and consumed in the summer. Stereotypically, they are light and refreshing with a refined, complex malt character. Saison used aged hops for preservation and very subtle bitterness and impart a somewhat grassy high note. But they can also range to darker, or more sour (if blended with the third Belgian traditional style of "lambic").
The Lost Abbey thus makes traditional Belgian beers. Unlike many other US breweries, Tomme doesn't seek to American-ize them; he would never make something like Furthermore's Makeweight – a mash-up of an American Pale and Belgian Tripel – under the Lost Abbey label. Tomme seeks, and often achieves, authenticity by transporting Belgium to Southern California. Unfortunately, The Lost Abbey is not available in Wisconsin (yet!), but it is available a short drive down I-90 (or I-94 if that's easier for you) in Chicago. So, MBR picked some up. This is the first Lost Abbey beer I've ever had.
Appearance: lemon and straw with a dense, white thick head
Aroma: huge hoppy bright aroma with a light maltiness; aggressive Belgian yeast aroma (fruity with a slight spicyness)
Flavor: hoppy Belgian blonde; perfectly balanced with sharp, bone-dry and fruity flavors
Body: light and dry
Drinkability: only $10 and perfectly compliments virtually any light vegetarian or chicken meal; a little "fancy" to be sessionable, but I could easily buy a case of this and keep it on hand as a regular
Summary: labels are pretty weak – the text sounds like it's trying to be Stone (which has awesome labels) but fails as over-dramatic, corny, and silly; beer is fine to great – best beer ever? Maybe not; I like Ale Asylum's Mercy and even the Makeweight as good local competition for this beer, but it's still very, very good