Last Saturday was Lost Abbey’s first annual barrel tasting event, and as promised, it was a night of food, festivity and really fine beer.
Once folks had a glass of their beverage of choice, they were invited to enjoy cheese and fruit, and line up to bottle their very own numbered edition of Veritas 001 – a specially blended strong ale with notes of oak, wine and cherries. (Alas, people couldn’t take the bottles home that evening, as the labels don’t yet exist. Tomme promised, however, that the time Veritas spends bottle conditioning will make it all that much better when the bottles are finally issued to their owners.)
Lost and Found and Amazing Grace
Once everyone had a chance to bottle, the tasting began in earnest with a side-by-side comparison of Lost and Found and its barrel-aged sibling Amazing Grace. (For the source of the name Amazing Grace, check out the hymn’s lyrics.) As a frequent drinker of Lost and Found, tasting it right next to Amazing Grace, really opened my eyes to what a year and a half in an oak barrel can do to a beer. The sweet, malty and figgy fruit flavors you find in fresh L&F mellowed, dried and took on flavors that you commonly associate with wines rather than beers.
Dawn Patrol Dark and Red Poppy
Lost and Found/Amazing Grace tasting was followed by the premier of Red Poppy, a deep brown ale aged for the past year in sour cherries, paired with its precursor Dawn Patrol Dark, an English Mild Tomme has blogged about in the past.
Even though I’ve been staring at barrels filled with Red Poppy for a year now, this was the first time I’d been able to taste it in any significant quantity. Dawn Patrol Dark, on the other hand, I drink often enough. DPD is a low alcohol — 4% or so — beer Tomme uses to fill idle barrel to prevent them from drying between batches. As such there’s always plenty on tap, making it a tasty alternative to the brewery’s high ABV beers.
Unlike the Lost and Found and Amazing Grace, which were easily discerned as relatives, beyond the dark brown color, Dawn Patrol and Red Poppy bore little in common. DPD was smooth, flavorful and, well… mild. Red Poppy on the other hand was an explosion of cherry aroma, sour fruit, grass and oak that left my senses reeling well after the beer passed my tongue. If Dawn Patrol were a fuzzy caterpillar, the time in that barreled cocoon had transformed it into a most extraordinary butterfly.
Food from Chef Vince — an amazing assortment of gourmet pizzas made with rustic breads, cheeses, and toppings, and baked on an outdoor pizza oven – provided the crowd with an excellent repast as the next course of beers was staged.
Moab and Cuvee de Tomme
Our next pairing consisted of the year’s second release of Cuvee de Tomme (the first release sold out in a few hours at the brewery’s first anniversary party in May), and it’s fittingly named parent, the Mother of All Beers (or Moab as it’s known in these parts).
Moab’s a great beer in its own right – dark, malty and rich with notes of fruit and caramel. But for Tomme this is just the beginning (he actually uses this as the stating point for a number of his beers). We sampled the Moab and admired its aroma and flavor. Then it was time for the CdT.
Oh. My. God. (Yes, I just wrote that.) This year’s CdT still has Tomme’s signature sour cherry and raisin power, but this time around he used a combination of Bourbon AND Brandy barrels (usually it’s just bourbon), and then blended the results of those six barrels in proportions known only to him. The spring anniversary release was fantastic, but the extra four months in wood this second release had vaulted it well past the first. The spring release of CdT was $15 for a 375ml bottle. I can only imagine what this second release will be once it makes it to glass. ($30? $40?)
Cuvee was followed by the only non-paired (and non Lost Abbey label) barrel-aged beer of the evening, Older Viscosity. Those familiar with Older Viz’ base beer, Old Viscocity, know that it’s a sweet, malty and heavy dark strong ale with lots of flavor (goes great with pancakes). Once aged in Bourbon barrels for half a year or so it picks up a little heat and caramel booziness and becomes Older Viscosity.
But not this time. I don’t know if it was different barrels, the age of the beer, the serving temperature, or some combination thereof, but the Older Viscosity I had that evening smelled and tasted of a full-bodied red wine like Merlot. It was still outstanding, but not what I had expected at all.
As the crowd sipped Older Viz, the lights dimmed, the wall above the barrel room brightened and Tomme began a presentation on (drum roll please) barrel-aging beers. Having traveled the world in search of great beer, he had quite a bit of information, pictures and stories regarding the huge variety of barrels — oak tuns, funky old Belgian barrels, seriously large oak fermenters, etc. – that have been used in brewing beer for centuries. It was a great combo art-history and brewing lesson given only the way professor Arthur could have done it.
Grand Finale – The Angel’s Share
After the presentation Tomme climbed on top of the bar to announce the evening’s final tasting – The Angel’s Share – the original batch (now 18 months old) along side its barley wine base beer. Glasses were filled and Tomme told the story behind the beer (“a very simple beer” he likes to say.) I don’t know if anyone at the tasting was an Angel’s Share first-timer, but the folks I talked to all agreed that the beer only gets better with age (do they give above perfect ratings on sites like Beer Advocate and Rate Beer?).
Sweet, dark and caramel chocolate, the only thing that could have made the Angel’s Share sampling better would have been something like pairing it with a dessert of fresh baked cinnamon rolls and real vanilla ice cream – which is exactly what they did. Awesome.
The night wound down (or peaked I should say – everybody was feeling pretty good by the time we got to the Angel’s Share), with Tomme atop the bar horsely leading the 100-odd folks in attendance in a rousing version of “Happy Birthday” for Jason, a Port Brewing regular. Following the song people mingled, chatted. The crowd gradually thinned until just a few of us remained to do some clean up (ok, a lot of clean up) and reminisce on the evening’s events.
All-in-all a wonderful, intimate event. I’m already looking forward to next year. I think just about everyone else is too.