The last autumn leaves cling to the trees, holding out against the onslaught of wind and the first snowflakes of the season. A dense fog shrouds Vienna’s church spires in mystery. Night has descended, and the last faint warmth of the day has long since faded. I cut through the park and pause at the side of a partially frozen pond where a few ducks seem to be wishing they had followed the geese south. Spring is a long way off, I think to myself, and make for home where a warming drink of malty goodness awaits.
The Lost Abbey brews just the kind of hearty, Belgian-inspired beer that is the perfect antidote to a frosty early winter’s eve. As the story goes, Vince Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port Brewing and co-founder of The Lost Abbey, took a shine to the divinely rich abbey beers of Belgium but lacked an abbey in which to brew (as most of us do). Thus was born the notion of the “lost” abbey. But the concept was destined to wander endlessly in the wilderness for wont of a brewer who could conjure up these otherworldly Belgian-style elixirs. Enter Tomme Arthur, one of North America’s more famous brewers. After several years with Pizza Port, Arthur set to work with Marsaglia in 2006 to lay the metaphorical foundation stones of The Lost Abbey in a facility that Stone Brewing Company had outgrown.
The results of their efforts lean heavily in the direction of malt-forward, age-worthy beers fit for evenings of contemplation or good cheer. Avowed malthead that I am, it’s rather fitting that I’m celebrating three years of Tempest with a beer from a brewery that is celebrating a decade since opening.
Back in late September I stopped off at one of Vienna’s best-stocked beer shops, BeerLovers, to pick up a nice bottle in anticipation of Tempest’s three years. After my customary conversation with a few of the staff members, it was past closing time. To my pleasant surprise, I spied something from The Lost Abbey: a 2014 vintage of 10 Commandments. I gathered it up with the rest of my hastily selected beers for the weekend, and headed off into the evening.
At 12% ABV, Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments is a prodigious farmhouse-style ale brewed with honey, raisins, and rosemary. Tomme Arthur notes that orange peel makes a cameo appearance, as does a splash of Brettanomyces at packaging. Not only that: the raisins get the flame treatment to further caramelize the sugars.
Darkly hued, this copper libation with mahogany highlights hints at the tapestry of malt spread out beneath the dark pecan-brown collar of foam. And then comes the cascade of aromas and flavours: a pleasant jumble of sensory associations wrapped up with memories of getting to know good beer with good friends. A swirl of Ovaltine, Swiss milk caramel, and caramelized brown sugar welcomes the Slivovitz plum fairy bringing gifts of Belgian chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Fresh chocolate-spiked cream melding seamlessly with chocolate almonds, cocoa-dusted ganache, caramilk chocolate, and bourbon vanilla bean. Chocolate liqueur that’s been aged in a rum barrel. And rum-raisin to spare, with hints of hazelnut and Black Forest cherry cake.
Those are just my first impressions.
I’m transported back in time to a Nepalese tea hut on the crest of a mountain pass in the Annapurna region, warming myself by the fire after the long day’s trek. Winter nights spent sheltering from the wind and snow, with something to lift my spirits. “Spiritual,” even if the beer’s warming alcohol isn’t yet in spirit territory.
Licorice rounds out a touch of earthiness reminiscent of aged saké. Dried fruit, but elegantly so––perhaps even with a hint of earthy “leather” that I find so beguiling in certain red wines. Plum on the nose, but also prune in the finish. Honeyed dried Calmyra figs meet rum-soaked plums. Warming alcohol, but never hot. Creamy, full-bodied, and richly complex. In short, something new with each sniff and each sip. And worth every penny. Three Tankards
With two years of age on The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments, the rosemary is more of a suggestion than anything else. (In fact, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that it was there if it weren’t written on the label.) That’s just fine: It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a beer brewed with rosemary in which this assertive herb overpowers everything else. The Brettanomyces is also very subdued, expressing itself, I’d hazard to guess, in the beer’s earthy notes.
As for the “10 Commandments” listed on the back of the bottle? They read more like a cross between a credo and a set of maxims rather than a series of imperatives and prohibitions. But earnest maxims they are, with integrity, honesty, passion, and inspiration prominent on the list. Number 4 is particularly salient in our contemporary craft beer moment that fetishizes freshness above all else: “Fresh beer is great. Aged beer is better.” I’ll drink to that.
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*If you visit Vienna, be sure to check out BeerLovers’ exceptional selection of beers.
© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.