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The Lost Abbey

Today is Friday April 6th and it’s a blogging day for all of us who blog. Today the group excercise is on Abbey Dubbel Style beers. Last month it was Stout. I don’t know where the last 30 days have gone but they certainly have been very monumental to say the least.

At this time, we are putting the finishing touches on a photo shoot at the brewery and it has been a surreal day around here. I didn’t get into brewing to be famous, rich or important. Nope, I got into brewing because it appeals to my notions of creativity and my artistic sensibilities. When I started considering the multitude of stories that I wanted to blog for this “Abbey” day, my mind wandered all over the place trying to find the natural tie in.

Then, I sat down after smiling for the camera all day. It hit me in an instant. We are Port Brewing and we are the makers of The Lost Abbey brand of beers. It is something that I am incredibly proud of and very much focused on right now. The fact that we spent a whole day shooting photos for future Lost Abbey endeavors speaks to this.

As I was drifting in and out of the photos today, I started thinking about the relationship of who I have become as a brewer and where I started. It’s an 11 year journey that starts oddly enough with a desire to brew Belgian Style beers at home.

It’s 1996. I have recently been hired as the Assistant Brewer at Cervecerias La Cruda in downtown San Diego. I am hired by Troy Hojel to work in this new startup brewpub. We begin to discuss my home brewing equipment and the beers that I have made.

I tell Troy that I really enjoy a great Abbey Style beer and we begin to write a recipe for this beer I will brew at home. Chris White stops by the brewery one day and mentions that he has a new “Trappist Ale” strain that they are looking for some feedback on.

I get the yeast about a week later from Chris. By this time, Troy and I have been drinking numerous Abbey Styled beers trying to get a “feel” for what we want to accomplish. After settling on the recipe, including the yeast specifics, we start to talk about brewing with sugars.

I remember the next conversation like it was yesterday. I’m drinking a pint of our Blowfish ESB when Troy leans in and says in a hushed tone…” I think we should use some raisins in this beer.” I swear, I amost fell off the bar stool when he said this.

It really hadn’t occurred to me that using raisins was something that I should concern myself with. After all, I don’t really eat raisins so why would I think they were something worth brewing with? But the thing is, the beer we brewed with the raisins was stunning and it set the wheels in motion for my adventures in Belgian Styled brewing. And I owe it all to the 4oz of juicy Sunmaid Raisins that day.

When I was hired to be the brewer at the Pizza Port in Solana Beach, my first seasonal beer was Dubbel Overhead Abbey Ale. It was the first beer in San Diego to be made with Raisins. This was way back in October of 1997.

Over the years, I spent hours working with “interesting” ingredients and we always had raisins available at our disposal. One night, Jeff Bagby and I started talking about Saisons and developing color in them without using malt. It was then that we decided we should “alter” the raisins and their structure.

We wrote a recipe for SPF 8 Farmhouse Ale and it was decided that to gain color in the beer, we would “blacken” the raisins. So we did and the beer became one of my favorite beers of all time.

Fast forward to The Lost Abbey. I have now been brewing beer professionally for almost 11 years and have reached a level of recognition in the brewing business for my creations. This is where The Lost Abbey comes into play. Over the years, I earned for my numerous accolades for these Belgian Styled Beers. Many of them have been “Abbey” styled beers as well.

Here at the Lost Abbey, we are now making two Abbey style beers as part of our standard year round beers- they are Lost and Found Abbey Ale and Judgment Day our Dark Strong Ale- both of them are brewed with Raisins. It’s just something that over time, I have grown accustomed to. It’s sort of my comfort ingredient around here.

Our Lost and Found Abbey Ale is now made with a custom “raisin puree” that involves Chef Vince and rather large boat motor… It’s so damn cool. It’s also one of my favorite beers that we are making. I tell people that the recipe for Lost and Found is something that I have been working on for over 10 years now.

It’s not easy making a great Abbey Style beer. It takes an amazing yeast. It takes a skillful blend of hops and malt. And at the end of it all, there has to be an integration of all these things to create a memorable drinking experience. I for one, think we have figured out our Abbey style beer and for that I am thankful.

It’s hard to imagine looking back what might have been. As we were sitting here smiling for the camera all day, all I could think about were those raisins. So next time you reach for an Oatmeal Raisin cookie, remember the raisins. Remember that they have inspired me over the years and stretched my brewing limits.

As we move forward with The Lost Abbey part of Port Brewing, we will most certainly think about the raisins each and every time we make a batch of Lost and Found or Judgment Day or 10 Commandments or… Were it not for the raisins in that batch of homebrew, I might be making lager beer in some far away state. I think I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing, so far it has served me well.

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