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March Madness is in full swing, but it’s a different kind of third month tumult that consumed the staff at The Lost Abbey (155 Mata Way, Suite 104, San Marcos). Instead of aligning with raving, school color-clad hardwood fans, director of brewery operations Tomme Arthur and company were akin to the thousands of Catholic faithful taking up ancient stone real estate outside the Vatican, awaiting the naming of the next Pope during the Papal Conclave.

“It’s not often we get to fete the arrival of a new Pontiff,” said Arthur, who saw this as the perfect opportunity to fashion a new and interesting blend of barrel-aged beers. And that he has. Going by the name Sede Vacante (from the Latin for “vacant seat”), his commemorative creation is a blend of barleywines aged in Cognac and brandy barrels. Coming in at 15% alcohol-by-volume—the strongest beer The Lost Abbey has ever released—it would have done a good job of sustaining the faithful over a long period awaiting the emergence of colored smoke.


That wait turned out to be surprisingly short, transforming Sede Vacante into a celebration of Jorge Mario “just call me Francis” Bergoglio’s recent selection. Honestly, with its silky mouthfeel and deep flavors of plum, dark brown sugar and allspice, plus enough alcohol to turn one’s day around in a heartbeat, Sede Vacante is its own cause for rejoicing. Low carbonation and rich brandy flavor makes it come across more like a fortified wine than a beer. That’s very nice and, helpful bonus, it means you can stick the cork back in this monstrously potent brew and enjoy it during a second session.


Only 118 cases of the beer were produced. The first opportunity to get your hands on the beer will be tomorrow, March 23 at the brewery’s tasting room beginning at 10 a.m. Each 750-milliliter bottle goes for $35. As always, the bottle art is the work of local artist Sean Dominguez, who had only a few days to knock out a stunning painting of cardinals assembled in front of, you guessed it, an empty chair. Flip the bottle around and you’ll encounter not only a descriptive back label adorned with an official cardinal ballot plucked from the Internet, but also the name “Francis” has been jetted on in yellow ink near its neck. This may have been a rushed project, but you’d never know it by the completeness of the finished product.

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