Jeff Smith 2:55 p.m., July 25
Thinking inside the box – Part 1
Whetting beer fans' appetite for The Lost Abbey's Ultimate Box Set
There are plenty of reasons for excitement this weekend. For one thing, it brings double the days off for most of us. Then there’s the grandeur-laced Turkey Day feast. As if that weren’t already enough, for some—myself not included—there’s the added appeal of the celebration of capitalism run-amuck that is Black Friday. Yet, even with all of this, there’s one very special weekend event that will register as the brightest highlight of this incredible weekend. That contingent is made up of local craft beer enthusiasts, and that event is the Saturday release of The Ultimate Box Set at North County’s The Lost Abbey (155 Mata Way, #104, San Marcos).Photo courtesy StudioSchultz.com
A collection of special blends of barrel-aged creations from world-renowned Lost Abbey director of brewery operations Tomme Arthur and his cohorts, The Ultimate Box Set is one of the most ambitious undertakings in the history of craft brewing. This is not an exaggeration and explains the holiday-trumping excitement surrounding this release. Not only are the beers exquisite examples of the complex sour- and stout-production talent and technique that are Arthur and company’s collective calling card, there’s an artistic facet of the project that goes beyond perhaps any series of beers ever developed.
In creating this set, The Lost Abbey team treated each beer in it as a record company would a musical release. Each beer is named after a song evoking Heaven, Hell, Satan or angels. Because of copyrighting laws, each bottle in the set is labeled as a numbered track, but with one exception of one, they do feature custom artwork that cleverly drives home the name of each namesake song.
Throughout the year, the tracks were released on the second Saturday of each month, being made available for purchase on-site. There was just one catch—the beer had to be consumed at the tasting room the day it was purchased. This allowed fans to try every track; something that was important because so few box sets were produced. The reason for that small run was that, due to the expense and limited amount of the beers making up the blend, each beer had to be of a small batch nature, making each very special, from a rarity standpoint if nothing else (though it should be noted, these beers taste outstanding).
As with any collection of special beers, there are many out there who want to have them all for themselves. The chance to actually do so was provided to a select group of lottery winners, all of whom had their names entered into a drawing for a chance to purchase The Lost Abbey Box Set by purchasing any of the tracks during the 11 release dates.
On Saturday, those winners will finally get what they’ve coveted for most of 2012. I was fortunate enough to join a packed room of craft beer lovers in tasting every track at O’Brien’s Pub during San Diego Beer Week. That event was made extra special by the presence of Arthur who orated about each track as they were introduced to the crowd. For the lottery winners, as well as anybody lucky enough to score tastes of the beers at bottle shares (one of the coolest aspects of the craft beer community—the readiness to share and enjoy en masse), I’ve summarized my notes on each of the tracks in tandem with some nuggets from Arthur on this successful and commendable brewing project.
Track 1 | Running with the Devil
Description: A 6.5 alcohol-by-volume sour brown ale built off a base beer aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels spiked with a considerably higher amount of Brettanomyces (wild yeast) than what would typically be utilized. Tasting Notes: Bright acidity akin to Granny Smith apple tartness is tempered by notes of scalded wood that make for a crisp finish and overall refreshing character. Arthur Anecdote: This is the beer that lacks the piece of label art produced for it—a painting of Satan speeding down a highway on a rum-running mission with the legs of an unsavory femme jutting skyward from the backseat. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t approved, but a sticker of that image will be issued as part of the box set should recipients of the set choose to apply it over the CD control panel label The Lost Abbey reluctantly resorted to for Track 1.
Track 2 | Stairway to Heaven
Description: A blend of The Lost Abbey’s bourbon-barrel aged barleywine (The Angel’s Share), the medal-winning Cuvee de Tomme Belgian-style Flanders sour red ale, and the mysterious Project X flavored with cherries.
Tasting Notes: Very woody and a bit bracing in its tartness, with plenty of cherry character as well as a surprising grapefruit-esque pithiness that lingers on the finish.
Arthur Anecdote: Stairway was created to mimic a classic Manhattan cocktail. The Project X gives the beer “twang” while bringing out its fruit qualities. Originally slated to become Track 11, it was moved up at the last minute.
Track 3 | Hells Bells
Description: A sour blonde created using the four best-tasting sour barrels in the brewery, including Avant Garde biere de garde, Mello Yello, and the three-year-old Duck Duck Gooze gueuze. Tasting Notes: A palate awakening beer that lightly coats the tongue with traces of lemony tartness, spring water minerality and a slight herb-like savoriness reminiscent of marjoram. Arthur Anecdote: This was the quickest selling of the tracks. The Lost Abbey’s supply was depleted in just three days while most of the tracks lasted 15 to 20 days. At a VIP event during May’s big beer industry event, the Craft Beer Conference, this beer was paired masterfully with a gorgonzola ice cream dessert.
Track 4 | Sympathy for the Devil
Description: A blend of an ultra rare version of The Lost Abbey’s experimental Veritas 009 mixed with Hot Rocks Lager, a beer produced using, well, hot rocks, by The Lost Abbey’s craft brewing cousin, Port Brewing. Tasting Notes: It tastes like a dark chocolate and citrus truffle. Imagine cacao nibs lifted by Cointreau liqueur and orange zest with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Arthur Anecdote: When searching for a way to create art that would make customers actually muster some sympathy for Lucifer, Arthur and artist Sean Dominguez went with imagery of a pitiful, recently unemployed devil standing street-side. In Arthur’s words, “It’s like the devil went to work one day and they deemed him so shitty at collecting souls that he got outsourced.”