Monkish Brewing Company - Rara Avis
- ABV: 6.3%
- Serving Temperature: 50–55° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Goblet, or Pinot Glass
We’ve been all excited to try this beer for a while now. Henry actually brewed Rara Avis (or at least part of it) on Christmas Eve. It is, in fact, a blend of two different Brett saisons, one brewed with spelt, and the other with rye. One of the two had Lactobacillus contributing to it as well, which accounts for that pleasant soft tartness of the final product. This conditioned for a few months already, letting the yeast-y characteristics develop to their full potential. As an extra flourish, Rara Avis was also dry-hopped with two of our favorites: Citra and Galaxy.
The color on this beer is sorta like how the sun feels. Warm yellows, bright, seemingly even luminous on its own, with some haze and a tinge like straw. The white head pours massive at first, billowing and well textured, before subsiding into a persistent thin layer of tiny bubbles. (To reiterate the Special Instructions: pour this gently, as the yeast can murk things up a bit.)
The Brett-forward aromatics are already generous at this point, offering citrus like kaffir lime leaves, sweet lemon, and even some almond-like smoothness in tandem with the other yeasts and what-not at play here. We found juicy peach, just a mild touch of rye spiciness, and loads of citrus fruit and fresh-cut apples leading the charge aromatically. This wasn’t yet super tart, at least not when we first tasted it, but there’s a subtle lactic quality here shaping stuff nicely.
We actually found a touch more acidity here than the aroma suggested, with the combination of sweet lime juice and lemony tartness supported by the aforementioned notes from efforts of Lactobacillus: an engaging puckering hinting at yogurt and solidly implemented citrus fruits. This turned out beautifully, overall: the fruitiness met by an almond- or vanilla-like nuttiness, a vibrant carbonation present to add a further nudge of acidity—and just enormous amounts of underlying texture to dive into. We found secondary notes approximating passion fruit, an engaging twist of lemon peel, subtle tannins (or something similar) like almond skins, as well as, particularly approaching the distant finish, the acidity easing up to reveal some of the core spelt and rye contributions here: toasty, grainy, beautifully dry and rustic, with a vanilla focus, (as we interpreted it) mellowing every aspect of the beer. This is what we love about beer like this: incredibly dense yeast characteristics, pinpoint presentation, and simply tons to dig into.
We were obviously expecting good beer from Monkish. But we were thrilled with this result, far more than we’d hoped for. Also! We’re really looking forward to checking out Rara Avis as this develops over the next couple years in the bottle. Henry mentioned that our members should feel comfortable aging this for two or three years no problem—and encouraged folks to email him if they’re curious how it’s doing down the road. They’ll be studying it carefully.
We like breweries that specialize, and we’ve been looking forward to highlighting this special offering, from a brewery that focuses entirely on Belgian-style production. Monkish Brewing Co. opened up in March of 2012 in Torrance, California, just a couple cities south of the Los Angeles International Airport. This month we dig into Rara Avis: their blended Brett saison, and another Rare Beer Club exclusive! Monkish brewed this saison specifically for our thirsty RBC subscribers, and it’s pretty much only available here or in very limited quantities via the Monkish tasting room in Torrance. We’ve been digging this brewery. We think you will, too.
(And “Rara Avis”? You may or may not need a humanities PhD to know it means Rare Bird. A perfectly fitting name for any RBC exclusive—but especially from this brewery. Read on!)
Monkish was founded by husband-and-wife Henry and Adriana Nguyen. Henry’s essentially a reformed academic, in a way that’s figured heavily in the success of the brewery. He earned his PhD in theology from the University of Aberdeen (in Scotland). When he’d had his fill of the local malt-forward beers of the surrounding locale, a friend had turned him on to Belgian styles. Soon, he was homebrewing Belgian beers, researching old foreign brewing texts—one of the benefits of having a PhD in the humanities—and fully geeking-out on brewing details.
By the time he’d returned to the States from Scotland, the economy had tanked, schools had stopped hiring full-time faculty, and Henry was lecturing at universities as an adjunct. (If you are in any way familiar with the current adjunct-teaching situation in the U.S., the next part is likely to cause no surprise.) Five years later: adjuncting was no longer really paying the bills.
Academia’s loss is our gain. And frankly we have a ton of respect for talented academics that strike out on their own. With brewing courses at Seibel Institute and University of California – Davis under his belt, he and Adriana opened up Monkish Brewing a little over three years ago. They’re working with a 15-barrel system, producing around 1,000 barrels annually thus far. (Maybe even 1,500 this year.) They haven’t bought stainless steel in a while now, instead focusing their Belgian-style production around five 45-barrel foedres, plus some puncheons and oak barrels. Wood, wood and more wood. Monkish’s distribution is currently confined to California, and they’ve been working with a small distributor since a year after opening.
Creative by nature, Henry’s disinclined to repeat batches very often, and various releases we have gotten to taste from Monkish make us very much look forward to future experiments. If you dig Rara Avis, keep your eyes peeled (and any frequent flier miles saved up?) for stuff like batch two of Selah—their brett saison that will be appearing sometime this spring. They have a number of expressive saisons on the horizon, plus a hoppy brett IPA that will release as a collaboration with nearby Noble Ale Works. Expect to see much more from Monkish.
Not that I’m not usually thinking about rare beer, by any means, but the name of one of this month’s featured selections had me thinking back. That Rara Avis is Latin for “rare bird,” as noted in the beer writeups, and some of this definitely feels like I imagine birdwatching does.
It must have been almost a decade ago that my wife and I flew out to San Diego for our first rare beer release, or at least our first nationally scoped one. AleSmith was releasing not only a barrel-aged release of theirs, but three of them, and we made that into a weekend vacation to San Diego from our spot (at that time) in DC. To give a sense of what the scene was like ten years ago: we showed up about half an hour before the release started. We were, unlike now, not out of luck. We ended up as the second group in line, and knew the folks up ahead of us.
The scene’s changed a lot since then, and I can’t recall the last time I stood in line waiting for any considerable amount of time for a limited-release beer. Some parts are better (others less so), but the desire for finding new experiences hasn’t changed. It’s just different. Whether we find ourselves hitting up our local for new stuff, trying what Rare Beer Club sent my way for work (often bottles that would otherwise fly under my radar), or just sharing recently spotted stuff with friends, it’s all about re-finding inlets that feel good, that work for you and yours.
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