Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey - Saint’s Devotion
Serving Temperature:45–54° F
Suggested Glassware:Tulip or Tumbler
We’re excited to be offering Saint’s Devotion as a Rare Beer Club Exclusive this year. This is also going to be the first time that the beer will be packaged in 750mL bottles, making it (for our cellaring preferences, at least) even more attractive to lay down a few bottles. Compared to previous releases of this beer, this one was found to be particularly dry—and unique in its Brett character. (This batch had us enticed from the first moment we smelled the lime leaves and pepper, at first pour.) A handful of cases of the newest batch of Saint’s Devotion will be sold out of the brewery, with a proportionally small amount headed to Denmark. Otherwise, The Rare Beer Club™ is the only way folks can get this one. We’re inclined to dive right in.
The first thing we noticed was rather atypical: the foam, rather than a bitter froth preventing our safe and unhindered passage to the far-more-delicious nectar beneath it—well, the foam is actually delicious: grassy, a touch pine-like, maybe a twist of lemon peel. We, momentarily, became sidetracked with thoughts of mass-producing similar foam and serving it in a cone… until we realized that would just make a soggy cone. Enjoy it here in its natural environment.
The aromatics are tropical, suggesting what we’d best call kaffir lime leaves and a bit of sweet grapefruit. The presence of yeast adds a vanilla- or almond-like note to the aroma, a slickness to the palate, if just slightly. We tended to pour our shares gently to leave its yeast un-roused.
This feels like such an energetic beer: vibrant, billowing CO2; a firm bitterness giving pepper and a touch of spicy hops; a snappy, toasty malt core. There’s a whole lot to recommend this version of Devotion. Tomme puts it: “I love Devotion. I love Saint’s Devotion even more.” The alcohol levels here are amped up just a touch from the standard Devotion, and the tang of sweet grapefruit and green apple is matched perfectly with earthy, spicy underpinnings of hop contributions. This is a generous, quite-nuanced beer: hinting at tropics and dense pine.
We could see this aging well for some time, and again the larger bottle format for these are a plus as far as we’re concerned. Sample occasionally, because who doesn’t get curious. We’ve paired this nicely with both Caesar salads and Brie (plus apricot jelly and a toasted baguette).
Most of the beer geeks in the readership will instantly recognize the names “Port Brewing” or “The Lost Abbey” or perhaps more likely “Tomme Arthur”—a gifted brewer associated with both. All have come to mean excellence in brewing, and, envelope-pushing, boundary-testing beers.
Walk into the original Pizza Port location in Solana Beach, CA, about 25 miles north of downtown San Diego, expecting to take in what the wellspring of San Diego’s craft-brewing scene ‘looks like’ and you might be confused. Here you find rows of picnic-style benches with mass-seating, an informal, order-at-the-counter pizza place staffed by primarily college-aged kids who seem like they are taking a short break from surfing to take your food and drink order. Looks can be deceiving—were it not for the brewing vessels visible behind the counter or the eclectic list of beers and style/flavor descriptions above the beer-order counter, you might think this place was “Budweiser and Coronas & lime only.” Instead, you see everything from younger crowds to families with kids in tow, all chowing down on great oven-fresh pizzas and drinking pitchers and pints of some truly world class beers. All served with that distinctly California laidback demeanor.
So how did it come to pass that a basically beach-front pizza shop started making some seriously high gravity, intense, world-class beers? The founders and owners of Pizza Port, Gina and Vince Marsaglia, set up shop in Solana Beach 23 years ago in 1987. As hobbyist brewers, this brother and sister team got to a point where they were homebrewing more than they could consume themselves, and wanted to share the bounty with as many people as they could. So in 1992 they installed a 7-barrel brewery in their restaurant, adding handcrafted beer to their lineup of handmade pizzas. Now, pizza and beer are a natural combination, but not all beers go with pizza. Throw their signature cream ale or mild, or even their most user friendly IPA at a few slices, no problem. But would you try washing down their “Pizza Vallarta” (Canadian-style bacon, olives, onions & jalapeños) with a Belgian-inspired Quadruple or an Imperial Porter? Probably not. This is not to say that their food isn’t itself an elevation of the trade—in fact, Vince, once the man behind just about every pizza to come out of the “Port Solana,” is a very talented chef. But still, one wonders, how did these other, big, super-adventurous beers show up in a pizza shop?
Tomme Arthur started working as the Head Brewer for Pizza Port in Solana Beach in 1997 (they have since opened up 2 additional locations—each with amazing beers and excellent grub). A native San Diegan, he was proud to promote his hometown as an up-and-coming center for better beer, with his own work right at the forefront of that claim. While his professional brewing career had started less than 18 months prior to joining Pizza Port, he had already worked on brewing a beer with his former employer that brought San Diego its 2nd Gold Medal ever from the Great America Beer Festival.
In his ongoing efforts to promote San Diego as a great beer city, Tomme worked to create many unique beers and his ongoing experiments included then revolutionary techniques of oak aging beers, using fruits, herbs and spices along with numerous wild yeasts and micro-organisms. Each of these experiments further emboldened Tomme to try new processes and even some time honored processes (like barrel aging) as he and the brewers of Pizza Port Solana Beach “sought to make the most interesting beers possible.” Owners Vince and Gina were in full support of that endeavor.
During the eight plus years that Tomme was Head Brewer in Solana Beach, the brewery won an astonishing 13 Great American Beer Festival Medals, not to mention numerous medals at various regional and national competitions. In 2003 and 2004 Pizza Port Solana Beach was named Small Brewpub of the Year. Tomme Arthur was also named Small Brewpub Brewer of the year for 2003 and 2004.
So what then is “The Lost Abbey?” The concept started in Vince Marsaglia’s mind when he was inspired by the various Abbey beers he had tried from Europe. When Tomme Arthur joined the crew, he started brewing beers that were Belgian- and Abbey-inspired creations. Of course, to be an Abbey beer, per se, you need an Abbey. And while one could argue that Tomme Arthur is the head of a beer cult comprised of followers approaching religious devotion, there is no such secular organization affiliated with the Port Brewing beers. Hence, this is a line of beers inspired by Abbey and Belgian traditions, but with no Abbey (hence “the lost” abbey). Since many of Tomme’s most revolutionary creations were in this loose style, or better yet “theme”, a number of these beers brewed under the Pizza Port or Port Brewing name have been moved over to their new home with The Lost Abbey line, and new creations along that theme are released bearing this brand.
The world’s greatest beer writer, Michael Jackson, was a big fan of Tomme Arthur’s beers and we know Michael would have loved this month’s Rare Beer Club exclusive, Saint’s Devotion.
For more information about the brewery and the Pizza Port restaurants where it all began, check out: www.lostabbey.com and www.pizzaport.com.
I don’t keep a large cellar, but I have toted empty beer bottles thousands of miles across the country. There are a few dozen examples kicking around the house, somewhere. A few that are of the “whale” variety: 3 Fonteinen J & J Blauw, Rodenbach Alexander (I’ve had bottles that sung, and others that just sort of yawned), and De Dolle’s Speciaal Brouwsel. There are others kept more on their technical merit alone: a trio of New Glarus wheats in the kitchen.
I went rummaging, as I keep some of these for other reasons. A bottle of Prairie’s Birra, just because I dig their labels. The first bottle of Odell Celestrina to get sampled. A hand-labeled bottle of “La Passion de la Saison” from Brian over at Stillwater, who I’ve known since he was homebrewing those saisons. Hair of the Dog’s Michael, named after the reason I have a job.
Overall, though, I think Tomme Arthur led in terms of having a hand in the most bottles. A Pizza Port bottling of the French-oak-aged Le Woody is perhaps the oldest, while Sinners 08 looks to be the tiniest: a special release for their subscription club. Actually, Saint’s Devotion was originally made for the brewery’s other subscription club that same year. While I try not to expect any bottles to amaze, I am pretty pleased to cross paths with it this time around.
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