Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey - Ten Commandments (2009 Vintage)
- ABV: 10.00%
- Serving Temperature: 50-65° F
- Suggested Glassware: Wide-mouthed Goblet
Ten Commandments is a dark brown beer with some ruby color when held to the light. The creamy tan head lasts permanently and drapes curtains of lace down the glass. Expect notes of plum, heaps of fresh dough, figs, raisins, some big yeast phenols from the Saison style yeast, sweet caramel, boozy fumes of alcohol and a slight acidity/sourness. We understand that sourness is a flavor-quality, but we believe you can smell it too. Look for modest Brettanomyces funk levels and dark cherry notes with a slight char. The rosemary quality, which is very prominent in the aroma when this beer is young, has mellowed considerably with the age. Rosemary is a very interesting herb; when freshly picked, it’s got a piney, almost minty edge, which fades shortly thereafter to a very savory core character that most of us will associate with the herb, yet it’s also very earthy. Expect all of these elements in this beer, but the piney, minty character is the first to fade (though at full warmth, there is just a bit left in the finish). What’s developed most prominently as the beer has aged is the “earthy” character of the rosemary, and this gets deposited on the palate in no short supply in this beer. A very full-bodied brew, it opens very musky, with notes similar to iron, making it faintly blood-like. In other words, it’s meaty. But all that fades out to let some boozy rum cake and raisin puree through, with a faint honey note developing as well. Expect an engaging interplay between sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. The savory quality of the rosemary is present, and since the Brett has eaten through a fair amount of the initial sweetness, drying things out over time, the herbal earthy dryness in the finish is further enhanced. Look for notes of ground white peppercorns in the fade. The spiciness of the yeast grows as the temperature rises, so expect increasing spice levels as it warms. And, when swirled after it’s come up in temperature, look for subtle notes of blueberries and ozone. The finish gives impressions of dark chocolate and peppery spice, all coated in a residual, raisin-like sweetness and dark chocolate bitterness with a sugary char, with a very warming sensation in the mouth, and eventually in the belly, from the 10% ABV. We found it paired nicely with pulled Caribbean-style jerk pork and pickled red onions—but this beer easily stands alone just fine given its complexity. Enjoy!
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. Considering their development into a beer maker with religious overtones, it is perhaps ironic to discuss The Lost Abbey’s “evolution” from their common ancestor into their current form. But, on the surface, it is, at least initially, hard to reconcile the truly game-changing beers that helped put San Diego on the map as a craft-brewing force with the vibe one gets from stepping foot inside the location where it all began. Pay them a visit, and you might just see where a little faith went a very long way toward evangelizing so many to the virtues of better beer.
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. “Hey Bro, can I have a righteous double IPA with those pepperoni slices?” “Yeah dude, you most certainly can—we’ve got more than one on tap today. Take your pick brah…”
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.
After nearly 10 years brewing for Pizza Port, in 2006 Tomme became the Director of Brewing Operations for the newly formed Port Brewing—a venture that would continue to make many of the beers developed and still brewed at the Pizza Port locations, but on a scale large enough to spread them around via kegging and bottling. He kept up his winning ways. In 2007 Port Brewing was named Great American Beer Festival ‘Small Brewery of the Year’ and Tomme ‘Small Brewer of the Year’. In 2008 he and Port Brewing were named ‘World Champion Small Brewer and Brewery’ at the international World Beer Cup. Since then he’s taken home a throng of medals and been consistently noted as one of the world’s top brewers—which is why you probably already know his name.
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—he was particularly impressed with his Cuvee de Tomme, which he selected as a feature some years ago in this very club. He wrote of this beer: “It’s just so complex, I could go on exploring this beer all afternoon. I am very proud indeed to offer this beer in the club because by making it available, I’m giving you the chance to taste it, the chance to share my pleasure. You don’t have to write me a thank you note, or send your name on the back of an open check or anything like that. But I really enjoy sharing my pleasures with other people. I hope you enjoy Tomme Arthur’s beer... Cheers, Tomme. It’s about time I went to San Diego.”
We’re confident that Michael would have enjoyed our latest Tomme Arthur feature, Ten Commandments (the 2009 Vintage), and that you will too. Cheers!
For more information about the brewery and the Pizza Port restaurants where it all began, check out: www.lostabbey.com and www.pizzaport.com.
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