Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Lost Abbey (Port Brewing): 10 Commandments – God versus Satan, or Conventionalism versus Reformation?

Founded in 2006, The Lost Abbey or Port Brewing is located San Marcos, California – a medium-sized city located about 20 miles (32 km) north of San Diego. The brewery offers about six regular beers, another six seasonal variants, and four of what they refer to as “non-denominational ales” since they do not comport with any known beer style. Hence, not only does The Lost Abbey clearly value a good sense of humor, but their product line appears to reflect a blend of conventionalism and innovation, or perhaps “reformation” of conventional beer styles (see my reviews of Avant Garde and Judgment Day for examples of this point).

The 10 Commandments certainly reflects a duality of conventionalism on one hand and reformation on the other, along with some of the tribulations that come with being innovative. The Lost Abbey brews 10 Commandments by using raisins and sets its sights on producing a Belgian Strong Ale – something akin to Chimay’s Grand Réserve, and The Lost Abbey certainly hits the mark pretty closely with this aspiration. Popping the cork immediately releases the sweet smell of dark fruit. When pouring 10 Commandments into a glass, the dark and slightly reddish-brown body and fluffy beige head are signs of what’s to come: an enticingly sweet beverage with lots to offer its “disciple”. Swirling the glass a bit reveals a decent amount of lacing, but lacing that is slightly less sticky than a Chimay blue. Aroma? Think raisins, plums, spices, booze (lots of it in fact), and maybe a hint of coffee.

The mouthfeel is pleasant and pretty faithful to this particular style – medium and fairly well-carbonated. Taking a generous mouthful reveals a wonderful array of flavors, ranging from raisins, plums, and spices. Once again, I’m finding a slight coffee reference here, but I’m not sure if my palate is really being truthful with this reference. Part of the deceit is perhaps due to the relatively strong alcohol note, which is a bit distracting and somewhat diminishes the overall harmony of the flavors. This is especially true as 10 Commandments warms up, in which case I placed the bottle back in the refrigerator just to tame the devilish alcohol taste a bit. The finish is slightly bitter and really delivers a punch of alcohol, almost like taking a shot of something strong (I rarely do this, so don’t ask me what that something is).

All-in-all, the Chimay Grand Réserve is a decidedly better beer largely because its strong alcohol note blends harmonious with the overall flavor milieu. With the 10 Commandments, it’s kind of like Satan himself is using alcohol to mess with what is otherwise God’s beautiful and harmonious plan for what Belgian strong ales are all about. Indeed, with a 9 percent ABV, I am surprised to find that 10 Commandments is considerably more boozy than The Lost Abbey's 10.4 percent ABV Judgment Day.

That said, The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments is still an excellent beer, and considering how young The Lost Abbey is, this ale is absolutely impressive and certainly worth exploring. It’s flavorful, complex, potent, and while the alcohol finish is indeed punchy, it’s also warming and rather enjoyable at lower temperatures. In an alternative to the God versus Satan analogy, the 10 Commandments is perhaps a slight reformation of what Belgian strong ales are all about – a shift from conventional sweetness and complexity into a more aggressive, but still enjoyable alcohol punch at the expense of some harmony.


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