Dear abbey 

Sierra Nevada’s Ovila lineup of abbey-style ales is a welcome addition to an already stellar collection.

I’ve always been a fan of Sierra Nevada’s beer, from the ubiquitous pale ale to the limited releases. The Chico, Calif., brewery and craft beer icon never disappoints. The Ovila series of Belgian-style beers are no exception.

Brewed in collaboration with the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina (just outside Chico), the series brings a whole new set of beers to the already impressive Sierra Nevada lineup. But these ales are more than just a new product from the brewery.

The history of Ovila goes back to 1190 in Trillo, Spain, when the Santa Maria de Ovila chapter house was built on the grounds of the abbey. Cistercian monks spent their days there, working, praying, and going about their lives — including the brewing of beer.

But by the 20th century, the abbey and chapter house fell into disrepair and were mostly forgotten.

In a strange turn of events, California newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst discovered the abbey in 1931 and purchased it. Heart’s grandiose visions of constructing a medieval monastery/castle to rival the ostentatious Hearst Castle led to the stone-by-stone dismantling of the abbey, each stone shipped to San Francisco. The project was never completed. The crates of ancient stone were warehoused in Golden Gate Park, falling victim to theft, vandalism and fire over the years.

In 1994, the monks of the Abbey of New Clairveaux were able to gain possession of the ruins from the City of San Francisco, and began the painstaking process of rebuilding the chapterhouse on their grounds in Vina. In 2011, Sierra Nevada entered into a partnership with the monks of New Clairveaux. The Ovila Abbey Ales are a series of Belgian-inspired beers brewed in collaboration with the monks as an homage to the time-honored monastic brewing tradition, the idea being to “combine the quality and craft of those dedicated artisans with a dose of American brewing innovation.” Featuring ingredients grown by the monks on the grounds of the abbey, these beers are delicious and a new twist on a traditional brewing history.

The Golden Abbey Ale is a light and crisp beer brewed Belgian style. It pours a clear, bright golden color with a large, frothy white head that lingers. The aroma is citrus and pears, with a ton of peppery spice. The Belgian yeast is very present in the nose as well. Flavors of tart green apples and ripe pears are well balanced by a strong peppery spice. There is a great balance of all flavors for this style, hiding the potent 8.5 percent ABV. The mouthfeel is crisp, refreshing, and highly carbonated.

The Abbey Dubbel is dark and lush to the nose and palate. It pours a murky deep rustic bronze topped with a finger of tan head that dissipates quickly. In the nose, it is dark fruit; think plums, raisins, cherries, and red grapes. Flavors follow suit with added sweetness similar to dark candied sugar. There is a hint of hops at the end, but it fades quickly, leaving a nice light vanilla malt overtone. There is a smooth sweetness to the beer all the way through. It has a chewiness to it with just the right amount of carbonation. Again, the 7.5 percent ABV is well hidden in the sweet and smooth flavor.

The Abbey Quad Belgian is a sleeping giant. With a monstrous ABV of 10.4 percent that you will never see coming, this is a perfect beer for the colder days and nights. It pours a dark mahogany body with a retreating head that thins to a mist. The aroma is dark and fruit-filled, cherry and plums with sweet dark Belgian sugars. The flavors are more dark fruit, with some oak and deep malty sweetness. It is velvet in the mouth, smooth and thick and rich. The warming is the only hint of the potency, but it is worth every sip.

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