Lost Abbey Amazing Grace

Man, this cork is really a pain in the neck to extract. Either I’m getting weaker, or there’s not a lot of carbonation in here to give me an assist. It’s not often that I need to call the corkscrew into service for a beer, but that’s the only way this cork is going to budge. Ah, there we go. Meager “pop,” as I thought, not a lot of carbonation here. Lost Abbey takes a lot of flack for its beers being feebly carbonated, but I find that they are so tasty, I barely care that I’m drinking something that’s not quite beer, not quite wine.

Lost Abbey has a complicated history that I’ll let you go ahead and Google, but generally, it’s subsidiary to the Port Brewing Co. of San Marcos, CA, a renowned craft brewer that sprung into being via the Pizza Port, a funky coastal So. Cal chain of pizza shacks. Lost Abbey skews more toward the experimental side of the operation, delving into Belgian styles and barrel-aged beers.

I’m drinking “Amazing Grace,” which is Lost Abbey’s “Lost & Found” Belgian-style Dubbel, aged in French oak barrels that previously held red wine. This is going to be one of those beers that blurs the line between beer and wine. Strong Belgian dark ales are typically somewhat vinous to begin with, so I’m expecting the flavor here to be informed quite a bit by red wine. From the back of the label:

“From our barrel room comes this oak aged specialty release. Every so often we receive French Oak Wine Barrels that previously held red wine. If our brewers have extra time (and beer) they have been known to age some of our Lost and Found Abbey Ale in these barrels.

Amazing Grace shows hints of soft oak tannins and light vanilla notes from the oak barrels. A subtle dash of red wine character from the aging process reveals itself if the beer is served at cellar temperature and complements the toasted malt character of the base beer.”

Well, it looks a little like red wine – it’s mostly flat, though I can swirl up some bubbles. Dark reddish-brown. I can’t say this is the most attractive beer I’ve ever seen, but that’s OK, as this kind of thing usually isn’t.

This is another extremely complex nose – it is oaky as all hell, of course. It smells exactly the way you’d expect an oak wine barrel to smell. There’s also a spicy note, I want to say mustard seed and/or turmeric. Almost a lemon-y women’s perfume smell, too, as well as a little funky blue cheese similar to what would be found in a gueuze lambic. Of course, a lot of dark fruits too – grapes, currants, figs, prunes.

The bottle description said the red wine character would be subtle, but it’s anything but. This reminds me a lot of Russian River’s “Consecration,” another red wine barrel-aged beer – the dominant flavors are tart dark fruits, the aforementioned grapes, currants and figs, and very much the tannic quality you’d find in a big Cabernet Sauvignon. Lot of vanilla from the oak in the dry finish, where I also get some of the odd spices I was smelling. The acidity here is high, yet it doesn’t burn going down like some of these tart beers, nor does it have any of the balsamic vinegar taste that a lot of people dislike in “sours.”

If not for the quick kiss of soft carbonation on the tip of the tongue, one would be forgiven for thinking this has the textural quality of wine. Well, forget the texture of wine, this could be mistaken for wine, period. I’d let it roam where the big Cabs roam, and pair it with a steak. Or, open it up at a beer tasting, which is probably what I should have done. Sorry!

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