Last week was spring break, and my wife and I hoofed it to her childhood home of Albuquerque to visit some family friends, see the sights, etc. One of our day trips was to Ghost Ranch, Georgia O’Keefe’s home in the desert for fifty-some years, and lo and behold, guess what’s only two miles up the road?

Christ in the Desert Monastery, purveyors of Holy Hops and Abbey Brewing Company. Well, anyway, their website said the turnoff is two miles up from Ghost Ranch–true–but somehow we missed the fact that it’s then 13 miles up a dirt road that meanders up, down, and around through grazing land, national forest, river gorge and striking red bluffs. The landscape certainly fits the feel of what you would expect for a monastery.

We hadn’t made an appointment, so we were only able to walk down to the hop fields, where it’s still too cold for them to have sprouted just yet. But it was a chance to see something somewhat unique within the landscape of US brewing. Holy Hops is unusual in that they only grow and sell humulus lupulus neomexicanus, some of which makes its way into their reserve Tripel, and most of which seems to be sold via their webstore.

I’ll admit I was trying quite hard to track down some neomexicanus rhizomes for planting this year given that I’ve read they tend to yield in the first year and it looks more and more like San Diego will be a place I’m only passing through. Alas, maybe I’ll just wait and pick my own in August at one of the 20-something hop farms in SD county.

I had a chance to try their Monk’s Wit later and I swear up and down there’s a handful of chamomile thrown in at the end (based on a number of wit experiments we carried out in Bolivia for what will be Cerveceria Bendita in the near-ish future in Santa Cruz.

And then yesterday was Orval Day, so I took the opportunity to finally try it down at Hamilton’s. The eight month old bottle certainly had developed a lot of brett character, and it was bitter, dry, and deeply satisfying. Plus the barkeep let me take home 11 bottles, which will be great for letting other brett-spiked beers age indefinitely without fear of explosion.

I leave you with a selection of photos from the very scenic monastery:

On Monday:

“It’s too cold here. We were promised 70 degrees year-round,” said my wife.

[Subtext: it’s been dropping into the 40s at night in our iffy 1920s-era studio, where a strong wind finds enough gap in the walls so that you can see the curtains responding to the drafts on the inside.]

“Well, it’s supposed to warm up this week.”

[Subtext: higher than 70.]

This morning I woke up and checked the forecast: highs rising to 77 by Monday. Finally! And then I realized it’s February 5th, and probably need to stop whining about the cold.

I mean, we’ll probably head to the beach tomorrow, or at the very least try to see some gray whales migrating off Point Loma, and then spend that birthday gift card my wife got me at Modern Times’ Point Loma Fermentorium. And winter though it still technically is, I’ll probably skip the Devil’s Teeth a friend has so very much raved about in favor of the Lomaland, because you know, it’s San Diego.

One year ago today, we drove through the remnants of a three-foot blizzard in southeastern Wisconsin and flew to Hong Kong.

This week was the one year anniversary of leaving Bolivia, but I had a great way to celebrate it. Ben Olsoe, partner in brewing for most of 2012-2013 in Santa Cruz, was in town from Seattle. The only beer I brought back from Bolivia was 750 mL of the passionfruit lambic-style beer that I had brewed in early 2014 (made with a blend of three turbid flaked wheat and pilsner mashes, fermented each with its own culture, and aged for six months on a couple varieties of passionfruit). Wonderfully–shall we say, artisan?–in presentation, it was a Chimay bottle capped with a regular wine cork, held in place with a reused-bottlecap and secondhand wire hood.

But really meaningful part was the full-circle aspect of it: we met up with Jeff Crane (now of Council Brewing Co.), who went out on a limb and sent us the initial set of three brett and lacto cultures back in 2012. This beer was brewed with those cultures, so we got to close the circle with the man who sent us the key component to begin with.

Two years on, it’s flat with an aromatic explosion of guava, over-ripe tropical fruit in the nose. Quite tart, and there’s definitely an acetic note that clears the throat on its way down. Not quite the best pairing for a chilly 50 degree night on the Karl Strauss patio at a homebrew club meeting, but a nice California winter memory to savor for a long time.

IMG_0691 A few days later I re-bottled the last bits to see how it turns out (“oxidized! sherry-like!” I’m sure you’ll all yell), pitched the dregs for a starter, and had the last cloudy sips to myself, paired with…quantitative methods homework. Mmmm graduate school drinking.

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(Please excuse the parenthetical in the title; this is meant to be an ongoing reflection on encountering beers I’ve only read about and it’s probably a bit much to assert that this particular beer is “classic” given its rather recent introduction. One day, perhaps, it could be accurately called that, but for now perhaps it’s better to withhold the hyperbole.)

Session IPAs are all the rage of late, and the Founders All Day Session IPA is one of the leading lights of the “style” and even makes up around 50% of Founders’ total volume. I’d read about All Day, I’ve been following the Session beer movement for the last few years (which of course would be at the least peeved given that this “session” ale is 4.7% ABV, just over the 4.5% designation), and I recognize that my tastes and preferences since spending three months in China have shied away from strong, mind-warping high alcohol levels. I’d rather have a delicious, less alcoholic beer and keep my head more often than not. Part of that is returning to the USA, where a designated driver is basically always necessary if you’re not drinking at home, whereas in Bolivia a taxi could always be relied on to take one home.

Anyway, they didn’t/don’t have Session IPAs in Bolivia for the moment. But here in Wisconsin, they live in abundance and Founders All Day Session IPA is quite easy to track down.

Poured to accompany the MLS All-Stars’ defeat of my preferred Tottenham Hotspur, All Day smells so much like grapefruit and soft, sweet oranges. Truly this is the first beer I’ve smelled that really nails that aroma of grapefruit juice–there’s no beery other smells or odors to interrupt it. In the mouth it’s more OJ, and overall it’s dry and biscuity, which makes it quite lovely and it goes down quickly. Low carbonation helps with that, too.

I’d go back to this, as long as it’s reasonably priced, because the fact is that I’ve had comparably excellent beers this summer in New Glarus’ Moon Man Pale Ale and Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious, and the former in particular was a real revelation.

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