Beer of Legend: Isabelle Proximus

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Holidays and a good friend’s visit created the perfect occasion for me to open one of California’s rarest and most exciting beer projects. Isabelle Proximus is the collective work of Avery Brewing, Russian River, Dogfish Head, Lost Abbey and Allagash – a true list of U.S. superstar brewers.

The Art of Lambic

Back in 2006 the brewers from each of the breweries listed above took a trip to Belgium together and tasted through as many Geuze lambics they possible could and searched for the secret tricks of this very complex and difficult to make style of Belgian sour beer.

Geuze lambics are traditionally made with indigenous wild yeast cultures that create some extremely interesting, and, at first glance, ‘off’ flavours. In other words, if these yeasts were used in wine the result would be disgusting.

Through history and accident, however, a great brewer can tame the beast of the wild yeasts and create one of the world’s most interesting beers.

These bold Americans decided to take on the challenge on their home turf.

Mastery and Collaboration

It was understandably difficult for five brewers of the stature involved in this project to get together and brew something at Tomme Arthur’s Lost Abbey brewery near San Diego. However, I am thankful they finally managed to do so four years ago and that Tomme’s master plan for this beer came to fruition.

The idea was to get four oak barrels sent from each of the five breweries along with yeast indigenous to that particular brewery. Then, the brewers would get together at the Lost Abbey brewery and blend the various components together in order to make a Gueze style beer unlike any other that had been made before.

The Greatest Sour Beer in the United States?

This beer tops the list of sour beers that I’ve had. Only Russian River manages to get to this level, but they don’t make anything quite like the Isabelle Proximus. It has the cellar-like and yeasty aromas you expect from a Geuze, but everything is under extreme control and I would even call the beer poised.

The sourness, unlike many lambics, is not overwhelming and in fact is balanced incredibly well with the oak and some secondary fruit characteristics brought from the used oak barrels. These fruit notes come from the Festina oak barrels that were provided by Dogfish Head. The Festina beer is made with ripe peaches and it is amazing to see how the fruit notes are carried by the oak into a separate beer and how well these flavours integrated into the overall balance of the beer.

This is something you should drink slowly and out of a wine glass. It is a remarkable creation and I would not hesitate to call it a masterpiece of the art of brewing. It is too bad that this beer was only made once. I aged this in my cellar for 2 years before drinking.

$40 at Lost Abbey Night at Toronado SF during San Francisco Beer Week 2008.


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