The Quad follows the rich and plummy Ovila Dubbel and the lemony, spritzy Ovila Saison. Both earlier efforts linger on area shelves in 750-milliliter cork-and-cage bottles.
Unlike such popular Belgian brands as Chimay and Orval, the Ovila releases can’t be labeled Trappist beers: They’re not made by monks. Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s president, doesn’t wear a robe and cowl, nor does he rise at 3 a.m. for morning lauds. (Actually, he’s Jewish.)
However, the monks of New Clairvaux have participated in the beers’ formulation and promotion. If you attended last June’s Savor festival in the District, you might have been handed a glass by Father Thomas Davis, the monastery’s abbot emeritus, or by Father Paul Mark Schwan, its current abbot. What’s more, some of the proceeds from the sale of the Ovila beers are helping to finance a treasured goal of the monks: the reconstruction of a 12th-century chapter house on the monastery grounds.
The chapter house — originally part of the Santa Maria de Ovila monastery in Trillo, Spain — served as an assembly hall for Cistercian monks for more than 800 years. In 1931, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst shipped the building, stone by stone, to California. But he never got around to building his dream castle, and the stones languished until New Clairvaux acquired them in 1994.
“The last ceiling stone will be placed in several weeks,” Davis reports, but much work remains, and so the partnership with Sierra Nevada will extend into 2012. According to Manley, the brewery plans to rerelease the Ovila Dubbel year-round in four-packs of corked, 375-ml (12.7-ounce) bottles. Sierra Nevada also will release two more limited-edition Ovila beers in the larger format: a Belgian-style strong golden ale and a version of the quad, aged in brandy barrels.
Has New Clairvaux considered installing its own brewery? “The idea has been proposed,” Davis says, but “it is too early for the monks to seriously consider the proposal.”
Monastic brewing is much older than even the chapter house. “It goes back to Charlemagne at least,” says Stan Hieronymus, author of “Brew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them” (Brewers Publications, 2005). “The whole idea of the Benedictine tradition is that you have to live by the work of your hands.” Their motto: “Ora et labora,” pray and work. The monks brewed not just for themselves but also for thirsty pilgrims who sought lodging in an era predating Hiltons and Best Westerns.