Rather than make Trappist-style beers inspired by and based on the seven official ones — as so many breweries have done quite successfully — Sierra Nevada Brewing decided to go an entirely different way to make Belgian-inspired beers.
In addition to those familiar seven Trappist breweries, there are around 170 more that do not brew beer. Of those, 23 are located in North America, with 17 in the U.S. and six in Canada. One of them, the Abbey of New Clairvaux, is located in Vina, CA, about 20 miles north of Sierra Nevada’s brewery in Chico. Sierra Nevada Brewing decided it would be more authentic to partner with the New Clairvaux California Trappist monastery to brew beer.
The monastery was founded in 1955 on land once owned by Leland Stanford. He bought it in 1881 and named it Vina Ranch, for the wine grapes planted there. Stanford grew 4,000 acres of grapes on the ranch, making it the largest winery and vineyard in the world at that time. After a fire destroyed much of it in 1915, it was closed a few years later. In 2000, the monks of New Clairvaux began making wine again.
Beginning next year, the monks will bring back beer, too, though it will not — at least for now — be officially sanctioned by the International Trappist Association. To be certified as an “Authentic Trappist Product,” the beer must adhere to a few simple rules. It must be brewed “within the walls of the monastery or in the vicinity of the monastery.” The monastery must be in control of all the decisions about the beer, and the profits must be used “to provide for the needs of the community or for social services.” The new beer will be made at Sierra Nevada’s brewery, and at 20 miles south, that’s a little too far from the monastery to be considered in the vicinity.
But the profits from the beer will be used by the monastery to fund an amazing project. An early-gothic Cistercian chapter house, the Santa Maria de Ovila, was built in Spain around 1190, and was used by Cistercian monks for almost 800 years. William Randolph Hearst bought it in 1931, and shipped it in pieces to northern California, where “the stones fell into disrepair.” The Abbey of New Clairvaux acquired the stones in 1994 and will use the beer profits to begin the painstaking job of rebuilding the 12th century building stone by stone.
The beers that will come from the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and New Clairvaux will be limited edition seasonal beers, and will be called Ovila. The name Ovila was chosen to honor and reflect the 12th century Cistercian monastery, Santa Maria de Ovila, that the monastery is rebuilding.
The first beer will be released next March, and will be a dubbel brewed with Trappist yeast. Then in July, they’ll make a saison “made in honor of the Monk’s dedication to labor in the fields surrounding their abbey.” Lastly, a holiday seasonal will come out late in the year and will be a strong quadrupel, “rich with dark fruit flavors and the unique wine-like characters of these strong Abbey ales.”
According to Sierra Nevada’s Bill Manley, “This series of three Belgian-style Abbey ales is made in accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the monks. Each beer will be available for a limited time only and will rotate through the seasons.” It sure looks like the Ovila Trappist-style Abbey Ales will be the closest thing to “authentic Trappist-style Abbey ales in America.”