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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 19.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Beer Here: St. Thomas Belgian Abbey from Potosi Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

The Belgian Dubbel isn't generally considered to be summer beer. But the style can be quite wonderful though all seasons. Its solid caramel and chocolate maltiness blends into a spicy-warm profile, with an accent of dark fruit sweetness. Potosi Brewing just released St. Thomas Belgian Abbey, a brew that certainly makes for a special summer treat. Brewmaster Steve Buszka just brought it back after its original release over a year ago as a draught-only beer at the Potosi brewpub.

What is it? St. Thomas Belgian Abbey from Potosi Brewing Company of Potosi, Wisconsin.

Style: The Belgian Dubbel is an Abbey beer, a style that originated in monasteries during the Middles Ages. These are medium-bodied red to dark brown ales, known for light malty and nutty aromas, and even some chocolate hints. Belgian Dubbels have low bitterness and a distinctive yeasty quality, with fruity tones of banana, raisin and plum. They are moderately strong, ranging from 6.25% to 7.5% ABV, and are often bottle-conditioned, so a slight haziness is common.

Background: Potosi Brewing Company, based about 80 miles southwest of Madison, offers about a half-dozen year-round beers in bottles, with production and packaging help from Stevens Point Brewery.

St. Thomas Abbey Ale isn't a new beer for regulars to brewery's taproom in Potosi, but this is the first time it has been bottled. And its packaged release is the first in a new line of limited seasonal four-packs for the berwery.

Munich and chocolate malts lend a deep brown to St. Thomas Abbey Ale, while brown sugar is added to the boil for some sweetness. Traditional recipes often call for Belgian Candi sugar (not brown sugar), which is fermentable, giving the beer more alcoholic strength without adding body and mouthfeel. This brew is ale-fermented with Belgian Trappist yeast, which imparts slight earthy and musty notes.

The beer is named for St. Thomas Church, which is located not too far up Main Street from the brewery in Potosi, and it depicted on the label. Built in 1847, St. Thomas is considered the oldest church in the Diocese of Madison still in continuous use. The beer and its name is a nod to the monastery origins of the style. Because St. Thomas Belgian Abbey was such a big hit with pub patrons, it was an easy decision for it to be the brewery's first foray into limited-release four-packs.

This abbey ale isn't the only tie between the church and brewery. Local woodcrafter and artist Gary David hand-carved both the St. Thomas altar and the ornate wooden bar used in the brewery's tap room. David himself was instrumental in restoration of the Potosi brewery, having bought the property in 1995 hoping to bring it back to life. The structure had been vacant since 1972 and was falling into disrepair.

St. Thomas Belgian Abbey takes about 45 days to produce, and finishes at 7.5% ABV. It's bottled by Stevens Point Brewery and sells for around $8/four-pack.

Coming up later in the summer and early fall in Potosi's new four-pack series are a Scotch ale and a Doppelbock. Also, the the brewery will hold its fifth annual Potosi Brewfest on Saturday, August 24. More than 40 breweries, along with several distilleries and wineries, will be offering some of their favorite products.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Malty, musty and yeasty.
  • Appearance: Hazy deep brown-bronze with a ruby hue. Its head is marbled, soft, and tan.
  • Texture: Full-bodied, round and yet bubby enough that it doesn't feel thick or heavy. There is modest alcoholic warmth early in the flavor profile that lasts throughout.
  • Taste: A rich maltiness with caramel and chocolate tones. The fruity-yeastiness comes out in the background and leads you into an even sweeter finish.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: That sweet fruitiness of raisin and plum combines with the alcoholic warmth, lending after-dinner, dessert-like qualities.

Glassware: This beer served in a glass that encourages sipping, such as a chalice or tulip glass.

Pairs well with: The malty sweet and spicy tones of St. Thomas Belgian Abbey go well with rich beefy stews or dishes featuring lamb. It's also a nice beer with creamy cheeses like Brie and Gouda.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: St. Thomas Abbey Ale has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.

The Verdict: Initially, I was hesitant about St. Thomas, thinking that an abbey-style Dubbel might be too heavy and sweet for summer. But this beer is one I'm glad I took the time to get to know. While it's great with slightly sweet meat dishes and grilled entrees, what surprised me most was how nice it is on its own. This Dubbel isn't thick or cloying. St. Thomas Belgian Abbey is smooth with a firm yet mild spicy-sweetness that's also appropriate in a nightcap -- there's just enough raisin and plum to lend it a sherry-like quality. It convinced me that any season can be a good time for a well-made Dubbel.

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