Beer by beer

Dubbel vision.

Dubbel vision.

It takes heaps of stones to build a monastery—and, sometimes, plenty of craft beer.

Selling beer, anyway, is how the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, just north of Chico, are raising funds to reassemble the Cistercian monastery Santa Maria de Ovila. This noble establishment was built in the late 1100s on the banks of the Tagus River, where it watched the boats go by and the centuries pass before meeting its paltry fate in 1931, when William Randolph Hearst partly dismantled the complex with the rich-man plan of reassembling it in California as a gross vanity vacation home. Hearst eventually abandoned the scheme, leaving a pile of Spanish masonry scattered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park until the 1990s, when New Clairvaux acquired the sacred stones.

Planning to rebuild the structure but lacking necessary funds, the monastery’s abbot contacted Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s owner, Ken Grossman. They brainstormed the possibility of making a fundraising ale (this was a monk and a brewer chatting; was any other outcome possible?), and Grossman, embracing the project, traveled to Belgium to learn the ways of monastic beer making. With him went Thomas Davis of New Clairvaux and several brewery assistants, and for a busy week they toured and tasted at some dozen breweries. Upon returning home, Sierra Nevada’s brew team went to work. They set a Belgian yeast strain loose on liquid candy sugar and specialty hops. When fermentation finished, the beer matured for a month in bottles plugged with corks and stamped with a label reading “Ovila Abbey Ales Dubbel.” The beer is about $10. Proceeds go to a good cause.

Sierra Nevada plans to brew more Ovila fundraiser beers. Already on the release calendar are a bright and cheery saison for the summer and a Belgian-style quadrupel for November. Meanwhile, the historical Spanish landmark—destroyed by Mr. Hearst—will rise again from the Sacramento Valley floor, stone by stone and beer by beer.