It’s true. Saturday June 28, 2008 Isabelle Proximus will officially go on sale at the brewery. Of all the beers that we have produced in our two and a half years in business, this one comes with the biggest expectations. It has to. It has the biggest back story of any beer we have ever produced. And that my friends is saying a LOT!
Perhaps you’d like to humor me, if you will, as we take a journey back in time. It’s November of 2005. I am sitting in a coffee shop in Solana Beach working on my laptop. We’re in the midst of acquiring the old Stone Brewery (currently the home of Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey). I am reading some email when I come across an invitation from my good friend Sammy at Dogfish.
Apparently, he’s working on his second book entitled “Extreme Brewing.” He’s requested that I join him, Rob Tod from Allagash, Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Company as well as Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River on a pilgramage to the Holy Land of brewing that is Belgium. We’ll be joined by Lorenzo Dabove (the prince of Payontenland) who will act as our Embassador of Breattnomyces while we’re touring numerous of the best Gueze and Lambic producers in Belgium. It’s a trip not to be missed.
We book our flights in early 2006 and all head to Belgium for what promises to be a once in a life time opportunity. As part of our Ambassador like duties, Sam has requested that each brewery ship 6 cases of two different beers over for press and enthusiast tastings and dinners. In this way, we are never empty handed when it comes to discussing our beers and breweries with the respective Belgian Brewers we are to meet along the way. For our part, we ship Pizza Port Solana Beach SPF 45 Saison and Cuvee de Tomme over.
On our journey, we visit Cantillon, Drie Fontenien, Boon and other great breweries. It becomes clear in the course of all of our conversations, that there is no one way to make sour beer. As we travel from one brewery to the next all sauced up on sour beer, we begin to envision a project back at home. It is decided that an homage to the storied production of Lambic is what we should attempt.
I offer Port Brewing as a great place for this experiment and homage to take place. When we built this brewery, we made a concerted effort to focus on barrel aged beers. As such, we have excess capacity in our barrel room for a beer of this scope. Somehow, we manage to get everyone on board and in November 2006 we are suddenly all reunited in San Marcos at Port Brewing. We’ve gathered to make a run at immortality. Or at the very least, we’ve gathered to drink Margaritas, watch women with questionable morals dance on our bar and all the while hope we won’t screw up a whole batch of beer.
By now, you’re probably wondering why Isabelle Proximus? Well, funny you should ask. When we were in Belgium both Vinnie and Rod had acquired International Cell Phones. When we landed in Belgium, they switched them on. The words Bel Proximus streamed to life. There were then ensuing numerous guy jokes about the size of their respective “Bel Proximus’s.” At the end of the day, we couldn’t call it anything BUT Bel Proximus.
Except of course, there is a brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan that uses the words Bell’s Brewing and as such, there was a conflict at hand. We agreed at the end of the day that our dear old Bel Proximus would live on in a kinder gentler feminine form and henceforth has been known as Isabelle Proximus. BTW, she’s WAY sexier than the Bel Proximus we ditched.
There were so many great parts to the making of Isabelle Proximus. Just getting the five us us to brew in one location was pretty damn sweet. Did I mention the beer tastes pretty good too? And now we return to the back story… I wanted the project to have great diversity and not just be a sour beer produced by Port Brewing. As such, I asked each of the breweries to deliver 4 Oak barrels to Port Brewing along with house cultures from their sour beer program. It was my thinking that this would be a great way to create flavors and diversity outside the scope of solely our bugs and barrels. Vinnie sent some American Oak barrels which we can certainly taste in the finished blend. Sam sent some cultures from the Festina Lente project they had worked on. Without a doubt, they lent a nice fruit component to the beer.
One large base beer was brewed that November day under the direction of 5 American Brewers and our crazy Mexican Muse Don Julio. The goal would be to take the same base beer and then age it on different cultures contributed by the participants of the trip. We fermented the base beer with our lager strain at 80F because that’s what we had around and figured it truly wasn’t going to matter what we used. The beer was racked into barrels ten days later. The beer spent the next 16 months doing whatever it damn well pleased. It did quite well. We filled 18 oak barrels with Isabelle Proximus.
At the end of the 16 months, we had one tragedy in the barrel and it was summarily dispatched by our illustrious tasting panel. All told, we ended up blending 17 Oak barrels worth of beer. We think it is an excellent homage and one that exudes the energy and passion for brewing we found on our trip.
This past April, we reconvened the Brett Pack here at the brewery and launched Isabelle Proximus in front of about 100 of our closest friends the media. It was a stunning night. Rob Tod said it best that night. “This tastes way better than I would have ever imagined.” I couldn’t have said it better myself Rob! Beers like this don’t come around very often. I am personally very excited to be a part of something that has a great back story. It’s right up my alley. We look forward to Isabelle Proximus finding you wherever you may be.
We’ve targeted some of the best on premise accounts (read bars) around this country and each of them will be receiving no less than 10 cases of this beer. In this way, it will appear on beer menus thereby giving a wider audience a chance to meet Isabelle Proximus in person. This week, Isabelle Proximus is set to hopefully take the brewing world by storm. It’s good to dream. It’s better to dare, dream and execute that vision. I’d like to think that Isabelle Proximus will take more than a few sour beer lovers over that proverbial rainbow. And for that, I am thankful to have met such a talented group of brewers. They make my job look easy.