Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sierra Nevada is one thing, and Ovila's sacred stones something else entirely.

Photo credit: Atlas Obscura.


In 2010, when Sierra Nevada first began brewing its Ovila line of Trappist-influenced, Abbey-style ales, the nature of its collaboration with a monastery in Vina, California was unique.

Our Ovila Abbey Ales series is a collaboration with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA. Each beer is a modern twist on a traditional Belgian-style abbey ale—monastic inspiration and American innovation. These rotating Ovila Abbey Ales highlight, when possible, local ingredients grown and harvested by the monks on their nearly 600-acre working farm. We hope you enjoy these one-of-a-kind collaboration ales.

I remember our regional sales rep at the time whispering to me that although it wasn't common knowledge, Sierra Nevada was using Westmalle Trappist yeast. This may or may not have been true, but it made for excellent titillation, and after all, New Clairvaux is of the Cistercians.

What's more, the Ovila ales have been consistently tasty. However, you'll note that they were not named after the California monastery itself, but tagged with a name derived from a project of the Abbey of New Clairvaux called Sacred Stones, which originally was cited as the beneficiary of the abbey's collaborative sales share.

Sacred Stones involves the reassembly of the Chapter House, a building that should be standing amid what's left of the Santa María de Óvila monastery in Spain, if not for the intervention of a yellow journalist's cash four score and four years ago.

 ... American publisher William Randolph Hearst bought parts of the monastery in 1931 with the intention of using its stones in the construction of a grand and fanciful castle at Wyntoon, California, but after some 10,000 stones were removed and shipped, they were abandoned in San Francisco for decades. These stones are now in various locations around California: the old church portal has been reassembled at the University of San Francisco, and the chapter house is being reassembled by Trappist monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, California.

As it turns out, in the early 1900s, robber barons bought dozens of centuries-old European buildings and brought them to America.

 ... (William Randolph) Hearst also had a specific goal in mind for Santa Maria de Óvila. It would be part of a 61-bedroom “medieval castle” in the California wilderness, called Wyntoon Castle. Hearst was less interested in historical preservation, and his design included a swimming pool constructed from Santa Maria de Óvila’s 150-foot-long chapel with a diving board installed on the site of the former altar. The choir at the north end of the church would serve as a women’s dressing room, and the chapel's apse would be scattered with two or three feet of sand, creating a “beach” for sunbathing. After a series of exchanges with (art dealer Arthur) Byne, Hearst approved the purchase of the entire monastery.

The article at Atlas Obscura is lengthy and fascinating. Santa Maria de Óvila wasn't the only medieval building to be purchased (we might as well say "stolen") in such a manner, and taken as a whole, these various motifs (medieval buildings in Miami, Abbey Ale in California, a replacement monastery in Spain) put one hell of a spin on notions of localism as it is practiced from afar.

In Vina, at a monastery that exudes austerity and age, traces of 2015 slip through. The monks, concerned about the challenges of recruiting young men to the brotherhood, have taken to Instagram (@monksofvina) where they update their followers on paintings in progress, their 3:30 a.m. prayer meetings, and the status of the harvest. Common hashtags include #monks, #cistercian, #monastic, and #monkslife.

Are they drinking low-gravity "abbey" ales for lunch?

Rick Otey is making a fine Session Abbey at Donum Dei in New Albany, although there's nothing medieval about my town except for the way it tends to think.

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