Next month will begin the next phase of what has been a 20-year journey for one of the most renowned brewmaster’s in the craft beer world. In 1996, Tomme Arthur was hired as the assistant brewer at Cervecerias La Cruda in San Diego. Today, Arthur is the co-founder and director of Brewery Operations for The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing, and has become one of the most recognizable names in the craft beer industry. With beers such as Duck Duck Gooze, Cable Car, and the Veritas series, Arthur is constantly looking to push the boundaries. Despite all the success, Arthur is nowhere near slowing down. He is constantly releasing experimental beers to see what his next big one will be. Over C9—an experimental barleywine aged in cognac with peaches, staying true to his experimental nature—we discussed what’s next for The Lost Abbey.
Paste: You usually don’t see peaches added to a barelywine. I’m impressed how much it actually rounds out this beer. What inspired you to add peaches?
Tomme Arthur: A few years ago, a friend poured me a cocktail made with Peach Tea. In 2012, when we released our Lost Abbey Ultimate Box Set, we produced a beer (Track 11) that featured our Angel’s Share Barleywine aged in Bourbon Barrels with peaches and black tea. For the C-9 we revisited that riff and felt there was a chance to explore this combination (sans the black tea part).
Paste: Many people don’t know that Port Brewing and Lost Abbey are run by the same group of people. What made you decide to have two separate brewery names?
TA: When we founded the brewery in 2005 we knew that we wanted to produce two distinct lines of beers. In order to best focus our efforts on the different stories, we separated the brands. Yes, many people are unaware that [The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing] are produced by the same people in the same space. It’s either a blessing or a curse depending on the POV.
Paste: If these two weren’t enough, you have recently started the “Hop Concept” series, focusing on four seasonal IPAs. What made you decide to start this series?
TA: Fresh beer is better. We know this to be true especially in regards to IPA. Our brewers kept asking for opportunities to develop new seasonal beers with a hop forward focus. Needing to maintain the flavors and expectations for our Wipeout, Mongo and Hop 15 beers, we felt it was best to not change those beers, and work with a new brand that promised to bring experimental and new hop varietals (for our brewery) to the consumers who already loved our other hoppy offerings.
Paste: When you last released a batch of Duck Duck Gooze in 2013, you mentioned that the next time this beer would be released would be 2016. Are you on track for a 2016 release, and what can you tell us about batch size expectations?
TA: Definitely on track for another batch this year. We have not determined the final case (or number of barrels to be used) but we have at our disposal currently more blonde sour base beer than ever before in the 10-year history of this company so we’re hoping to increase the amount of beer and still produce an exceptional blended beer experience.
Paste: Have you found any differences with the batch currently developing compared to previous vintages?
TA: The 2009 batch has aged very well. There’s a slight acetic note that came from the three-year-old barrels. The 2013 version, I believe, is drinking incredibly right now and if all goes to plan, the 2016 batch will taste very similar and age incredibly well.
Paste: This past year you released the 16th iteration of Veritas, your ongoing experimental series. Can you elaborate on the process that goes into deciding what the next Veritas beer will be?
TA: We are on a twice a year release schedule for Veritas (March and November). The beers have historically been fruited and barrel aged sour blends. No rhyme or reason as to what or where. Often it has to do with the quality of fruit we can source and timing. The March 2016 Veritas 017 will incorporate a fruit we have not used in the past here at the brewery.
Paste: So far this series has been mostly one-offs. Are there any thoughts to bring back previous vintages?
TA: We have two large Foeders that have recently been filled. The expectation is that in the future will we make a couple of Veritas beers in higher case totals. These would be versions we have loved in the past.
Paste: There is a lot of lore around your beer Isabelle Proximus, which was a collaboration with Dogfish Head, Avery Brewing, Allagash, and Russian River. There have been many rumors thrown around about a second batch. Are there any plans this beer will be re-brewed in the near future?
TA: Definitely in talks about this. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the trip we all took to Belgium. Therefore we have reason to explore this again. There is nothing concrete as to how or when, but hoping for a 2018 release to celebrate that exceptional collaborative beer.
Paste: Next year will mark the 10 year anniversary of the first batch of cable car. What can you tell us about this milestone?
TA: We have produced a batch of Cable Car every year for the Toronado since 2007. It was such a great thing for them and exposure for us; we decided to keep the party going. Given that there are now 3 locations, we are making more each year. The barrels we use change each year, but we sample many different ones with the hope of creating the blend worthy of the Cable Car status.
Paste: Are there any plans to bring back Cable Car Kriek to celebrate this?
TA: Given the love and desirability that was shown for Cable Car Kriek, we would love to find the right spot to bring it back into the mix. It could come back as a Veritas branded beer, or it might fit someplace else in the portfolio. But make no mistake about it; we would LOVE to capture the essence of that beer in a bottle again.
Paste: If you could do a collaboration beer with any brewery in the world (that you haven’t before), who would it be, and what would you brew?
TA: We have worked with Sierra Nevada on some larger collaborative projects (multiple breweries on each project). But I think involving them in a sour project with something being made here at our brewery would stoke our entire brewing team. We’re also currently in the home stretch of a collaboration with Wicked Weed and getting to know Walt and Luke has been everything we hoped it would be.
Paste: What is your favorite beer you’ve brewed?
TA: All of them! Seriously each has afforded us incredible opportunities to learn and improve our craft.
Paste: What is your favorite beer to drink (outside of your own beer)?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is always nearby when I am drinking. If out and traveling, anything local or regionally recognized as awesome is also a great starting point.
Paste: If you could change one thing about craft beer today, what would it be and why?
TA: The scramble. We’re constantly trying to keep up with the innovation and rotation of beer in bars and on the shelves. It keeps us busy as hell. In 10 years of brewing here at Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey we have released so many beers, I have lost track of all of them!
Paste: You mentioned that 2016 will mark our 10th Anniversary of The Lost Abbey. What can you tell us about what 2016 hold for Lost Abbey?
TA: We are very excited to share our first 10 years with the consumers who have been here with us. Not many have endured the whole ride. No matter when they joined us on this roller coaster, we know that they have enjoyed the living hell out of our beers. So we get to spend 2016 telling stories about the startup days, the middle years and the ‘here and now.’ And when it’s done, hopefully we’ll have shown them the road map for the next 10 years. Because that’s our focus right now. Let’s tell the story of how we got here and more importantly how the next 10 years will be equally, if not more rewarding.
Jason Stein is a New York-based beer nerd. You can find more of his writing on NYC Beer Society.