After staking out a kingly claim in America’s hop-heavy craft market, it might seem odd that Sierra Nevada’s next conquest would be of Belgians. On the opposite side of the hop spectrum from the no-quarter West Coast IPAs that Sierra helped define, Belgium’s abbey ales are steeped in decorous tradition and a sweet interplay between distinctive yeast strains, simple grain bills, candied sugar adjuncts, and location, tradition, location. And yet perhaps it was precisely these opposite worldviews that make the Ovila series such an alluring prospect and their beers so unanimously worth trying. Not all have been major coups, but never are they boring.
THE FIRST RELEASE in the series is the Abbey Dubbel, a 7.5% ABV beer that’s amber in color with a faded yellow head that recedes slowly. The nose readily offers apple cider, fruit and some malt sweetness, but is not aggressive.. Flavors are generally round and full-bodied with a slightly cloying mouthfeel, landing in an intriguing compromise that’s both less spicy than true Belgians and less bitter than true Sierra. Heavy on the barley, rather light indeed on hops or carbonation, the Dubbel nearly has the weight of a food ration, while its muted bitterness, presence of caramel, and warming quality reminiscent of Irish whiskey. By playing this first card so precisely—almost understatedly, even—Sierra Nevada took an unexpected tack that arguably made a bigger impression than if they’d dropped a hop bomb. Not quite essential, but well-conceived and packaged as a semi-collectible supplement to their core offerings.
Served: 750 ml