By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
Photo by Morgan Dawson Photography
I have to admit I wasn’t at all surprised at my fellow NYCR editors’ reactions to Southampton Abbot 12, our 2010 Beer of the Year.
The first time I tasted this remarkable beer I had an immediate sense that it was something special. A huge fan of traditional Belgian beers, I enjoy some American takes on the quadrupel style but had never encountered one that matched the best Trappist ales in complexity, grace and balance the way Abbot 12 does. And for all its rich malt and yeast character and layers of sweetness, this particular quad maintains a rare drinkability factor.
Our cheese editor, Aaron Estes, a certified hop-head, remarked that this was the first Belgian-style beer he's really liked.
Southampton brewmaster Phil Markowski and his team have been brewing Abbot 12 since 2002. “While it is our own take on a Belgian-style Abbey dark strong ale,” he says, “we do draw inspiration from the classic versions brewed by Trappist monks at the few remaining Abbey breweries,” he says. Markowski lists world-class producers Westvleteren Abt, Rochefort 10, Konigshoven and St. Bernardous as those influences.
In addition to four types of imported malt, Abbot 12 is made with special types of sugars including "dark candi" and "light candi" which, Markowski explains, “boost the alcohol content but also contribute characteristics redolent of dark rum and toffee.” A special yeast contributes spice notes to balance the rich candied flavors for a truly luxurious beer.
Markowski believes in the aging power of Abbot 12. “At 10% alcohol it is a complex sipping brew that much like a fine wine, will continue to change with time,” he says. “In fact, we give our Abbot 12 a 5-year shelf life but by no means is it "spent" after 5 years. Again, if stored properly (cool and dark, just like a wine) it will continue to change over time and whether it improves or not is a matter of personal preference.” Personally, I’ll definitely be cellaring a few bottles to watch them develop and mellow out.
Ultimately, the 2010 Beer of the Year decision was not easy -- every finalist was outstanding and enjoyed by all NYCR contributors. More than anything else I’ve tried this year, however, Southampton Abbot 12 is the beer I would feel most excited to bring anywhere in the world and say, “this is what we can do in New York.”
Congratulations to Phil Markowski and his team on a job well done.