Sunday, 02 January 2011 17:56

Congregation Alehouse

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“Two to three inches of head is how they do it.” Travis tells his team in preparation. “It’s near blasphemy to pour it wrong.”

Travis is referring to the Belgium monks of Maredsous Abbey who are served beer for every lunch. Their abbey is known for brewing three world-renowned ales that are praised for their refined flowery-fruity aroma and light sparkle.  The head of the Abbey is currently traveling abroad and on September 9th, the Abbot of Maredsous had only one stop in California.  That stop was in Long Beach at an alehouse that had been open for less than one week.  

Abbot Bernard Lorent, is surprisingly very funny and refreshing.  Traits not expected from such a collected and calm, religious figurehead. As he sits inside, under a chandelier and on a bench modeled after a pew, he fiddles with something in the inside pocket of his jacket. Whatever it is, it is attached to a long gold chain draped around his neck and he seems to take comfort in the act.  His expression is a soft mix between shocked and amused when he is served a Maredsous Blonde by a young woman in a catholic schoolgirl uniform. (At this time, I take a moment to ponder if the word “sexy” has ever been used to describe the monk who serves the lunchtime beer at the Abbey.)  With a sip through a perfectly poured 2.5 inch foam head, he finally reveals his source of comfort by pulling out a golden cross, rubbing it a few times and then letting it dangle between a bottle marked “Holy Water” and a basket of fries.  Now, it’s time to socialize.  

As far as most alehouses are concerned, mixing religion and beer goes only as far as praying to the porcelain god.  By far, this is not the case for the brand new Long Beach chapter of Congregation Alehouse, located downtown on the corner of Broadway and the promenade.  Congregation is rapidly becoming an esteemed destination on the Beer Geeks’ pilgrimage.  It’s the Beer Geeks' church. His holiness of this house is Travis Ensling who immaculately conceived his brainchild from the desire to construct his favorite place in this world. The first of many chapters, this imported-gourmet style alehouse provides beer-sanctuary to some of the best, the rare and the random with a constantly evolving beer selection.  Over one hundred bottles, 32 beers on tap, one cask, and 2/3rds of their inventory rotating every few months, your palette will think it has made its way past St. Peter and through the gates to heaven.

The theme is appropriately modeled after a Trappist monastery. There are many Trappist monasteries in the world, but only seven produce beer (six in Belgium and one across the boarder in the Netherlands). Beers with similar style/tradition that do not meet the criteria of the International Trappist Association are called "Abbey” Beers and still share the reputation for being some of the tastiest ales in the world. They tend to use the finest ingredients, sometimes grown at the monastery itself, and along with sharing rich and extensive histories, monk breweries donate a sizable portion of their proceeds to charity. Honoring the creators of such fine beer, and educating the masses, the employees of Congregation Alehouse (dubbed Sisters and Brothers) are graciously willing to preach their knowledge of beer etiquette and each beer brand’s brotherly love. “Mass” (happy hour) is held mid-day and midnight and since each brother and sister is Cicerone - Beer Server certified, it is easy to be advised on the best pairing to go with your rib-eye burger or your apple and sage vegetarian sausage.

After the Abbot slowly moves from table to table, talking, joking and clanking beer glasses with patrons such as the Stone Brew crew, magazine producers and local business owners, Travis calls everyone to attention.  The bar freezes and focuses on the Abbot like they are watching the last Hail Mary play of the Super Bowl. After a quick explanation of why he is there and a few more jokes, Abbot Bernard pulls out a small bottle labeled “Holy Water” and begins speaking in French.  Blessing the place and the congregation in full ritual, he finishes by showering the holy water across floors, walls, patrons and beer.

“May everyone who drinks here, be blessed.”

Cheers are shouted, glasses clang together, and multiple “I just got blessed by an Abbot!”  fill the room. At one point I even hear a “Heeeeey Abbbbooottt!” in true Abbott and Costello fashion. Travis hands Bernard a Maredsous Brune and Bernard seems a bit taken back. The Abbot hesitates before smiling and taking the offered glass.

“I must watch out.” He explains.
“What will the Vatican say if they find out?” laughs Bernard.

-Christopher Ian Smith
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