Every Wednesday in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden brings you the latest in craft beer, usually with a history lesson for flavor.
Hello again. Hope you didn’t get too sober while I was gone. Now that my liver is finally done crying after a particularly rough weekend in Michigan City, IN, I’m looking forward to enjoying some beer that isn’t sold in packs of 36. To (re)start things off, I want to shine a spotlight on a beer hailing from that dark, swampy groin of the nation known as New Orleans.
What’s the story?
The Abita Brewing Company was founded in 1986 in the “piney woods” just north of Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans. The company was founded by Jim Patton and Rush Cumming, two homebrewers who wanted to turn their hobby into a career (one of these times the story has to change). Their new brewery produced a humble 1,500 barrels of beer in its first year, and since that time has expanded production to over 150,000 barrels per annum (that’s a 100-fold growth). Nowadays, Abita’s beers are somewhat of a staple in New Orleans bars, and they have even reportedly made their way into some of the Bourbon Street haunts where, amongst racks of frozen novelty-drinks and hard liquor, they are likely to remain the lone choice for beer snobs. Abita is the 15th largest craft brewery in the U.S., the 24th largest brewery of any category, and it’s beers are available in 46 states as well as Puerto Rico. Its beers are so synonymous with New Orleans that they are served at every restaurant and bar at the New Orleans-themed Port Orleans Resort at Walt Disney World.
Abita Amber is the brewery’s original beer, and it continues to be their best-selling offering. It is reportedly used in cajun recipes by local chefs, and is meant to pair well with Louisiana specialities like smoked sausages, crawfish, and spicy gumbo.
Why should I drink it?
The liquor (water used to brew beer) that goes into Abita’s beers is drawn from Abita Springs. According to folklore, this water is endowed with special healing properties. Consult the following story, courtesy of Abita’s website:
This story is of a young Spaniard named Henriques who lived in Louisiana during the late 1790s. While hunting along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, he met a beautiful Choctaw girl and persuaded the chief to allow them to marry. After bringing her home to New Orleans, Henriques watched his wife grow pale and weak, and soon he realized that she was very ill. None of the local doctors could cure her so Henriques finally consulted the Choctaw’s medicine man. The young woman was carried to the spring and left there with only a hammock, food and a dipper to drink from the spring. When Henriques returned, to his amazement, his wife was totally well and the water’s fame as a curative began to spread.
So there you have it. Drink Abita beer, and you’ll be cured of any deadly ailments that might be troubling you. Except cirrhosis. If you have that, it will only make it worse.
What does it taste like?
Like a toasty biscuit. This is one of the more flavorful lagers I have ever tasted, and the bready, caramel flavors are actually more prominent than in many ales. The beer is overwhelmingly sweet and malty, with hardly any taste of hop bitterness. There’s also a distinct earthy musk that is pretty atypical of a lager, and it becomes more noticeable as the beer warms up. This taste is of the sort that you would expect from a cheap, mass-produced lager, and although it’s definitely not pleasant, it’s also not entirely unpleasant. The beer is definitely not what you’d call balanced; the malty sweetness is the main, dominant feature, and I get the feeling that the earthiness was more of a byproduct than an intended flavor.
Where the beer does find balance, however, is in the mouthfeel. Abita Amber is a light, sweet lager designed to pair well with spicy cajun food, but it nicely avoids the pitfall of being overly-watery. The beer seems slightly meatier than other, more popular versions of the style (Dos Equis, Sam Adams, Third Shift, etc.), and it has a nice consistency that feels good to swish around. At 4.5% ABV, it’s light, but not as much of a featherweight as beers like Yazoo Dos Perros that are simalarly meant to pair with heavy, flavorful foods. It’s definitely substantial enough to stand on its own. I really haven’t encountered many other relatively-cheap, widely-available beers that strike this balance very well, and I think it deserves more credit for this.
Should I try it?
I was torn about this one. At first glance, it’s flashy, appealing, and quite delicious, but after it warms up a bit there’s a distinct swampy funk that becomes more and more noticeable. It’s the perfect flagship beer for New Orleans, really. Just like the town from which it hails, Abita Amber is, for all its grimy shortcomings, colorful and full of character. Sure, Louisiana might be the groin of the nation, but doesn’t the groin have all the fun, anyway? Abita: the official beer of your groin. Try it out.