Sunday, June 28, 2009

Abita Brewery Tour

I've come to terms that most of my trips revolve around beer. I've been to Germany and Ireland, with Belgium next on the list. The second Saturday of every month is reserved for Ramstein Brewery's Open House. So, when traveling in the Gulf region, I simply must stop by Abita Springs for the Abita Brewery tour. They hold them every day at 2pm, and have a few on Saturdays. And they make some of the best craft beers in the States.
Southern hospitality at its finest

The tiny town of Abita Springs, just north of massive Lake Pontchartrain, has been known for its spring water for centuries. The Choctaw Indians believed in its healing powers, and nowadays, it makes for a crisp clean tasting beer. Abita bottles 80,000 barrels of beer and 5,000 of root beer. The brewery is probably best known for their raspberry wheat, Purple Haze, outside of Louisiana. Locally the Amber is their flagship, and they have several varieties and seasonals.
Oh, heavenly row of taps

Unlike New Jersey, where the Alcoholic Beverage Commission is a corrupt dinosaur meant to protect the exorbitantly priced liquor licenses sold the the highest bidder, at Abita they have a row of taps you can serve yourself from before the tour begins. I tried everything except the root beer, which I'd had bottled before. It's quite good, but doesn't mix with regular beer in my opinion. The rest- well, even their Light beer (heavens forbid!) is good. I sipped some. Life's too short to drink light beer.
"Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy." -Ben Franklin

I wasn't a fan of their Turbodog the first time I tried it, but here, fresh from the tap, it was delicious. It's a dark brown ale, malty with chocolate and coffee notes, a big-bodied brew that'll satisfy the Guinness lover in you. The Jockamo IPA is a mild, classic Indian Pale Ale that packs a lot of flavor without hopping you to death. On the other hand, the Restoration Ale- proceeds of which go to restoring the damage done by Katrina- is a full California-style IPA that frankly, gives the IPA champ Dogfish Head a serious run for the money in my opinion. The Amber classic is a Munich-style dark lager with lots of flavor, and would be the entry-level beer I'd recommend. It's crisp and clear with good flavor, without the sharp notes that take getting used to.
Sonny Day (no sign of Little Neddie Niederlander)

The tour showed off their impressive brewing operations, one of the biggest I've seen. The bigger boys like Sam Adams and Brooklyn Brewery tend to tour their specialty breweries and not the main event. This was the real deal. I met with brewer Sonny Day (not the same guy Steve Martin played in ¡Three Amigos!) and we talked about their operations. I also promised to bring him some Genesee 12 Horse Ale- but sadly, it is no longer made and High Falls Brewing doesn't offer tours. Sorry, Sonny! Abita is up to 90,000 barrels according to Sonny, and I'm glad they're growing. They truly make some of the best American beers you can get your hands on.
Their Harvest Brews are worth looking out for- we just caught the release of their new Satsuma Harvest Wit, a Belgian white made with real local satsuma juices. It's very tasty, but the one everyone goes crazy for is Strawberry Lager, one of the best fruit beers I've ever had. Firecracker's Dad managed to locate us the last six-pack in the Baton Rouge area, and I'm forever thankful. But to be honest, my favorite is the Pecan ale that comes out near autumn. It's just so unique, smooth and definitely tastes of pecans! By the way, it's pronounced pe-CAHN. My first trip down South, I learnt the hard way that a pee-can is something you piss in, and a pe-CAHN is made into pie. Don't get me started on why they call 'em praw-lines, either.

And how can we forget seasonals? They had their potent Red Ale this time, and it's quite good. The best Red Ale I ever had was a homebrew by a co-worker, but the Abita and Sam Adams versions are quite tasty. Another good find is the Andygator, a Helles Doppelbock served only in kegs. We've found it at Mara's Homemade in NYC before, but it's available in Louisiana at discerning beer bars like the Chimes. Andygator is a bright punchy bock and great on a summer day. The problem with Abita is that it's hard to pick just one; if I had to pick a favorite beer of theirs, the Jockamo IPA is one of the more complex and surprising brews, but a year or two ago they made an Abita Select Altbier that I couldn't get enough of. This year the Select was a good pilsner, but that Altbier will always be remembered by my grateful palate.

If you visit the Abita website you'll notice they are big on food pairings, and even offer a cookbook. Louisiana is as much a cuisine as a place, and Abita makes such a variety of beers to go with every favorite from a spicy crawfish boil, fish fry, hearty gumbo to sweet stuff like pralines and pecan pie. I wonder if they'll ever made a peach brew with delicious Ruston peaches, sort of like Dogfish Head's Festina Pêche? That would be something, since Abita is really king of the fruit beers as far as I'm concerned. Try a Purple Haze sometime- it certainly tastes of razz but it ain't the cherry cough syrup flavor of my least favorite Sam Adams brew, Cherry Wheat. Abita is available on tap at many bars in New York City and New Jersey like Oddfellow's Rest, Acme, the Delta, Fat Annie's Truck Stop, House of Brews, and elsewhere. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed. I garawntee!


firecracker said...

if only they had one of these up here. id be there every weekend!

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