BEER CLINIC :: An Abita Beer Tasting

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on April 20, 2015

New OrleansI was thrilled to receive a gift of Abita beer last week. Abita Brewing Company is in Louisiana, just north of New Orleans, and their beer is consistently good, so I was looking forward to trying these. Most beer lovers are familiar with Purple Haze, Abita’s well-known and beloved raspberry wheat beer, but their other beers are but truly hard to find in this area of Pennsylvania. I couldn’t wait to try them.

The beer care package was a special delivery from my long-time friend, Jaime Jurado, who has been the Chief of Brewing Operations at Abita Beer for just over a year. Abita is a good fit for Jaime, who is passionate about sustainable brewing, which is one of the Abita commitments, too.The brewery takes its name from Abita Springs, a deep artesian well in the Southern Hills aquifer area, where the brewery gets its water. (Abita means “healing waters” in a Choctaw, a Native American language.) Although water is usually the most overlooked ingredient, any brewer will tell you that it takes excellent water to make excellent beer and spirits. Bourbon and whiskey distilleries are especially protective of their water sources, and Abita has always taken care to protect its water from pollution. This effort made the brewery environmentally conscious before it became popular to do so. Abita does many more things to stay green and sustainable, including their packaging. They use the environmentally-friendly, stubby IPA bottles–known as “heritage” bottles, which are endlessly recyclable and use 9% less glass than long-necks; they don’t use a neck label, which saves 25% of the paper consumption; their six-pack carrier design uses about half the cardboard of a traditional carrier.

Abita.Brew_.Pub_I have yet to visit Abita Brewery, but I’ve been to New Orleans. And who doesn’t love this town? There’s Bourbon Street, with its wrought iron balconies; there are jazz bars, which play into the night; there’s Mardi Gras; and of course there’s the unique French and Cajun-inspired cuisine. Craft beer is starting to catch on, which is no surprise in this town with its tradition of good food and drink. But as of yet, New Orleans does not have much of a brewery scene. Abita is the Southeast’s oldest and largest craft brewery, having been founded in 1986, and it’s the most prevalent local beer. Those of us who don’t live in the South can usually find the dark, rich Turbodog, or the beloved Purple Haze, a raspberry wheat beer. Abita also brews seasonal harvest beers, like Pecan Harvest and Satsuma Harvest Wit, emphasizing Louisiana-grown ingredients.

Abita beer selectionMy care package contained a selection of beers: Wrought Iron IPA, Abbey Ale, and Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout. In the picture, you can see the distinctive 6-pack carriers and the heritage bottles in the IPA. I poured one of each beer into the appropriate glass, shown here from left to right: the IPA, in a Speigelau IPA glass, the Abbey in a tulip-shaped glass, and the stout in a mug. In retrospect I should have used a brandy snifter for the Stout, since it has to be sipped rather than quaffed due to its high alcohol content.

Abita beer poursThe first thing that strikes you is the beautiful color of each beer, and next the massive head with their own individual colors, the most striking of which was the chocolaty, foamy head of the imperial stout. Next, I took a whiff of each one. I was pleased to note that each had a strong, pleasant smell. It is surprising how much how a good color, scent, and head add to the enjoyment of a beer. Of course I would have expected nothing less from a brewery that has almost 30 years experience making fine beer, and I was not disappointed.

The Wrought Iron IPA was lighter in color than most IPAs, but it didn’t taste thin. It had a lot of body and a very smooth mouthfeel. The head was delightful, the nose was fragrant, very fragrant, floral, like a bouquet of flowers. I could have drunk this straight from the stubby bottle, whose larger diameter is similar to a beer can–but then I would miss the scent and the head. The taste was great. It was very hoppy, as I prefer my IPAs, with an IBU of 80. Wrought Iron was hopped with Mosaic, Equinox and Apollo, 6.9% ABV. I would recommend this one highly.

Next, the Abbey Ale, 8% ABV. This Belgian-style dubbel ale has a beautiful cream-colored head, with a classical Belgian yeast nose, with undertones of caramel and spice; the beer has a pleasant orange color. It has a great taste, malty, slightly sour, with a hint of spice (coriander? clove?). The finish is excellent. It paired well with food, and was reminiscent of Chimay Blue, a classic Belgian Abbey beer. Incidentally, for every bottle sold, 25¢ is donated to St. Joseph’s Abbey.

bourbonFinally, the Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, 10% ABV. Don’t let the name mislead you; it refers to New Orleans’s Bourbon Street, and not to local bourbon production, of which there is very little. What a nose — it’s all unmistakably bourbon! Just to make sure, before going any further I decided to sip it along with a Kentucky bourbon. I poured a small shot of the oakiest bourbon in my collection, the Woodford Reserve double-oaked bourbon. No question, this was bourbon in the scent, and in the taste. Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting into bourbon, this is a good one to start with, it’s very easy to like.

Next, on to the tasting. The first thing that hits you is chocolate, followed by some vanilla, and the unmistakable taste of bourbon–confirmed by another sip of my bourbon shot. This stout has a very dense body, and is thick on the tongue; I would compare it to a hot fudge sundae. Maybe that’s because it has a LOT of malt — after all, it’s takes quite a bit of sugar to reach the alcohol level of an imperial. This beer is crafted with pale, caramel, chocolate and roasted malts, with some oats added for fullness, and it is aged for 6 weeks in the cold before going into a bourbon barrel for 2 months.

Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout is the best bourbon barrel aged stout that I have every had. Admittedly, I’ve only had 2 or 3 others, and I was not very impressed. However, the style is starting to catch on, and we’ll see more coming up. I recommend that you do your first tasting with a small shot of bourbon, it helps in the comparison. This beer was world-class; I think it is a medal winner.

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Abita Brewery, but I look forward to doing so in the future.

Dr. Westbrook with Abita's Jaime Jurado

Dr. Westbrook with Abita’s Jaime Jurado

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

admin April 20, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Who wouldn’t want to go visit Abita! Excellent beer within spitting distance of NOLA, a great point of destination! Cafe Ole and beignets for breakfast, then a nice bourbon barrel stout for lunch!
As an aside, some other outstanding bourbon barreled stouts to try are Doris the Destroyer from Hoppin’ Frog, Bourbon Barrel Aged Siberian Night from Thirsty Dog, and Alltech Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout. All different, all delicious.


Fred Tasker April 24, 2015 at 6:17 pm

It never occurred to me that New Orleans lacked a beer scene. I guess they all drink Hurricanes. This needs to be rectified!
Interesting story, Carol
Fred Tasker


carol westbrook April 24, 2015 at 6:51 pm

I haven’t been to New Orleans since my pre-beer doctor days, but I’m looking forward to a visit this year, and will report back. For its size, NOLA seems to have very few breweries, but Abita is the leader. Dixie also comes to mind; I’m familiar with their “Blackened Voodoo” which is especially popular around Thanksgiving.


carol westbrook April 24, 2015 at 6:51 pm

My bad. I meant to say “Halloween” for Blackened Voodoo!


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