Abita produces some very solid middle-of-the road beers. Turbo Dog, Abita Amber and Purple Haze are all good, non-threatening “gateway” beers that can seduce drinkers of macro lagers into the world of small-batch craft beer. The flavor of their flagship year-round beers tends to be mild and easy drinking for just about anyone.
With Abita Christmas Ale, they have produced something special as a treat for those of us who are already True Believers in craft beer. Like some more famous winter beers (such as Anchor Our Special Ale) Abita Christmas features a different recipe every year. So this year is your only chance to try this exact brew.
The 2009 edition has a very deep reddish hue from loads of caramel malts, which impart robust caramel flavors riding a sweet maltiness. But that sweetness is balanced with sufficient bitterness from a generous dose of American hops. That’s what sets this beer apart. Some pine, some citrus, and some floral hop notes combine to make it the hoppiest beer I’ve ever tasted from Abita. It just happens to be perfectly balanced with so much rich maltiness.
This practice of releasing hop bombs for the Christmas season is also part of the holiday traditions at such famous breweries as Sierra Nevada (Celebration Ale) and Rogue Ales (Santa’s Private Reserve). In some cases these brews can be a little deceiving, since certain varieties of hops can contribute spicy flavors to beer. So a skillfully hopped winter beer can make you wonder if perhaps the brewer engaged in some subtle use of spices.
Abita is the oldest brewery in the Southeast, founded in 1986. They’re located in Abita Springs, La., 30 miles north of New Orleans, and they have been very active in helping that city recover from Katrina. They released a beer called Restoration Ale specifically to raise funds for the Katrina relief efforts. One dollar from the sale of every six-pack of that beer goes towards hurricane recovery.
I’d be inclined to pair Abita Christmas Ale with a glazed ham, featuring a robust, spicy brown sugar glaze. The caramel aspect of the glaze would complement the caramel flavors in the beer, while the hops would mix well with spices like cinnamon, ginger, and clove. Throw some sweet potato soufflé in on the side and you have the core of an amazing holiday meal.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com