At A Glance
Beer: Abita Amber
Pros: Light and poundable beer that Joe Average can handle.
Cons: Lacks depth and distinction.
The Bottom Line: Fair quality sweet brew, but with so many better, more full flavored ambers out on the beer retailer’s shelves these days, I don’t see the point in Abita Amber.
While sharing his wisdom on life with Bart one day, Homer Simpson told his son to never be afraid of weasling out of things. “It’s what separates men from animals…except for weasels.” he said. I couldn’t agree more, and while I’ve been weasling out of finishing up with my tasting notes on the Abita product line, I’m finally figuring that maybe I should be un-weasel like today and pop open a cool Abita Amber and see how it stacks up against the rest of the Abita stable of brews.
Before I delve into the tasting notes, let’s just pause for a moment of respect…okay that’s enough respect. Instead, let’s just take a look at what it is that makes an amber an amber…
What I Look for in Amber Ales
Most beers sold in the United States that are labeled “amber” are members of the pale ale class, although there are more than a couple beer writers and brewers who differentiate those labeled “amber” as their own class. Some ambers are balanced more towards malt flavors with a somewhat sweet flavor usually with some toasted or caramel flavor. Some ambers are really amber lagers, which are usually smoother and are really Vienna style beers (also known as oktoberfest, maerzen, or simply “fest”), but I’ll save that discussion for another day.
If you’ve been drinking many craft-brewed beers, you know amber ales (or their cousins, the pale ales and red ales) as one of the most ubiquitous styles in the American craft-brewing business. It’s the house flagship beer at most brewpubs in the Americas and the flagship brand of countless micros and contract brewers.
Like American-style pale ales, amber and red ales are average strength beers (about 12 degrees Plato for a starting gravity and about 5% alcohol in the finished brew) with a color ranging from somewhat deep yellow to amber. The biggest signature of the style (at least at most breweries) is the hops: this is a deliciously bitter beer that often showcases the flavor characteristics of American-grown hop varieties. In the amber division of this style, look for a little more crystal malt, which translates to a slightly sweet caramel flavor and a bit deeper color. One of the most classic examples of an amber ale (in my opinion) is Red Tail Ale from Mendocino Brewing in California.
Like most pale ales, ambers are fairly hoppy, but not as intensely so as classic American pale ales like Sierra Nevada Ale — no, the hopping is a bit more restrained, though the best amber ales are still fairly hoppy brews.
There are a thousand ways to make a good amber ale, and most U.S. craft breweries have an amber or something similar in their stable. The names may change, but the beers remain the same.
Let’s take a look at Abita Amber and see how our friends from New Orleans interpret the style.
A Fine Looking Pint of Ale!
I almost always sample amber ales in mixer glasses — the characteristic “pint” glass that never really holds a pint (at least not in the U.S.) We’ll just pop the lid…psssstttt….and pour….aaahhhhh…
Deep golden color with just the barest hint of orange at the edges. I’m not quite sure who it is that thinks this beer is an “amber,” because it is one of the palest “ambers” I’ve ever sampled. I’d guess that the color is in the range of 8 or 9 on the SRM scale. The beer is very well conditioned with a nice creamy head and nice fine carbonation that keeps kicking up bubbles all the way through to the end of the glass. The clarity is absolutely brilliant and the beer looks a lot like a nice cleanly brewed Munich helles.
Sugary sweet smell with some butterscotch that could be either lots of crystal malt or perhaps moderately high diacetyl levels. It’s odd to find a house signature so prominent as this, but the strongly sugary smell is something that I’ve picked up in several of the Abita beers that I’ve recently sampled.
Light and refreshing, soft and smooth. The beer is sweet and balanced primarily towards the malt side, tasting of pale and crystal malts. There’s a little bit of apple fruitiness in there too. I get very little hops on this beer, with no discernible hop flavor and a short-lived aftertaste with no lingering bitterness. As I work my way towards the bottom of the glass and it warms a bit, the malt becomes even softer but more pronounced with a stronger fruit and caramel edge to it.
I’ll be blunt. This isn’t one of my favorite ambers. In fact, I’m not quite sure why the guys at Abita bother with this beer. As andaryl commented in my earlier review of Abita Red, it is rather odd that Abita puts out both a red and an amber ale. They are really one and the same style, and my tasting shows that the two are remarkably similar beers.
In terms of how well this beer stacks up to other “amber ales” on the market today, I’d say “not too well.” In my opinion, this is a beer that does nothing particularly well. It’s soft and smooth, sure, but the malt flavor is not as clean and toasty as some of the ambers that balance themselves towards malt, and the hops flavor is wholly lacking in this beer making it a poor contender against some of the nicely hoppy ambers, such as Mendocino Brewing’s Red Tail Ale.
Overall, Abita Amber is one of my least favorite brews from Abita Brewing, and it is not a particularly good amber ale. I’m thinking that this is probably an average 3-star beer…maybe more of a 2-1/2 star beer. Abita Amber is okay, but I think I’ll reach for something else next time.
Abita is one of those craft breweries that you don’t always hear a whole lot about, but that quietly go about making good beer and catering to their local market and growing their business. Abita is one of the old-timers of the craft brewing industry, having gotten their start back in 1986. Over the years, they’ve expanded to the point where, today, they are poised to become one of the largest independent breweries in the U.S. (they purchased a 100-barrel brewhouse from Canadian equipment fabricator DME — the largest brewhouse DME ever built.)
Abita likes to stress the purity of their water as the defining element that sets them apart from the pack. They claim that the natural water sources at Abita Springs let them brew without doing any mineral adjustments before brewing. Natural spring water — that’s what Abita says they use.
While Abita’s stronghold is the Louisiana market, their beers can be found in almost every state in the U.S. today. I know that it’s available in the Texas and Washington D.C. areas, and I see from Abita’s web page that they have distributors just about everywhere else too, from Connecticut to California, so this should be a beer that’s not too tough for most folks to get their lips on…
More info is on their web site.
This review first appeared on Epinions.