At A Glance
Beer: Abita Purple Haze
Pros: Soft, spritzy, refreshing wheat beer
Cons: Elusive raspberry flavors, too light for me
The Bottom Line: Purple Haze would be a good beer to serve to friends on a hot summer afternoon. Light and refreshing, but the raspberry just doesn’t come through.
I’ve been drinking a fair amount of Abita beer over the last month or two. I’m trying to identify a house signature while at the same time becoming familiar with the entire Abita family of beers. It’s not that I find Abita particularly fascinating — I don’t, mostly because their beers tend towards lighter bodied brews than I usually prefer, but I enjoy the tasting challenges anyway. My latest foray into the Abita product line is Purple Haze.
Abita Purple Haze is described on the label as “raspberry wheat brew.” What does that mean for a beer lover?
What Makes a Great Fruit Flavored Beer…
Evaluating fruit flavored beers can be a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, you need to evaluate the underlying base beer to see how well made it is and how well it lets stylistic signature characteristics shine, but at the same time, you need to balance that with the how well the beer succeeds in letting the fruit flavors and aromas come through. The final verdict needs to carefully consider this balance and to reflect not just how fruity the product is, but how good it is as a fruit beer.
Careful beer critics keep the balance in mind and do a good job of trying to fairly evaluate fruit beers, but unfortunately, you do often see reviews that forget about the balance. These reviews either blast all fruit beers in general as a sacrilege against the great beer Gods, or they sometimes go to the other extreme and focus only on the fruit as if they were judging a the State Fair’s fruit preserves competition.
A carefully made fruit beer can be a wonderful thing. The fruit and beer flavors can marry harmoniously, and can let the fruit have its moment in the spotlight while at the same time letting the underlying beer refresh and satisfy the palate the way it is intended.
The base style for Purple Haze is an American wheat beer.
American wheat beers are a product of the American craft brewing movement — especially in the early 1990s. The beers are usually drinkable beers that taste like a cross between the German weizen style and an American light ale. There’s none of the banana or clove signature of the German styles, but there is some cloudiness and a little tartness. It’s generally a smooth, drinkable, balanced beer.
In the brewery, the amount of wheat used in these beers varies wildly. Some have 50 percent or more wheat in their grist, but many others go as low as 30 percent. The hops are sometimes noticeable than with European wheat styles, and I’ve even had some that showed strong hop characters, especially the signature grapefruit citric aroma of American hop varieties like Cascade and its cousins.
What I’m looking for in a raspberry wheat beer like Purple Haze is a marriage between the light, spritzy, slightly tart character of the typical American wheat style, but with a noticeable raspberry signature. Let’s get out a couple glasses and see how well Abita does with their balancing act.
The Beer at Hand
I think the perfect glass for this style is the standard, no-nonsense heavy tapered mixer glass (sometimes referred to as a “pint” glass – even though few American pubs use glasses that really hold a pint).
The beer pours with a light golden color with just the barest hint of pink. It’s well conditioned and pours with a vigorous and assertive head that lingers all the way through the beer, leaving a lovely trail of Belgian lace down the side of the glass. There is an unmistakable light protein haze on this beer, but light is really the operative word there – it is most certainly nowhere near the point where you could call this a “cloudy” beer.
Odd. I expected an assertive raspberry scent here, but I’m getting mostly the slightly grassy and lemony scent of a light wheat beer with just a bit of earthy hops. Hunt and hunt as I might, that bit of raspberry scent that I hunger for is proving to be as fleeting and elusive as Osama Bin Laden ducking out of the way of American paratroopers.
Very light in both body and flavor. I’d bet money that the gravity of this brew is 11 Plato or less – it’s just so light and fleeting. I get some nice light wheat flavor in there, which in a beer, usually comes through as slightly citric. There’s the unmistakable slightly biscuit-like flavor of pale malt in there, and there’s a noticeable hop bitterness to balance. The raspberry flavor is unmistakable, but it is very subdued and comes at you only as you swirl the beer around in your mouth – blink and you’ll miss it. The raspberry flavor seems to be more the sweet jam-like raspberry flavor than the tart acidic flavor of fermented natural raspberry.
I’m having a tough time with this one. On the one hand, I admire the craftsmanship it takes to achieve such an amazingly delicate balance as this beer achieves. It is a high-wire act that balances the wheat beer elements to perfection, but that introduces just the barest hint of raspberry flavor. On the other hand, judging the beer as a fruit beer, I have a tough time justifying rating it higher than 2 or 3 stars. The problem is that the raspberry essence is just plain too restrained. If I didn’t know to look for the raspberry signature on this beer, I could very well have dismissed it as yet one more ordinary light-bodied American wheat beer for chicks and beer newbies.
Overall, I guess I’d have to say that this is a 3-star quality beer. Good craftsmanship and balance isn’t quite enough to make me want to give such a light, inoffensive, ordinary beer much higher than a completely average rating. Yeah…I guess 3 stars is fair for the Purple Haze. Quaffable and refreshing on a hot summer day, but I think I’ll opt for something a bit bigger 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.