Monday, May 9, 2011

New Glarus - Unplugged ABT

They say that good things come to those who wait and I have been waiting a long time to review this Abbey Ale from New Glarus.  OK, so it has not been that long, but my impatience sure makes it seem that way.  I love Abbey ales.  I love the robust fruit flavors, the warmth of high ABV levels, and their dark malty goodness.  Too much writing, must drink now.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 7/12
Initially, this beer yielded only the strong smell of a bready, lightly caramel, but barely roasted malt.  It was not a good start.  Once the head began to die a bit all the wonderful aromas began to arise.  There is a dark fruit medley, almost the smell of wine, crumbles of brown sugar, and the warmth of alcohol.  It is everything one loves about an abbey ale, though the aroma is a bit muted.

Appearance 2/3
This brew pours with the consistency of a cola, but the colors are much more flattering.  A soft, dark copper with ruby glints and topped with a foamy, beige head.  Low head retention and almost no lacing.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 15/20
Initially sips are crisp, sweet, and show the sugar involved in brewing this beer, but the sensation is not long before giving way to this beer's backbone.  The main structure seems to be more of a dunkelweiss or weizenbock than a true abbey ale, as initial flavors are the caramelly malt found in the aroma.  There are also the banana/vanilla flavors present accompanied by a high (and VERY tasty) level of creaminess.  This is not to say that this beer is not true to style.  The flavors that we love about ABT are all present and can really be brought to the forefront with a quick slurp in much the same way utilized by wine tasters.  A quick slurp shows flavors of tart cherries, plums, figs, clove, and even apples!  This flavor remains through the finish, though in addition to the dark fruit it also reveals the uncamouflaged warmth of alcohol and a faint bitter tinge.  The warmth and spicy bitter tinge are continued in the aftertaste with only faint remnants of the delicious dark fruits.

Mouthfeel 4/5
"Brownie points" for a high and very nice level of creaminess.  The color is nice and the carbonation is moderate.  Warmth is not high for the style, but is not hidden very well amongst the normally strong flavors in an ABT.  Body was extremely pleasant.  Not too thick or syrupy as too many often put out in an effort to have intense flavors and high ABVs.  Its body was heavy enough to meet the style's demands, but still allowed the brew to go down nice and easy.

Overall Impression 7/10
Overall, the fruit flavors of this beer are always competing with some other sensation.  Be it the hearty malts, the warmth, or even sugar, the fruits are fighting to be seen.  Hops are all but absent except for a distant spicy bitterness in the finish and aftertaste.  The alcohol takes advantage of the muted fruit tones and makes its presence a bit too noticeable in the flavor.

Total 35/50
The thing I appreciate most about this beer is that it is not fake.  In the same way that I cannot stand an IPA that beats you over the head with hoppiness, an ABT that assaults you with fruit and alcohol simply because it is (somewhat) acceptable for the style is inappropriate and overall unpleasant.  This beer does not placate drinkers with false levels of artificial flavor, but I'm not quite sure it delivers on the expected boldness of an ABT.  Perhaps those that find ABTs to be too sweet (or have had the "fake/placating" versions) will appreciate this more authentic offering.  However, there are plenty of good, authentic ABTs out there that also provide a superior, bold drinking experience.

I love New Glarus and I do hold them to a higher standard.  If this were just any bottle of beer, I would definitely rate it as a superior bottle.  It offers flavor, creaminess, and warmth while not suffering drinkability.  But because it is New Glarus I know they can nail down this style.  This is anything but a bad variant from the style, just not the expected level of perfection.  Cheers, New Glarus!  You have set your bar high and that is never a bad thing.

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