There’s an unfortunate truth in the craft brewing industry: The old stalwart brewers are rarely given much respect by 2015’s most dedicated beer geeks. Or perhaps “respect” isn’t the right word: We admire the trailblazing that these breweries did in a time before craft beer had a name, but do we actually drink their products? The answer is usually no, not when there are new, exciting options to try arriving every single week. Craft beer geeks are creatures of novelty—we crave new flavors and excitement. The old, “legacy” craft brewers, if you will, they tend to remain in the past, with safer, more approachable offerings. It becomes their niche, a fondly remembered entryway into craft beer.
Enter Abita. Louisiana’s original craft brewer was founded in 1986, the year of my birth, and their importance to the brewing scene of that state can’t be overstated. Louisiana is still one of the harder states in which to get a brewery off its feet, but imagine what it would be like if Abita hadn’t been there for the last 28 years, getting people used to the idea.
And yet … I almost never drink Abita beer. For whatever reason, they’ve never truly been a brewery on my radar, or one that has impressed in taste tests. Brews like Turbodog or Purple Haze were never my cup of tea. It’s been years since the last time I was excited about the prospect of trying a new seasonal from them. So when a friend told me that I should go out of my way to try Abita’s new Wrought Iron IPA, I had to take it with a grain of salt. But given that said friend owns a craft brewery, that lent a little more credence to the claim. Alright, I said. I’ll play your game. And what I found was that rarest of things: A “legacy” craft brewery making a serious effort to break through into the modern, into the new.
Wrought Iron is a beautiful, copper-colored ale brewed with a trio of trendy, new-school American hops: Apollo, Equinox and Mosaic. They give it a tropical, grapefruit-forward aroma with notes of honeydew melon and florals. There’s another odd note that I can’t quite pin down; it seems familiar but strange, sort of a bitter fruit pithiness. Regardless, it hues closer to the direction that American IPAs have been swinging for a few years, with fruity and tropical hops over the classic West Coast American bouquet of citrus/pine.
On the palate, this IPA is not quite as sweet as I expected from the fruity aroma, finishing quite dry. Bitterness is medium, a touch lower than I would have expected for something listed as 80 IBU—I’m certainly not picking up on that perception of bitterness, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it helps make this IPA very refreshing. Malt flavors are a little bready and a bit of caramel, before giving way to grapefruit zestiness, all in fine balance. I immediately find myself thinking that this would be great “food beer” for pairing with something fatty or spicy. Pulled pork? Jambalaya?
The main takeaway I get from this, though, is the idea of evolution and renewal. It’s inspiring to see a brewery that has been staunchly set in a number of year-rounders break out a new beer like this one that is informed by the beer market’s rapidly changing tastes. It manages to crib some of the elements of what is currently in vogue while infusing those elements into an eminently drinkable, no-frills IPA, one that I would be perfectly happy to drink in just about any situation. Even the voters at Beer Advocate seem to agree—of every Abita beer with more than 100 reviews, Wrought Iron is the highest-rated one they’ve ever produced. Ever! That’s not insignificant.
So bravo, Abita. Welcome back to the relevancy discussion. Craft beer fans will no doubt be curious to see how you choose to build on this success.
Brewery: Abita Brewing Co.
City: Abita Springs, Louisiana
Style: American IPA
Availability: 12 oz bottles, year-round