Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Glarus Abt

On Monday we talked about how the rest of the midwest is innovating and being creative and collaborating in unique ways that don't seem to be present in Wisconsin. A commenter mentioned that Beer Advocate barely recognizes Wisconsin in its list of top brewing states. I would argue that there are systemic reasons for that beyond the apparent "truth" of the matter asserted: for instance, all of the other states have much larger cities than Wisconsin does and Beer Advocate is all about numbers. Second, few Wisconsin breweries distribute outside of Wisconsin, so the potential pool of tasters is considerably smaller. Of course, this is somewhat self-perpetuating in that lack of distribution prevents demand and increases awareness of other brands, leading to less demand and awareness.

Not to mention that we in Wisconsin are a little ... how shall we say? ... odd?

Blissfully ignorant of trends going on in the rest of the universe, Wisconsin breweries are putting out some phenomenal Dortmunders (Brewfarm Select), Weizen Dopplebocks (Capital), Saisons (O'so), Old Ales (Lakefront Bridge Burner), and bizarre bastardizations that defy description (Matacabras and Thermo Refur). Only Brewfarm Select (available in the Twin Cities) is available outside of the state (I don't think Capital and Lakefront send these particular brands out of state).

[ed note: also Thermo Refur is available in MN. I understand that many WI breweries pick and choose a few outside-WI locations, but, for the most part, only regular and a few seasonals are making it out and certainly very little of the stuff might be considered innovative, creative, or interesting.]

Which brings us to the one in-state brewery that does seem to get the attention and notoriety it deserves: New Glarus. Notoriously reclusive, New Glarus keeps on trucking, and getting high marks from smuggled bottles that seem to blindly find their way around the world. Pssst...hey...I have a bottle of Raspberry Tart...need a bottle of Imperial Saison...

Yet even New Glarus, while worldly in its releases, seems ignorant of trends. In the last years it has released the sour Imperial Saison, Berliner Weiss, Old English Porter, and Cran-bic. Yet, in the year of sour, only the softly tartish Enigma approaches sour. Instead, New Glarus chooses to release its Cherry Stout and now, this, an Abt.

Do you even know what an "Abt" is? I don't. Hell, I don't even know how to pronounce it. I've heard it pronounced like "apt", like "abbot", and my own personal choice "A.B.T."

Beer Tutor tells me that an "Abt" is another name for a "quad". Which is interesting because New Glarus just brewed a Quad.
Created by La Trappe, Abt (also known as quadrupel) are Abbey and Trappist beer styles of great strength and bold flavors. Abts tend to be darker with dark fruit flavors while Quadrupels tend to be lighter in color and may have a peachy taste. Both styles have strong, rich, malt flavors with very low hop content and flavor. Alcohol presence is very noticeable and the ABV is usually over 10%.
Not sure I buy that distinction, by the way; I've had "quads", such as Ommegang's Three Philosophers and Avery's Reverend (not to mention New Glarus' own Quad) which are darker. Perhaps not quite the dark emphasis, a brighter fruit yeast and alcohol notes, but not exactly light and "peachy" either.

In any event, it's not exactly the trendiest beer in the world and I don't exactly foresee a coming onslaught of quads and abts in the near future. Maybe we don't need the validation that the rest of the country seems to crave. As of yet we've managed to sustain more breweries per capita than almost any other state in the nation; our domestic market is supportive and seemingly insatiable. So, here we are, with a stereotypical Wisconsin craft beer - obscurity and independence made extremely well.

New Glarus Abt
BeerAdvocate(A-). RateBeer(91).
[Ed Note: Matt, Travis, and I all wanted to review this beer, so rather than draw straws or rocks-paper-scissors or race to the blog, we all wrote a review]

Appearance: Brown with ruby highlights, small head.
Aroma: Lots of Belgian yeast character; dark fruit, raisin, plumb, a bit of clove.
Flavor: Similar to the smell, Belgian yeast esters with some Pilsner-malt grainyness and just a touch of caramel. Quite dry in the finish, not a lot of malt character. This was probably made with only base malt and dark candy sugar, with little or no character malts.
Drinkability: Nice and dry, maybe even a bit drier than it's Belgian inspirations, but the ABV and warming alcohol flavor make this a sipper, not one for the session.
Summary: A nice addition to the Unplugged lineup, if not as innovative as some of the other offerings. Quite similar in yeast character to a beer like St. Bernardus 12, but a little bit lighter and drier in the finish, making it seem more like a higher ABV dubbel than a Grand Cru/Dark Strong, but now I'm just splitting hairs.

Appearance: a beige foamy head sits on top of a saddle brown body with an orange-ish glow on the edges
Aroma: smells of cherries and a slight oakiness; a bit roasty and a shimmer of alcohol on the end of the nose
Flavor: a little more malty than the nose might imply, the yeast esthers are definitely front and center, but there is a strong caramel malty sweetness; a definite alcoholic syrupyness hints at the strength
Body: big-bodied and slightly syrupy
Drinkability: Definitely not one to pound, and I would be hard pressed to drink more than one in succession, but I'm enjoying the one that I have in front of me, and, really, what more could you ask for
Summary: I did this entire review without reading Matt's (above) first. I think he's probably right on with his assumptions about the malts, but I sense some roasted malts in there as well that may add some color and a bit of aroma and the tiniest bit of flavor, but the candi sugar is prevalent; I disagree about the dryness though, there's a crispness in the front of the flavor profile, but the finish does not seem dry at all; overall, it's enjoyable as a refined beer perfect for sipping in the late fall, setting down to age for a few years, or pairing with a braised chicken in red wine sauce.


Appearance: pours a dark, opaque mahogany with lighter ruby edges.  A finger or so of greyish khaki head fades to spotty skim after a minute or two.

Nose: Bready yeast dominates the first whiff, with dark cherry, rum-raisin and nutty notes carrying through to a sherry-like finish.

Palate:  Liquid bread rolls onto the tongue as dry, crackery malts make way for candied dates, raisin, vanilla, cherry and green apple skins.  The yeast, candi sugar, malt bill, and alcohol content combine for a drying overall impression in the mouth.

Dan has created a truly "authentic"-tasting Belgian-style beer with the Abt.  Throw this in a svelte .3L bottle and slap a Made in Belgium sticker on it and I wouldn't bat an eyelash.  Belgian beers are especially defined by the yeast strain used and those characteristic spicy-estery notes have proven difficult for most American brewers to replicate.  If Capital Brewery's Weizen Doppelbock is liquid banana bread, the Abt is liquid fruit cake.  I mean that in the best possible way, of course.

Without the use of excessive barrel-aging or wild yeasts that can often lend an over-engineered feel to some of the Unplugged-series beers (the Quad and Imperial Saison come to mind - though I did enjoy both), the Abt is allowed to shine as a fine replication of the complex elegance that makes the abbey beers of Belgium so memorable.  I can't wait to revisit this beer after a year or two as the yeasts and malts are allowed to mature, mellow, and meld.


  1. lack of distribution prevents demand? you do know that most successful WI breweries can barley keep up with demand, right?
    Distributing far and wide would only limit the amount of beers these breweries can sell locally. Isn't selling local the point of a microbrewery?
    Sure..I'm sure some of these breweries would like to distribute all over..they would also like you to loan them millions for bigger equipment.
    By the way, an Abt beer is a beer brewed to please the Abbot of the monastary...usually the strongest beer the brewery would produce..whether it be a dubbel (like the NG Abt) or a quad.

  2. Capital, Lakefront, Tyranena, Sand Creek, Point, Gray's, Sprecher, and Rush River are all available in Minnesota. I have seen Lakefront out in Colorado. Capital is pushing there Blonde Dopplebock nationwide, they even have there own website for the blonde separate from the breweries main site. Also for the record, Capital seems to be moving away from German lagers and going the "ale" Route with such notable gems; Island Wheat, Rustic Ale and Supper Club(light lager); hardly innovative.

    Please note that New Glarus has there new $5 a bottle only available at the brewery a Helles Lager "Two Women" made with floor malted Bohemian Weyermann malt. Pricey but innovated...

  3. I'm interested to know what the serving temp was for Matt and Jeff, and whether differences in that can account for the difference in dryness.

  4. Brett, should have posted my serving temp. I started in the upper-40s and ended up in the mid-50s by the time it was done; it became, in my opinion, much more boozy as it warmed up.

  5. Interesting about the booze coming out as it warmed Jeff. I find in Trappist beers, the alcohol is most noticeable when cold (low 40s) and the other flavors come out more as it warms, hiding the alcohol.

  6. Anonymous 1 seems like kind of a dick. Thanks for the info guys.
    Anonymous 3

  7. I can't wait to try this beer. Will put it up against the best to compare - Rochefort 10 & Westvleteren. Agree with Steve that the booze really comes out with colder temperatures and can even block the flavors. Keep them in a wine fridge and they'll be at the perfect temp.

  8. Living in wisconsin and loving our selection of microbrews. I agree with anonymous 1 it's hard for places to keep beers like ng, Capital, and rush river in stock. I really enjoyed my abt by ng. Great reviews guys. I love reading a review while trying a new beer for the first time.

  9. We get Capital easily in IL, & I've seen it in CO. New Glarus, alas, means road trip - which I took this weekend, and, of course, loaded the trunk, including a 4-pack of Abt. Drank 2 tonight; going back north Saturday to get more so i can lay some down & down some! On a level with Brother Thelonius, but a dollar a bottle less (well, until you add in the gas....) 1-10, this is an honest 11. (Also hit Silver Creek Brewpub in Cedarburg; seriously, go in there & try everything they make!)


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