Once Abita Brewing President David Blossman gets to talking about beer, he is a whirlwind of history, stories, and thoughts on ingredients, technique, and the beer scene in general. Abita has been a sponsor of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation's Boudin, Bourbon & Beer fundraiser since its inception four years ago, and provides all the beer that gives the event its characteristic laid back and casual feel. Read on to find out Blossman's pro tips for successful drinking at the event, thoughts on food pairings, and musings on hops.
How did Abita get involved with sponsoring BBB?
Basically, Emeril was interested in adding an event on Friday that was more casual than the Carnivale du Vin on the Saturday, to raise more money for the Foundation. So they talked to Leo [Basile, Abita's VP of Sales] about working together on the Boudin and Beer, and the Bourbon got added last year. I think it's a good addition. It's one of the events I look forward to the most in the city. It really is a lot of fun - great chefs, great beer, great bourbon, good music, you can't beat it. What I like about it too, is that it's a casual affair. I'm just not the type of person who likes putting on a suit or a tuxedo or something like that.
What are you serving this year?
We've got the standard year round offerings. We have Amber, Light, Purple Haze, Jockamo IPA, Restoration Pale Ale, Turbodog, Christmas Ale, Abbey, Andygator, SOS, and then we have some cask offerings. We have a barrel-aged Pecan Harvest Ale, we've done that before, it's very nice. That's aged in virgin oak. We have Wet Hop Restoration Pale Ale - we're real excited about this. We used the hops we grew in Louisiana, and we got a lot of hops from other farmers flown freshly to us that we could use. We used the Equinox variety. So we're using our locally grown Chinook and Cascade, grown here in Louisiana, along with the Equinox. And fresh hops can be different - sometimes you can pick out more vegetative type flavors - but it's new to us, and we haven't done it before, so we're very excited. It's not a cheap process when you're all the way out here, and your hops are grown in Oregon and Washington, so they [the hops] had nice first class tickets. Restoration's at 5.2% alcohol, so you can drink a lot of it without getting bombed and the flavors of the hops have really come through, with a nice little malt background, with mild bitterness just to balance it out. For me, to let those hops shine through, I want them in Restoration. It's the perfect vehicle for them. And, I can drink lots of it.
We're also taking Turbodog, aging it in boutique bourbon barrels and adding coffee to it. We're calling it Bourbon Coffee Dog. We've done coffee beers and we've done bourbon beers, but this is the first time we're mixing them together. It should be interesting. We have the Imperator [Black IPA] on cask also - I really like that beer. At 8% alcohol though, I'm probably just going to have one, and move on to something else.
We'll also have the Bourbon Street Imperial Stout on draft. That's a great beer. But at 10% alcohol, you really need to watch it. And it's a sneaky 10%, like the Imperator's a sneaky 8. For the stout, we use 100% barrel aged beer, we don't blend at all, which is not common. So what ends up happening is, the viscosity of alcohol is lighter than even water, so it really makes the mouthfeel not cloying and heavy at all. Abut 25% of the alcohol content is the bourbon from the barrels it's aged in. And it picks up those vanilla flavors. This batch especially. This batch we had a nice array of boutique bourbon brands - before, we used 100% Pappy, and those barrels were older, which will take a lot of the vanilla out of the wood before we can use it. But this time we used some Pappy, some Colonel Taylor, Buffalo Trace, and a lot of other fine ones from the Sazerac distillery. It really gave us a bit of a different complexity to it, with the vanilla notes there. And that really highlights, believe it or not, the chocolate malts that are used in the beer. So even though the grain bill is the same, I taste more chocolate in this batch than in previous batches.
And the Imperator is our black IPA, and I just think it's wonderful. The three C's are really coming out in that one. Cascade, Centennial, and Citra. And we also have Amarillo in it too, and it's really hop forward, and you get all the dark malts that are in it. I think that lends itself well to the hops - the have the dark malts come out and say, we're here, there's roasted notes in here, but the hops really shine through in this.
My thing is, I'm going to have a Bourbon Street, and then have an Imperator - I like drinking them back to back, because it's such a neat contrast on the tongue, and it doesn't take much of the Imperator to wipe the bourbon out. Then I'm going to wash it all down with the Wet Hop Restoration Pale Ale the rest of the night. That's my plan. That's not the traditional method, most people like to go light to dark, but this is New Orleans and I like to get my buzz on.
What's the most memorable boudin dish you've had at BBB?
My favorite was Domenica - the chef there brought out this cured, wild pig leg that was like prosciutto. And it was aged for, I think, 5 or 7 years. And it was just phenomenal. I love Tuscany, I've been there many times, and I'll tell you, that was up there with the best I've ever had. To have that here was kind of a shock to me - I didn't know that people would take the time and effort to do that. That's a patient man's game. That's why I don't make wine - I don't have the patience for it. Beer, you can drink it in three weeks, and it's good.
What beer are you enjoying these days?
Usually it's what's new, what's in season. So right now, on a Friday night, I'll kick back and open a Bourbon Street. Only problem is, it's a 22 oz bottle so I gotta talk my wife into splitting it with me. Then I'm on my own with Imperator after that. And that's probably a pretty good night for me.
But it depends what's going on, if my night goes longer, I'll bust open a Restoration or an Amber, because those are really good to wash down something that has a lot of hops in it. It also depends on what I'm eating. I find the Amber and Turbodog so versatile with our cuisine here. I tend to go to those during my meals.
What's coming up for Abita?
By January or February, we're taking off the hard hats [for the brewery expansion construction]. I think that the Visitor's Center and the offices will be complete by the end of December or early January. We're excited, it's beautiful. I've always dreamed of Abita having a brewhouse like this, and it's the first time we've been able to afford it. I truly believe that we will be the most efficient brewhouse in all of the Americas.
We have the Wrought Iron IPA launch happening - we can't really say when, because we're waiting for the hops to come in. We're using a new variety, Equinox, in it, which just got named this year. We're also using Mosaic with it, which is also somewhat new, it just got named 2-3 years ago. What I like about it is - this is a Louisiana IPA. Call it whatever you want, a Gulf Coast IPA, or whatever you like, but we're subtropical. So the Equinox hops have the tropical notes - I mean, really, you can taste the pineapple. You really can.
We've found that on its own, Equinox is a little too sweet, believe it or not, it adds sweetness to the beer. I never knew a hop that did that. So it was a little bit too much, and the Mosaic was perfect, because it brings green tea and fresh green hop flavor, which cut the sweetness without eliminating the tropical fruit notes. We thought the combination was just dynamite. We do that with a nice simple malt background, pale in color, and the IBUs are high - they're 80, but let me tell you, with our water, it doesn't taste like 80. We're very blessed to have very soft water, that we do not alter in any way. We're an anomaly in the brewing industry. We take this 2 million year old water from the our aquifer, and we like to go with it. This is our signature, is our water. So there's no doubt you're going to taste some bitter with it, but it won't stick on your tongue, like normally an 80 IBU beer would do. So as big of a hop bomb as it is, you can still drink more than one, you can actually enjoy more than one. Some people are going to do a double take on this and say, "Wow! This is Abita?"
And the imagery of the name [Wrought Iron] is perfect. It embodies the spirit and resiliency and strength of the the culture down here in Louisiana. You think of wrought iron - it's been up on balconies on centuries, and will remain that way for centuries, and it has weathered storms and economic depressions, and whatever you can think of with the trials and tribulations that we've gone through. But we're still here. That's what I love about Louisiana. We embrace our culture. We embrace what is ours.
We'll also be doing barrel aged releases four times a year. Right now we have the bourbon aged Biere de Mars, which is very interesting when you get into the yeast characteristics of the Biere de Mars, and it's also lighter in color than our typical offerings. After that, we'll have a new batch of the Bourbon Street Imperial Stout, which will be different than the current batch that's out. Then we're going to come out in bottles with the porter, and then we'll do a maple pecan ale., A little heartier than our current pecan, with some maple syrup in it. I think they'll go well together, but we'll find out.
All these new beers, and this new barrel aging program - it's challenging, but it's fun, and we love experimenting. I know one thing, we're going to change. Anyone who stays the same around here is dead.
Boudin, Bourbon, or Beer. Pick the one you couldn't live without.