Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
This week’s selection is a beer that I used to drink years ago, however I haven’t had much of it since but thanks to a recent vacation to New Orleans, my love for it has been rekindled. New Orleans, as you probably know, is not a beer drinker’s paradise by any stretch, with locals and tourists alike tending to drink hard liquor either straight or in the form of some fruity Bourbon Street concoction. There are several smaller breweries located around the city, though it can sometimes be tough to find their offerings. Abita Brewing Company, on the other hand, is king in The Big Easy — and it’s everywhere.
Purple Haze is a year-round brew from Abita and arguably the company’s most recognizable effort, so much so that the brewery has a registered trademark for the name. It can be found in virtually any restaurant, jazz bar or local tourist trap around the city and with very good reason. So, how exactly did Abita Brewing seemingly become the unofficial beer of New Orleans and all of its restaurants?
Founded in 1986 about 30 miles north of the city, Abita began produced about 1,500 barrels in its first year, much to the delight of the locals. By 1994, less than a decade after it opened, Abita outgrew its location and had to move to a bigger facility to meet with the demand. Today, Abita brews more than 151,000 barrels of beer – and 9,100 barrels of root beer – each year in a state-of-the-art facility, all while being privately owned and operated by local shareholders – some since 1986.
With several delicious beers in its wheelhouse – try The Boot if you’re ever in Louisiana, because it’s only found locally – Abita also enjoys experimenting with unique ideas and blends. Some really don’t work – stay far away from the Watermelon Lemon Shandy – and others, like Purple Haze, are a home run. Though the label lists it as a raspberry lager, Purple haze is as mysterious as New Orleans voodoo. Some consider it on the lighter end of the IPA spectrum, while others consider it a straight-ahead lager, while others actually consider it a fruit beer, so really, you can be the judge on this one. Don’t be fooled by the inability to categorize this beer, it’s delicious and perfect for the swampy humidity of NOLA. At 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, it lends itself to a long day of drinking and with a score of 13 International Bitterness Units, it’s something that people who shy away from IPAs might definitely enjoy.
Purple Haze is primarily brewed with pilsner and wheat hops and the raspberries are added after the filtration process, for a fruity aroma that, the company believes, adds a distinguishable tart taste. It’s perfect with New Orleans dishes like crawfish or a muffaletta sandwich – which I learned on my vacation.
While it’s believed that the beer might have gotten its name because of the noticeable purplish hue of the beer once it’s poured, the label itself is awesome and couldn’t be more Louisiana, with a Baron Samedi-looking figure complete in voodoo makeup and a top hat. Abita’s accompanying explanation of the beer kind of feels like there should be a cloud of smoke around you and Jimi Hendrix blaring in the background:
Experience the magic of Purple Haze®. Clouds of real raspberries swirl in this tart and tantalizing lager inspired by the good spirits and dark mysteries of New Orleans. Brewed with pilsner and wheat malts along with Vanguard hops, let the scent of berries in the hazy purple brew put a spell on you.
When I popped open the ice cold Purple Haze, wheat was definitely the abundant smell. It had that very distinct, and somewhat pungent, Belgian wheat beer odor while the raspberry smell did not hit my nose hard. As for the look, this medium-bodied beer was almost orange – I had a tough time seeing much of the purple hue – and it poured beautifully into my glass, with a corresponding white-orange color making up the hefty amount of head. There was certainly a haze, per the namesake, especially when the sun was blaring through the open window. When it comes to the taste, Purple Haze offers a light and refreshing taste, with the raspberry serving as nothing more than a nice tart accent flavor, almost as though it was a raspberry flavored iced tea – and that’s a good thing. The taste really kind of mimics the smell, with a subtle hop bite and a distinct smooth wheat flavor that vanishes once the sip is finished, leaving little aftertaste.
For the entire vacation, this was my beer of choice. Since it was so hot outside, I was able to enjoy Purple Haze without feeling like it was filling me up. It was refreshing and might even be just a little bit better on tap, if I’m being honest. It’s a beer that you can polish off a six-pack of in one sitting – and is simple enough for any one of your friends to enjoy, as long as they’re not scared away by the word “raspberry” on the label. Easy to drink, easy to enjoy and really nothing super fancy about it – but there doesn’t always have to be. The best part is that it’s a very inexpensive beer, as a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles cost me just under $10, which is becoming more of a rarity these days. Plus Abita has quite a solid distribution, so chances are you might very well be able to find it in your state. Purple Haze got an average score of 3.29 (out of 5) on BeerAdvocate but I think that’s way low. Now, maybe the nostalgia for Preservation Hall, the Carousel Bar and Pat O’Briens came into play a little here, but I give it a solid 8 (out of 10). Pick it up, give it a try and see what you think – the weather right now is perfect for this beer.
See you next week with a unique beer that I have actually never tasted and I’m pretty excited to give it a try, so stay tuned.