I am proud to be Louisiana-born and Louisiana-raised. There are lots of places in the US, and all over the world, that I love (Paris, anyone?), but I have to say that I believe we have something really unique in Louisiana. As a former French and Spanish colony, our culture bears the marks of French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, and Native American influences. Like a bowl of gumbo, Louisiana takes disparate cultures and somehow manages to bring them together to create something new and wonderful. I grew up both in New Orleans, and in Lafayette (the real heart of Cajun country), and I am very proud of our gastronomical culture. Whether we are enjoying Cajun, Creole, or urban New Orleans cuisine, or having a Hurricane at Pat O’Briens bar in the French Quarter, we love life, and we love fun, food, friends, and drinks. There is just a special love of life in Louisiana that I believe is unique in all the world.
That having been said, I am thrilled that Louisiana, following the trend of the rest of the US, has been brewing some craft beers that have achieved acclaim. There are many microbreweries around the state these days, some of which produce what I consider to be really great beer. The largest of these by far is Abita Beer, located in Abita Springs, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans. I have long been a fan of Abita, and I believe that a few of their brews are truly world-class. Let me tell you their stories.
First, there is the beer that started it all: Abita Amber (4.5% ABV). According to the Abita website:
“Amber is a Munich style lager brewed with pale and caramel malts and German Perle hops. It has a smooth, malty, slightly caramel flavor and a rich amber color. Abita Amber was the first beer offered by the brewery and continues to be our leading seller. Amber is Abita’s most versatile beer for pairing with food. It has been voted “best beer” in numerous New Orleans reader polls and is used frequently in recipes of great Louisiana chefs.
Because of its smooth, malty flavor, try it with smoked sausages, Louisiana boudin, or even with caviar. It’s great with crawfish and Cajun food. You might also enjoy it paired with a spicy gumbo or tomato-based pasta sauce. It also goes well also with fried catfish dipped in a tart, lemony tartar sauce. Parmesan, Pecorino and Romano cheeses are good pairings with Abita Amber.”
I wholeheartedly agree. Amber’s flavor is slightly sweet and malty. I especially like the fact that Abita promotes Amber as a beer to pair with food. New Orleans is all about food — we take it very seriously. Eating is a big deal there, and we also love beer. A beer that pairs well with food, then, is great. I also believe that Amber is a good, all-around social beer. If you want to meet up with friends and enjoy a smooth, tasty beer that is not watery and wimpy, but also will not knock you on the floor after one bottle, then Amber is the way to go.
Second is Abita Restoration Pale Ale (5.2% ABV). This is a special beer with a special origin. Here is Abita’s description from their website:
“Restoration Pale Ale is brewed with pale, caramel and carapils malts. It is liberally hopped and dry hopped with Cascade hops. This golden ale has a rich body, mild bitterness, and a snappy citrus hop flavor and aroma. With your help Restoration raised over $550,000 for hurricane relief.
This beer can be paired with many different dishes according to your taste. The citrus flavor and aroma make it an excellent choice with most fish, especially ones that are prepared to match the flavor of the beer. American, Muenster, Havarti and Monterey Jack cheeses pair well with Restoration.”
As you know, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed most of New Orleans. When the levees broke, the entire city was flooded. New Orleans is below sea level, and many houses are wooden, so when the hurricane hit, it was a disaster. Almost 2,000 people died, and due to a slow response from the federal government, many residents were left on their roofs, or simply floated away into eternity. What is especially sad is that the hurricane did the most damage to the poorest parts of the city. While the most historic parts of New Orleans survived, and while the city’s indefatigable spirit has rebuilt for the most part, the hurricane was truly tragic in its wrath. Abita created Restoration Pale Ale to earn money to donate to the recovery and restoration process.
But this is a good ale in its own right. It offers a very nice combination of the richness of a good, strong ale, and matches it with the citrus bitterness of a good, hoppy ale. Because it combines these two elements, it also pairs well with complex flavors, such as those in certain cheeses.
I know that many people have their own personal favorites among Abita beers, but I have to say that mine is, without a doubt, Jockamo IPA (India Pale Ale) at 6.5% ABV. This is a true IPA, with a bitter, hoppy, citrus flavor that weaves its magic with spicy undertones and traditional ale body and breadth. I have many fond memories of long nights dancing to Zydeco and Cajun music, drinking Jockamo. Here is Aita’s description from its website:
“Abita Jockamo IPA is an American IPA brewed with pale, red, and caramel malts. This copper-colored ale is liberally hopped and dry hopped with Willamette and Columbus hops. The flavor is bold like the “Mardi Gras Indians” who march through New Orleans in suits of feathers and beads.
Jockamo has a flavor that entices and excites the palate. The intense hop character adds more spice to the meal and makes it a perfect choice to team up with many spicy dishes. Cheddar and strong farmer cheeses stand up well to Jockamo’s hoppy character. Jockamo goes well with wild game, grilled meats and Thai or Mexican cuisine.”
The word Jockamo has an interesting history. It comes from a traditional Mardi Gras song, written in a combination of African languages, and celebrated by the Native American Mardi Gras krewes. No one knows exactly what the words really mean, but it is a song that livens the spirit and excites the soul of us Louisiana revelers, and we are proud that such a hoppy, spicy beer accompanies it.
Everyone loves his or her home, but I truly feel that we have something special in Louisiana. Our food, our music, our dancing, our culture, and our good race relations make my homeland a great place to be. And in my mind, Abita Brewing Company represents the best of it. A creative company that consistently produces very flavorful, high-quality beers, I am proud to hold it forth as representative of Louisiana.