Tonight, we’re venturing into the world of both the unknown and the familiar, at the same time, simultaneously, together, all at once. The entire decision for the choice of tonight’s review stemmed from a Slink which is going up on Sunday. The Slink is entitled A beginner’s guide to craft beer that was posted at artofmanliness.com a short while ago. In the text, the author mentions “Beer with body and soul.” It was there that I spotted a citing of Abita’s Turbodog Ale.
Here was where the familiarity crept in. During my numerous visits to different beer stores, I invariably ran across many selections by Abita. They were almost ubiquitous. All of the different beers are enclosed in a cardboard container which is oven on both ends and the necks of the bottles stick out through holes in the top. This presentation caused my brain to warp its neural continuum.
First the name, Abita. How the hell do you pronounce that? At least Lagunitas gives us an example of their name pronunciation on each of their containers, why not this one? Uh-BYTE-Uh? Uh-BEET-Uh? ABBOT-Uh? I intended to get to the bottom of this before I got finger pads set to pressing keyboard keys.
The cardboard container offered me no concept of imagination or creativity in packaging. It was merely a pre-stamped, printed cardboard that was wrapped around the bottles with a tab-A-into-slot-B closure. It was a carton one had to vandalize to get to the first beer. It was unreusable. Once opened, it had to be tossed in the recycle.
It was at the Four Seasons beer store that I remembered seeing Turbodog. During my visit there, I beelined it for the brew and was pleasantly surprised to see it priced at a penny under nine bucks. I grabbed the container of squatty bottles and noticed that, printed in a yellow circle on the top was the phrase, NEW PRY OFF CAP. Well, I’ll be. Another craft brewer had deviated from the Bud/Miller/Coors way of doing business.
For some reason, the carton design, the squatty bottles and the odd name somehow de-qualitized the brand in my mind. But then again, there was the mention of it in the upcoming Slink post. That and the everywhere availability in beer stores made me think that I may have a surprise in store. Once the beer and I (Now there’s a book title for ya. The Beer and I.) got home, I stashed it in the fridge and fired up the MacBook to solve some mysteries in preparation for the review.
Abita beers are brewed by the Abita Brewing Company out of Abita Springs, Louisiana. YouTube videos bore evidence that Abita is pronounced uh-BEET-uh, which in turn coins the term, Abita-beer. Kinda rolls off your tongue after you practice a little bitta.
On to the bottle label. The labels on several bottles in the sixpack were torn, wrinkled or mis-applied. The back label numbers corresponding to day and month, presumably for a bottling date. Down along the bottom was BEST IF CONSUMED BEFORE and there was nothing. No notches, stars or tick marks of any kind. That further cheapened the brand in my mind but I’d still drink it and review it. Hell, I’ve drunk Sam Adams’ 16 year-old Triple Bock and it didn’t kill me. Or even make me sick. Quite the opposite.
The back label also held a blurb of the ingredients and expected tastes. It read:
Abita’s Turbodog is a dark brown ale brewed with a combination of pale, crystal and chocilate malts, dry-hopped with the finest Willamette hops, and fermented using a unique German alt yeast. Each batch is hand crafted using the pristine waters of Abita Springs, Louisiana, resulting in a rich body and color, and a sweet-chocolate-toffe like flavor. Guided by our principle of “quality before quantity,” Turbodog is cold filtered and brewed in small batches using no additives or preservatives. Like all of our beers, Turbodog is prepared with the attention to detail upon which we have built our reputation as one of the country’s finest breweries.
Hitting up BeerAdvocate and RateBeer for ratings put me in a better frame of mind and my neural continuum began to return to a more neutral state. This beer could quite possibly turn out tasting pretty good. But RB suggested a dimpled mug as a drinking vessel. I don’t have one of those and I saw no reason as to how or why dimples would make any difference in the taste or nasal or tongue-al presentation of a beer. I chose a fluted mug (mugs are good) and thought that dimples are best on women’s cheeks and lower posterior nether regions. Where the tramp stamp goes. And once again, the two sites couldn’t agree on an ABV for this beer. RB had Turbodog at 6.13%. BA had it at 5.6%. A quick visit to the Abita Brewery site stated that, in fact, it was at 5.60% Thank you very much.
When time came, I started a fire in the ol’ Sotz burner (the Illinois weather took a downturn after an early morning rainstorm) and began drinking and typing and thinking and tasting.
The beer poured with the color of root beer and the head came up about an inch, showing itself to be a light tan color like a coffee with cream. It was difficult to see any carbonation in the ambient light of the garage, so I’ll just have to trust logic and observation (“Tsst!” upon uncapping and the presence of foam) and say that the beer did in fact exhibit the same carbo-characteristics as other beers did. The aroma was that of a dark, roasted malt with perhaps a bit of toffee present.
The first taste was was quite different for an ale. The dark roastiness was there but it wasn’t overbearing. That toffee flavor was mixed in but it wasn’t exactly toffee. It was more of a burnt chocolate taste or baker’s chocolate, or a comination of the two (hence, the ingredients as stipulated on the label Pfft!) The taste itself was quite tolerable, but unexpected. I’d venture to say that this choco-toff taste was it’s predominant feature and that the beer was brewed to achieve this very taste.
There was a slight twang at the swallow, but it was small as to be imperceptible or overlooked. There was a little sweetness at the beginning of the sips but it soon became overwhelmed by the dark, almost burnt malt flavors.
The beer didn’t feel thick in the mouth but it did have a lot of body in what was presented to the tongue. The flavors were akin more towards a lightweight stout rather than a nice, brown English ale. Perhaps it stood about halfway between the two styles.
Some may consider this an English ale, but the taste is much too robust along the lines of roastiness. It couldn’t be considered an English bitter because of its distinctive taste. Again, maybe too roasty-toasty. But it can’t really be considered towards the stout end of the spectrum. It just didn’t have that road tar stoutiness that those beers have. This Turbodog had a truly unique taste all its own. If this was an ale, then it was a Rat Rod ale. If it was a porter or stout, it was a brown, old school Cadillac porter or stout.
Sipping and typing, I came to the realization that I was halfway through the second glassful. The roastiness and burnt sugar tastes of each sip had found themselves some oral nooks and crannies in my mouth and took up silent residence. My my, what a hearty drink this beer had become. I’d venture to say that if one were to give a few tastes of this beer to a regular Guinness drinker, it would absolutely take him by surprise. Rich and full, sweet and slightly sweetly bitter, this beer is one of a kind.
If you spot a sixer of Turbodog on the shelf the next time you’re at the beer store, please give some serious consideration to purchasing it. Once you get beyond the initial shock of new and perhaps unexperienced flavors, this beer will fit you like a La-Z-Boy. Loads of dark, roasted tastes and a unique blend of voodoo make this beer a most pleasant taste experience.
Taste: B+ > Emeril Lagasse’s favorite brew. BAM!
Smoothness: B+ > Killer German chocolate cake in glass.
Drinkability: B > Hmm. We may need to get more.
Bang for the buck: B > Over the top taste for a buck fifty a bottle.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: It’s dark. (sip) Not what I expected. It’s not too bitter. (sip) It’s kinda got that burned coffee taste to it a little. (sip) A little bit bitter. But, yuk. I wouldn’t drink it. (Our taste buds seem to be polar opposites.)
Abita Brewing deals with the rigors of the Louisiana climate.