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It's Still Christmastide, Dangit and Abita's Bock Beer Has Arrived!
We're so busy talking about the evil bastards all around us we forget the beauty of craft beer & good times
It was a cold day in February, 1995, my buddy Shane suggested we take the wives to the Abita Brewpub because he heard that they had just released their first kegs of soon to be famous Mardi Gras Bock Beer and I had never had a Bock before.
“You ain’t gotta axe me twice” was my answer and off we went.
In those days I lived 10 minutes from the town of Abita and its brewery; then a small, 1500 square foot, true brewpub meaning they actually made the beer they sold on site and if you were lucky, you might even catch them brewing it. The founder of the Abita Brewery an aging but hard-working hippy named Jim Patton (who tragically died in 2012) had been brewing his famous “Andy Gator” beer since the mid 80’s. Gator is a barley wine style beer coming in at a whopping 10% ABV (Patton would tell us it varied by batch and is brewed at 8.0% abv today) but but still sips like nice craft ale. He raised the money to open the brewery and in 1986 they brewed their first batches of Abita Amber and Jim’s most famous brew, the infamous TurboDog which has been ripped off more times than Rip’s hat from Yellowstone.
By the early 90’s TurboDog was made available in bottles (of course! what self-respecting craft beer is canned!?) and instantly became a favorite at Cooter Browns on Carrollton in New Orleans—a 50 minute shipping route!—and other pubs near Tulane and Crayola (Loyola for the uniunitiated). The next year or so, Abita Amber would follow and also become a NOLA staple among real beer drinkers, yours truly included.
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My dear friend Joseph Pearce wrote a book titled “Small Is Still Beautiful” and in it is an entire chapter on the beautiful things that small, craft breweries like Abita Beer do to help communities, small communities, flourish. He fairly recently published an essay on the subject to re-emphasize these points, 20 years later.
One of the chapters in my book was entitled “Small Beer: A Case Study” which focused on the rise of the craft ale movement, first in the UK and subsequently in the USA. What was particularly encouraging about this phenomenon of proliferating micro-industries in an age of corporate giantism was, I wrote, that it shows how David really can slay Goliath. A recent essay in The Atlantic illustrates this to a sublime degree. “Craft beer is the strangest, happiest economic story in America,” writes the article’s author, Derek Thompson. In an age of monopoly, in which a handful of companies control the bulk of the market, the craft brewing industry is bucking the trend.
Mr. Thompson also reports that preliminary mid-2017 numbers from government data are even better. There are nearly 70,000 brewery employees, almost three times the figure of a decade ago. Average beer prices have grown nearly fifty percent over the same period. “So while Americans are drinking less beer than they did in the 2000s (probably a good thing) they’re often paying more for a superior product (another good thing).” Furthermore, in spite of economies of scale and massive marketing budgets, the big brewers are losing their stranglehold on the market. The best-selling beers are all in steep decline.
“A phalanx of small businesses doesn’t automatically constitute a perfect economy,” he adds. “But what the U.S. economy seems to suffer from now isn’t a fetish for smallness, but a complacency with enormity. The craft-beer movement is an exception to that rule. It ought to be a model for the country.”
Returning to the view of my skeptical friend with whom I had the public debate, we can perhaps persuade him that distributism is far from being merely a romantic aesthetic, or a neo-mediaevalist hankering for three acres and a cow. It is, in fact, the only practical solution to the problem of rampant corporatism and the globalism which is its inevitable consequence. Next time we raise a glass of craft-brewed ale, we should not merely enjoy its flavor, we should also raise a toast to the political and economic freedom that it represents.
But the thing that we loved the most was the fact that we could go to the Brewery and get what we knew to be fresh, crafted with love, beer from someone we knew, and it was good! You didn’t just drink Abita out of sense of “drink local”, you drank it because it was so good. When the Brewpub opened it gave us all the chance to go and hang out with friends, locals and the dudes that made the beer and we could drink TurboDog or Amber on tap! Hell, Jim even started a “growler” program where you could bring some fresh-tapped Amber or Turbodog home in a 1/2 gallon glass jug like it was fermented moonshine!
This was our brewery that made our local beer, it loved us and we loved it right back. I threw a pig-roast and party at my house in April of 1995 and had gone to the brewery to order up a keg of Amber for it. I paid for it but it wasn’t ready so I made arrangements for some friends to go and pick it up the next afternoon. The pig roast party began at sundown and thus the keg was tapped at around 9ish people that were drinking from the keg started acting really over-served, by 10 almost all were passed out. We wouldn’t figure out what happened til the next day what remained of the keg was resampled by sober people: they had mistakenly given my boys a keg of Andy Gator!
Back to my February 1995 trip to the Brewpub to sample this new “Bock” that Mitter Patton had brewed. Me and Shane ordered up a few pints and eagerly swished around the first sips in our mouths.
“Wow, glad I didn’t hafta axe you twice!” Shane said. After some burgers and lots more beers, we got our growlers filled up with what were told to call “Mardi Gras Bock”. Later that summer, Mitter Patton would roll out his first batch of Abita Wheat and the Bock ritual would get repeated in the first week of July. I’ve repeated that ritual faithfully every year since as best as I could depending on where I lived, this year is no exception. It’s something that’s Good, True and Beautiful (and proof that God loves us and wants us to drink good beer) and doesn’t require any more thought than “which store is most likely to get Mardi Gras Bock first this year!?”.
In an age where deranged women con innocent children into hating their parents and cross dressing with benefits, I take a certain pleasure in knowing that our brewery is going to make our beer, again this year, even though the brewery now cranks out 150,000 barrels of dozens of styles of beer every year. Still, Mitter Patton’s Mardi Gras Bock recipe has never changed and neither has my child-like anticipation of popping the top on the first one; a joy that occurred at the start of this Substack.
That first Mardi Gras Bock has now been drank and I think I’ll wrap up and go get another and yes, I’ll drink to Christmastide which doesn’t end til my birthday, February 2nd!
“You ain’t gotta axe me twice”.