August 20, 2014 by Justin Roczniak
New Orleans is typically framed as a city of massive inequality, inadequate natural disaster preparedness, deep-seated institutional racism, obesity and low property values. Generally, a lot of people think it shouldn’t exist. “Why build a city below sea level?” they ask. “A single hurricane could undo all our progress in days,” they say, along with, “FEMA death trailers killed millions! Wake up sheeple and Google Ron Paul 2016!”
These people are really just bitter, though, because New Orleans actually has everything figured out, and they just don’t want to acknowledge it. You can drink on the street legally, for instance. People understand what spicy food is — some if it is even seafood! Unlike in Philadelphia, their trolleys run in the median, so they don’t block the whole street. And somehow, on the day of Mardi Gras, if you give girls beads, they show you their boobs. (Granted, this is a huge devaluation from the time when beads would buy you the whole island of Manhattan.) New Orleans, in short, is one cool place.
New Orleans’ own Abita Brewing Co. isn’t terribly well known north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Its root beers are available at Beck’s Cajun Cafe (located conveniently at both 30th Street Station and Reading Terminal Market), but it wasn’t until recently that I found out they made regular beer as well as root beer. So I picked up a bottle of Abita Turbodog, an English brown ale, at The Corner Foodery on 17th and Sansom for something like $3 a bottle.
Brown ales are typified by their brown color. It’s not one of the more complicated styles. Some of the more popular examples include Newcastle Brown Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale and Newcastle Brown Ale.
Poured into a pint glass, you can see that it’s very dark brown in color, almost black. Notes of chocolate and toffee are present in the aroma and in the taste too. There’s also a pleasant toasty flavor, typical of the English brown ale style. Make no mistake, this is a solid brown ale. It’s about 5.6 percent ABV, slightly higher than a typical brown ale, but definitely still sessionable. I could have easily had three more.
What exactly makes Turbodog “turbo,” though, is beyond me. In fact, I would say that its main defining quality is that it is better than Newcastle Brown Ale. However, that isn’t saying much, since Newcastle Brown Ale is the Bono of beers: very popular, not very challenging or interesting (or flavorful), and yet, for some reason, you just keep coming back for more each time a new album is released. (How albums translate to brewing in this metaphor is left as an exercise to the reader.)
That being said, the brown ale is not a well-loved or terribly popular beer style. We have Indian pale ales, barleywines, pale ales, stouts, imperial stouts, porters and whatnot out the wazoo these days, but the humble brown ale is seldom even thought of as a distinct style, let alone included in microbreweries’ beer portfolios. This chocolaty, toffee-like beer really is in that regard unique, and for an English session beer like itself to come out of predominately French and generally hard-partying New Orleans is, well, unexpected. Turbodog is a beer in an uncommon style which is objectively better than its mass-market rival, and that’s enough with so few of them on the market.