New Glarus says:
“Flemish monks brewed the first Abt. A voluptuous temptress they named for their Monastery Abbot. Belgian Dark Candi Sugar encourages the decadence of rum, raisin dark chocolate and sherry like fruit tones to conspire happily in almost 20° Plato. Rich and full-bodied this is one to lie down or if you are bold enjoy now, but take your time – linger. This beer cries to be sipped and enjoyed.”
(Editors note: we’ve squirreled away enough New Glarus Unplugged Abt from 2010 to review it every year or so to see how it is developing, aging and changing. Feel free to read through from fresh to the most recent review but if you’d like to jump around, be our guest, to read more about New Glarus’ Unplugged Abt after one year, two years, three years and four years in the cellar.)
Karl: Last time we reviewed a New Glarus in the Unplugged series, I mentioned that it seems that we do fawn all over everything that NG puts out with red foil wrapping the neck. Without giving too much away, we’ll break that streak here. The Abt is not a terrible beer, it just suffers from the weight of raised expectations and isn’t quite as spot-on as other Unplugged efforts like the recently reviewed Enigma (which we…well, fawned over).
I picked up a 4-pack of Abt in Wisconsin while in a mindset for Oktoberfest beers or other autumn-type offerings. I fought myself for a good 3 minutes about picking up the sampler from Leinenkugel’s featuring their Red, Oktoberfest and Honey Weiss before finally deciding to settle on the Abt. Why? Because even though my palate said “autumn beers, fool!” my brain and experiences said, “You know the Unplugged series, and have they let you down yet?” My hands moved in and grabbed the 4-pack, amusingly wrapped with packing tape, presumably there to prevent people from taking home one of the expensive beers in their pocket.
The first Abt failed to make an impression at all – it was later in the evening and I was expecting something sour or even tart along the lines of the Enigma, and what I got was dark fruit, some wintry spices, a cola-like consistency with a little more syrup and no tartness. It was okay, but didn’t reach out and grab me as I like to have happen before I continue the ravings. It was only after I did some reading did I learn that when I see “Flemish” on the side of the bottle to not assume that the only output will be “sour.” Also, just because I want everything to be as mouthpuckeringly hypertart as the New Belgium La Folie in the “Lips of Faith” series won’t make it so.
My second Abt experience was far more positive, but not so overwhelming that I can holler about the Abt to the heavens. A little more time, a little more thoughtfulness and I can finally put my finger on exactly what it reminds me of – it’s cherry Coke. Fruity, a little rum and spice, that slightly sticky body – it’s very reminiscent of that sweet-yet-savory soda. If there were a little more sparkle, a bit more carbonation it’d be more on the nose, so consider it a slightly flatter Cherry Coke, but still, the comparison stands.
Ryan: There are two beer styles that I still have trouble wrapping my taste buds around; the Quad and the Dubbel. Both are Belgian beers and both are big, malty beers with some fruit characteristics – the Quad more so than the Dubbel. On paper they sound great but the ones I have tried seem a little too watery and too fruity for my liking. Sadly, the Abt from New Glarus falls in to that category.
The Abt pours a rich, dark brown in color with a wispy thin head that dissipates rather quickly leaving little evidence behind. The smells coming out of my pint glass are pretty subtle; some dark fruits, maybe a little clove and some winter warmer-like spices. The taste is not quite as subtle. Purple grapes, figs, raisins, cloves and maybe some nutmeg stand out. The carbonation is pretty lively but the body is a little thin.
Maybe my palate isn’t mature enough for this style or maybe I just don’t like it. Again, this was a little too watery and too fruity for my tastes. I am going to set the other bottles of this back and see how it develops. We’ll report back in six months or so and see what’s happening with it.
Karl: I had high hopes for the Abt when I first found it last year, and I’ve seen other people rave about it. I personally don’t get this one, but maybe I’m the weird one.
A year of age made this like sparkling fruit juice, with none of the cola flavor I enjoyed last year. A high-clarity cran-apple juice with a little shimmer of carbonation and some well hidden booze is what it is. The aging didn’t make me like it any more…and I didn’t like it a whole ton to start. Drink fresh, save room in your cellar.
Andrew: Going back through my notes on the New Glarus ABT I found that I wrote, “Meh” about three times to describe this beer.
Unfortunately I was unable to participate in the tasting of the fresh ABT so I had nothing to compare it to, but aged for a year makes this beer…not very good. I agree with Karl – save the room in your cellar, drink it fresh.
Ryan: “Rather disappointing” was the last note I made on this Belgian dubbel from New Glarus. Sadly, this beer hadn’t matured as much as I had hoped.
The nose gives off a the subtlest hint of apple juice, although you really have to dig for that. It looks thin and it is thin; watery and a little fruity with flavors of oranges and cranberries. Frankly, the Abt drinks more like a sparkling wine than a beer.
If you look above, you’ll notice that I was definitely not a big fan of this beer. Be it fresh or aged, I didn’t dig this one. So when Ryan broke this one out of the fridge, my spirits were not gladdened, I did not flush with anticipation, I did not salivate at the chance to drink it again. And yet, a bit later, I don’t have the same intensely negative connotation I had to this beer.
At first drink, my memories returned as to why I didn’t prefer this beer. Off tasting, an odd taste of musty raisin, a remaining hint of dusty baker’s chocolate and beyond that, just an overwhelming flavor of “weird.” I’m sorry I can’t describe it better than that. But the more I worked through this beer, the more I realized…it didn’t bother me like it used to. The aging had made so much of the flavor disappear completely, and thinned out the body so much, and completely killed any scent this beer ever had, making it not bad, just…more inoffensive, I guess.
‘Twas a valiant effort by New Glarus on this one but it just wasn’t for me, and aging seems to have improved it only by negating the things I disliked. However, this is one of those aging experiments that’s worth doing, just to see what happens. This time, it was a result that I wouldn’t have chosen – but that’s what happens. They can’t all be Devil Dancers and KBS verticals. It was worth doing…and unfortunately, Ryan still has more set aside.
Ryan: Sigh is right. This beer has gotten better, a little. And, frankly, any improvement is better than nothing so we’ll take what we can get out of one of the few New Glarus Unplugged beers to ever disappoint us.
This go-round with the Abt started off similar as past tastings, with the nose giving off a hint of cola-like flavors but that was about it – leaving me reluctant for my first sip. But that sip revealed a surprising bit of flavor – and a fairly decent one at that.
You got a hint of grape juice and some raisins a little peanut butter, some nuts and th………………
It faded. Mid-sip. Into nothing.
The flavors were solid, the carbonation was good the body was alright. Abt, you were on the right track. Good things were happening. And then you just up and left.
This beer continues to frustrate and confuse me. And we still have more of it to drink.
Andrew: “Sigh” and “nothing” was right. Maybe the ONLY New Glarus offering that has disappointed me and while I’ll agree with the above that it improved ever-so-slightly, it’s still not very good.
Yeah, I got some dark fruits, raisins and cherries, and then it faded off to a big ‘ol nothing. Nada. A little booze burn perhaps, but nothing to get exciting about.
Ryan: This, this is the moment I have waited three years for; the moment that this beer is good. No, not just good — but great. Either, as previously mentioned, I don’t have the palate to appreciate this style at its freshest or this has aged in to a remarkably enjoyable beer. No longer is this beer watery or overly fruity and its flavors don’t disappear. In fact, a three-year old bottle of New Glarus Unplugged Abt is rich, deep and complex.
The first thing I noticed, poured from the bottle into a snifter, is that this beer barely has any carbonation left. A few bubbles danced about — but nothing to really get excited about it. The nose had changed dramatically too. Long-gone were the muted cola-like flavors. They were replaced by the distinct aroma of raisins — so distinct that it smelled as if I had just opened one of those little boxes of Sun-Maid Raisins, you know, the kind that had a half-dozen or so raisins stuck to the lid? I swear I could smell the stickiness. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll pick up wine-like aromas — dark fruits mostly — with a hint of cocoa.
The wine-like attributes of this beer carry over to the palate — reminding me more of a dry sherry than it did a beer. Plums, raisins, oak and cocoa stood out with a bit of brown sugar and an unmistakable acidity in the finish. This beer drank very dry but left barely a trace of alcohol.
I had rather low expectations for this beer going in, given our track record with it, but was pleasantly surprised with how much it had matured and how complex it had become. If you still have any Abt’s lying around now might be the time to drink them. I don’t know if this beer can get much better.
Ryan: This beer has been a rollercoaster ride — to say the least. It took three years for this beer to match my expectations, however unrealistic or unreasonable they may have been. And it took less than a year for the New Glarus Unplugged Abt to fade from grace. After I was wowed last year by a three-year-old bottle of Abt I was returned to disappointment by a four-year-old pour.
I have long described this beer as watery and sometimes overly fruity. It was actually neither of those and it was a shell of its three-year-old self. This bottle of Abt was syrupy and sticky but not necessarily in a good way. Its body and flavors reminded me of flat cherry cola — muted — with a definitive note of cardboard box, which is synonymous with oxidation. The finish was dry and dusty.
BTW, I know that the sherry-like flavors I noted above also go hand-in-hand with oxidation. I suppose my palate preferred that over wet cardboard.
After sampling the three-year-old bottle last year I contemplated cracking the last two that I had thinking this beer was at its peak. I should have done so. It would have been nice to finish a consistently discouraging beer on an encouraging note. Instead, I pushed it another year.
There is still one bottle of the Abt left and for the sake of science and, well, no other good reason I’ll cling to it for another year to see this through to the end and document five years of New Glarus Unplugged Abt.