For all the inroads American craft beer has made in the past decade, the 10 best-selling domestic brewskis are all still owned by either Anheuser-Busch InBev or SABMiller. The two-headed, yellow-fizz-pissing monster achieves this market dominance through the traditional means of aggressive advertising, efficient distribution, and competitive pricing, but they also have another big advantage that nearly all small breweries lack: loyal customers.
It's fun and often fair to make sport of the steadfast devotion of the archetypal Big Bad Beer-drinker: Your townie cousin who will only drink Miller High Life because he insists it's the one beer that doesn't give him a headache, or the Coors Light partisan who will walk out of any bar that dares try to placate him with a Bud Light. Smaller, better beer companies can only dream of this kind of faithfulness.
Self-identified Bud Men (and Miller Lite Women, Keystone Cretins, and all the rest) drink high volumes of low-alcohol beer bought by the case. That's not how we crafties operate. When was the last time you bought 24 bottles of the exact same beer? I'm not certain I bought a 12-pack in 2014, and I'm sure I didn't get a full case of anything.
I'm always looking to try new things, and not just due to professional obligation. I drink mostly for the buzz and secondarily for the flavor, but I also value the educational aspect of being exposed to as wide a variety as possible. My uncle Pete does not, and Busch is richer for it. American macro beers will never die—for all our hooting and hollering about the Craft Beer Movement™, the good stuff only represented 7.8 percent of sales by volume in 2013—which is why it's in everyone's best interest that they be as good as possible.
We high-enders tend to dismiss all domestic macros in the same breath, but I've lately come to suspect that SABMiller's American brands—primarily the Miller and Coors product lines—are superior to AB InBev's stable of Buds, Michelobs, and Naturals. Most notably for the good-beer world, Coors' Belgian-inspired Blue Moon division is better than its Anheuser-Busch rival, Shock Top.
Case in point: Shock Top Belgian White is just plain gross, whereas the flagship Blue Moon is perfectly fine and often serves as a gateway beer for the drinker just starting to explore the tastier side of things. The easiest up-sell in bartending is turning a Blue Moon fan on to other, even better white ales. So while I tend to ignore Shock Top variations unless I'm hunting for fish in a barrel, I try to keep an eye on the Blue Moon seasonals.
This seems to be the second winter for Blue Moon Mountain Abbey Ale, which replaced the lackluster Winter Abbey Ale. The company's website says Mountain Abbey is the new name for the Blue Moon Abbey Ale that won the gold medal in the Belgian-style pale ale category at the 1998 World Beer Cup. Odd. This beer is not pale, but 1998 was a funny time. Anyhow, the modern Mountain Abbey is a 5.6-percent-ABV brown ale spiked with dark Belgian candi sugar, and it ain't half bad.
Mountain Abbey pours a deep red-tinted brown, with a fluffy off-white head. There's a faint Belgian-yeast aroma mixing with a bready, malty smell. The flavor is dominated by very sweet caramel and toffee malt, with a bit of chocolate and molasses, and no particularly Belgian traits beyond the brown sugar. There's no hop character to speak of.
This time of year can be tough on a beer snob, as we're often forced to surrender control of our destiny while we mix with the hoi polloi at office parties and family gatherings. Blue Moon Mountain Abbey isn't going to blow you away, as it has no outstanding traits, but it's a decent beer worth embracing if your entry-level-gourmet sister-in-law throws it your way.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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