Bottom Shelf Beer: Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor you don’t have to.




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Somewhere on this site I've told the story of how I courageously saved a full-grown television from certain destruction after its previous owners had abandoned it on the sidewalk. It wasn't tied to a lamppost, so it was free to run away, but it instinctively knew to just wait patiently until the right savior happened by.

I was privileged to be this 120-pound black beauty's knight in shining sweatpants, and I will never regret lugging him the half-block home. We had a good six month run, but then one particularly hazy morning after a Christmas party gone wrong, Emily came into the bedroom to announce that our rescue TV had leaked all over the table.

After such a long stretch without any accidents, we'd assumed the TV was housebroken; I wondered if maybe it had leaked on purpose to protest our staying out too late. But it was something much more serious than petulance. It wouldn't turn on no matter how many buttons I mashed. I never learned what that fluid was, but I learned the more important lesson of how hard it is to drag a giant dead friend to the dumpster out back.

We weren't sure if we should replace the television. On one hand, we like to watch TV. On the other hand, TVs from the profit-mongering electronics mills aren't free. Plus we feared that if we ran out to buy a new TV, we'd really just be running from the pain, for I had gouged the shit out of my forearm fighting the old TV's corpse into the dumpster. Was I really just suggesting a trip to Best Buy because it was near our favorite new bar, where I would get the medicine I needed to help heal my hangover, my broken heart, and my bloody arm? Couldn't we do that without blowing a couple hundred bucks on a television?

After 30 seconds of debate and reflection, we decided to get a new television, because it's important to move on, and it's important to watch sports, and it's important not to kill each other when trapped inside our dark little apartment all winter.

This winter has been mild by New England standards, but it's still dark and unwarm all the damn time, so the lack of snow hasn't been enough to quell my self-diagnosed Act Like a Jerk Because Boo-Hoo Poor Baby Misses the Summer Disorder. I'm not a lot of fun to be around in the winter, so our home is better off with a glowing two-dimensional third-party arbitrator who can distract me with a Celtics game or a Law and Order rerun when I start to yell about how slowly the flavors turn over at the frozen yogurt place in the off-season. (If you're listening, Berryline, allow me to respectfully submit that six straight weeks of Oreo is seven weeks too many. Where's the vanilla cardamom?! Is cardamom not in season? It's not like I'm asking for watermelon or freshly mown grass here.)

If this barbaric season had one redeeming quality—and it doesn't—it might be winter beers. I'm not into seasonal beers the rest of the year, because I'm not overly fond of wheat, citrus, or nutmeg, but I've found that a nice winter beer can make my hateful words taste better as they leave my mouth. Though Blue Moon is hardly a bottom shelf operation, its Winter Abbey Ale is the least expensive mass-produced nationally available winter beer I could find.

Great news, gang: Another thing to complain about from now till spring! This isn't a terrible beer—I don't hate it as much as the Beer Advocate guys do—but it's certainly not worth $10 a six-pack. Emily has terrible taste in beer, which is to say taste dissimilar to my own, so she thought it was pretty good, which means my Valentine's Day shopping is done courtesy of the five leftover bottles that I have no intention of drinking myself.

It pours a deep, almost opaque brown, like a glass of Coke with one ice cube melted into it. The predominant smell is what I think of as generic BEER: slightly stale, slightly bitter malt. The flavor isn't awful but neither is it very interesting, with the BEER augmented by bits of brown sugar and spice. Winter Abbey dried out my mouth with a quality that Coors likely calls "earthiness" but which I'm going to label dirtiness. Overall, this tastes like a mediocre red ale, far inferior to the not-terribly-exciting Samuel Adams Brickhouse Red I had a few days ago.

I realize that Blue Moon was born and bred in the Coors lab and therefore lacks the true craft beer heritage of a Goose Island, which started off honest before getting Anheuser-Busched last year. But it's still positioned as the premium offering of one of the country's largest brewers, and I find the flagship bottling and the pumpkin ale to be drinkable. If we can set aside our disdain for macrobreweries and boring wheat beers, we can admit that regular Blue Moon doesn't suck. And neither does the Winter Abbey Ale, but it comes close.