Given the pecan’s agricultural importance to Louisiana, it makes perfect sense that the state’s largest commercial craft brewery should offer us ale that incorporates the Southern-eponymous tree nut. Fall is the time of harvest and anyone who has a pecan tree in their yard knows full well how easy it is to gather this bounty; they literally fall from the trees. The arduous task lies in successfully shelling the pecans so when Abita Brewing Company came out with their Pecan Harvest Ale they saved all drupe fans everywhere a lot of hassle. Now, it’s as easy as a church key on a bottle cap.
Wait, what’s a “drupe?” Technically, the fruit of any member of the hickory tree genus is not a nut. Pecans, like walnuts, are pits that are surrounded by a husk. Odd name aside, turns out pecans are incredibly nutritious and have some pretty significant health benefits. They’re high in protein and unsaturated fat, possess high levels of omega-6 fatty acid and are shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels. The ladies receive an added bonus: studies show they’re effective in lowering the risk of gallstones.
The only major tree nut native to North America, the name “pecan” is of Algonquin origin meaning “any nut requiring a stone to crack.” European settlers began orchards to cultivate pecans in Long Island, New York in 1772 and only three years later its popularity had spread to the gardens of founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (both avid home brewers). By the end of the century orchards and natural pecan groves could be found all along the eastern seaboard down through the south and on into northern Mexico where it’s believed they originated.
New Orleans’ establishment as a major shipping port fueled the demand for pecans and their worth exceeded cotton harvests in certain areas of the country. To meet the demand farmers began early flowering and cross-breeding techniques to increase crop output. In 1876 a slave gardener named Antoine (no last name known) successfully grafted wild pecan to seedling stock and was deemed important enough a technique to win Best Exhibited Award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
Abita uses Louisiana pecans descended from these superior “Centennial” crops’ original 126 trees in their Pecan Harvest Ale. The result is a shimmering amber color with a thin off-white head that leaves behind some nice lacing. A dusty, malt-sweet nose reveals some caramel, nut shell and slightly-burnt biscuit. Flavors of maple, sweet grain and, of course, toasted pecan ride on a thin-ish texture which is good as had the mouth feel been any thicker this ale may come off as too sickly and cloying. Instead, it’s a refreshing hint at the crisp fall days ahead of us.