As this past weekend's flurries proved, old man winter is bearing down on our fair state once again. But fear not, faithful booze-hounds: Vermont-based brewing company Magic Hat is here to help us through the short days and long nights of the season with the Feast of Fools Variety 12-Pak.
Along with a pair of company standards -- #9 and Lucky Kat -- the Feast of Fools boasts a pair of new brews for the season: Howl, which is being touted by the company as a dark winter lager, and Winter Odd Notion 09, an American sour ale which is the latest installment in the on-going Odd Notion series.
Always up for a challenge, our team of expert bar fiends recently cracked open some Howl and Winter Odd Notion 09. Did these new beers bring us the joy of the season, or did they leave us cold? Read on to find out.
Afton Lorraine Woodward: Howl seems to be a lager in name only - the smooth, nutty flavor is more indicative of a stout, and the hoppy finish reminded me more of an ale. It would be good with a hearty dish, but nothing too spicy, since the flavors would compete too much. Howl combines the best of all beer worlds - the smoothness of a stout, the bite of an ale and the airiness of a lager. It was just right for me - not too dense or too overpowering, but still very flavorful.
Alex Biese: The folks at Magic Hat are billing this as a "black-as-night winter lager," and while they're certainly dead-on about the brew's pitch-black color, the taste is actually a good ways off from a lager. Howl, to my palate, has the hoppy bite of ale that one's come to expect from a beer bearing the Magic Hat name coupled with the warm, toasty aftertaste of a good stout. It's an intriguing, if unexpected, pairing and Magic Hat has pulled it off nicely.
Like spending a frosty night around a blazing fire with some good company, this here's a beer that just leaves you feeling warm all over, but without letting you forget about the sting of the season.
Graelyn Brashear: So often, beers touted as "winter" brews are malty, heavy things. Magic Hat's Howl, a black lager, manages to pack a lot of dark, bitter flavor that's welcome on a cold day. Still, it's crisp and drinkable, with a nice hoppy finish. The rich, coffee-like flavor isn't overwhelming, so Howl pairs well with food - it would hold its own but not outshine the spread at a holiday feast. It's worth buying the company's winter sampler just to get your hands on this beer.
Winter Odd Notion '09:
Afton Lorraine Woodward: Other than to attempt something utterly bizarre, I couldn't figure out why Magic Hat would make something this bad. The bitter, rotten-fruit taste might appeal to a few people, but not to me. If it had been a fuller ale with more substance, it might have worked, but the sourness is pretty much its only characteristic. I found the flavor to be improved by some accompanying spicy sushi, so this beer would probably be best as a side to a rich meal, or maybe just in cooking, but definitely not something to sip on its own.
Alex Biese: According to the news release that came with a sampling of the latest installment of the Odd Notion series, "this is a unique offering." And they're right; this beer, an American sour ale, is truly unique. The question is, "is it good?" Well, that depends.
I can not stress this enough: Do not drink this beer on its own. While it has a pleasant amber color, it has a thick texture and a sweetly sour taste that lingers on long after you've swallowed and is, quite frankly, not incredibly pleasant. When paired with a bold food choice, like something very spicy, the beer tends to mellow out a bit, and I can also see this working well when used in cooking. But, if you try to drink this solo and wind up with a sourpuss look on your face, don't say I didn't warn ya.
Graelyn Brashear: I was starting to worry that my beer reviews were making me sound like our staff's most ardent optimist ("Gee, that's great! And that one's good too! I love every beer ever!"). Well, Magic Hat's Winter '09 Odd Notion has cured me. It's a sour ale, the first I've ever tried, and I can't say I'm tempted to sample any more of its kind. The idea of tart beer doesn't really put me off, but the lingering malty sweetness that follows this Odd Notion's sour start made my stomach turn. I'd take Magic Hat's suggestion and use it to cook with (they include a recipe for beer crab dip that sounds pretty tasty).
For a list of downloadable recipes featuring Magic Hat beers, click here.