Boy, doesn't this lovely weather just put you in the mood for a crisp, cold spring beer? Well, the temperatures may not quite yet be spring-like, and spring may not officially begin for more than a month, but spring seasonals are already appearing on grocery shelves -- just as it seems like other seasonals start popping up earlier and earlier each year, with Oktoberfests popping up in August and Christmas beers available by Halloween. (I saw a sixer of Spaten Oktoberfest at a store recently and had to wonder if it was leftover from last year or just getting an early foothold on the shelf -- July's just five months away, after all!)
But if you can't wait to get started on spring drinking, two American breweries have you covered. Magic Hat's Spring Fever variety 12-pack is on shelves at your better beer retailers now through the end of March (meaning it will be available for 12 days of actual spring), while Samuel Adams spring seasonal Noble Pils is available on draft and in six- and 12-packs, and as part of the American Originals Variety 12-pack for a limited time.
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Both breweries sent over samples to Hophead HQ, momentarily distracting me from Left Hand's lovely smoked Baltic porter Fade To Black (which, I see, Paul Hightower is also a fan of). After the jump, they get the Hophead Beer Analysis treatment.
Magic Hat Demo IPA
Appearance: Opaque and black with a sticky beige head. Interesting to see an East Coast brewery get in on the black IPA trend. Cool label, too. 10/10
Nose: Not as hoppy as expected. In fact, not as anything as expected -- some earthy, grainy hops and a bit of chocolate maltiness as it warms, but it's not a very powerful aroma. Kind of an odd mix. 7/10
Taste: This is a strange, in-between beer. It's kind of grainy and earthy and funky, with the chocolate malts becoming more prominent as it warms. The hops (Columbus and Goldings) are definitely more typical of subdued English and East Coast IPAs, so it's not the typical piney, citrusy Cascadian dark hop bomb that typifies black IPAs. In fact, it tastes more like an amber ale or a brown ale, except with a bitter finish. 28/40
Body: Medium-bodied, with good carbonation and a creamy head. 8/10
Finish: Bitter with very little sweetness. Refreshing and crisp. 8/10
Style/Originality: I'd call it an interesting experiment, but perhaps not a successful one. They get credit for putting a twist on an interesting beer trend. 8/10
Party Factor: Haven't found the price yet, but past Magic Hat variety packs went for $14.99. At 6 percent ABV, that would give it a factor of 4.8, rounding to 5.
Magic Hat Vinyl Lager
Appearance: Light amber, hazy with a fluffy white head. I don't really get what's going on with the label, other than it's circular and thus somewhat record-like. Is that a watercolor butterfly? 8/10
Nose: Very subdued. Maybe some caramel. 7/10
Taste: Somewhat grassy and maybe some sulfur along with earthy hops and a bit of caramel, but without much sweetness. Yawn. 26/40
Body: Thin-bodied as expected for a spring lager. 7/10
Finish: Crisp and drinkable. 8/10
Style/Originality: Meek and boring. Maybe a second bottle would have revealed some subtleties that I missed first time around, but I'm not interested enough to pursue it. 5/10
Party Factor: Haven't found the price yet, but past Magic Hat variety packs went for $14.99. At 5.1 percent ABV, that would give it a factor of 4.1, rounding to 4.
Samuel Adams Noble Pils
Appearance: Clear golden-yellow with a thin white head, as expected. 9/10
Nose: Very hoppy, with a mix of grassy, earthy, funky and floral strains so prominent that you can almost taste them. 10/10
Taste: Very fresh and floral and crisp. It's reminiscent of green tea, for some reason. More specifically, it reminds me a lot of Arizona Green Tea, but with just a hint of sweetness. Almost too grassy and herbal, but I like it. 33/40
Body: Thin- to medium-bodied, as expected for a Czech pilsner. 8/10
Finish: Nice and crisp with some hop bite but not bitter. A bit of lingering sweetness. 9/10
Style/Originality: According to the company, this beer uses "all five noble hops," Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter and Hersbrucker Hersbrucker from Germany and Saaz from the Czech Republic. (Not everyone agrees that Hersbrucker Hersbrucker is a noble hop, and many beer geeks, including those who edit Wikipedia, refer to "the four noble hops" -- I don't care one way or the other.) Ambitious, and they blend well. 10/10
Party Factor: At 4.9 percent ABV and going for $7.49 (more or less) a six-pack, this has a factor of 3.9, rounding to 4.