You wouldn't know it from the life-sapping heat here in Dallas, but Oktoberfest is less than a month away. Already, Oktoberfest beers are starting to pop up on retail shelves and bar taps.
As they did last year, Magic Hat from Vermont kindly sent three sample beers from the company's Night of the Living Dead Variety 12-pack to Hophead HQ. (Brewers, we love samples. By all means, feel free to send them any time to the address on the Dallas Observer About Us page.) Along with #9, the brewery's flagship apricot pale ale (not exactly a Hophead fave, but beloved by East Coasters), the pack includes the malty amber Hex Ourtoberfest, a green-apple witbier in the Odd Notion line and the Fall I.P.A. On Tour: hI.P.A.
Magic Hat is an interesting though frustratingly inconsistent brewery. A few of their beers have really impressed me, but most of the time they just seem puny, gimmicky and/or girly. After the jump, Hex, the fall 2010 Odd Notion and hI.P.A. get the full brunt of the Hophead Beer Scoring System. Spoiler alert: I was actually pretty impressed with all three.
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Appearance: Orange-amber with a creamy but short-lived off-white head. Very cool label design, too, with ghouls sitting at a biergarten table. 9/10
Nose: A blend of sweet, smoky, rye and toffee malt notes with earthy, funky hops. 10/10
Taste: Surprisingly strong for a brewery whose products are usually pretty lightweight. All the notes hinted in the nose combine for a good balanced, malty Oktoberfest with a bit of a bite at the end. 35/40
Body: Creamy and rich, medium-bodied. Carbonation fizzles out if you drink it too slowly. 8/10
Finish: Some lingering bitterness and sweetness, slightly sour, and with some smokiness. Very drinkable. 10/10
Style/Originality: At the risk of having my beer-nerd card yanked, I have to admit I'm not a big fan of Oktoberfest beers. But for what it is, this is a well-done version, and I like the noticeable but not overwhelming smokiness. 10/10
Party Factor: Mine was a free sample. Usually, this is only available at stores in Texas as part of a variety 12-pack. Assuming past Magic Hat 12-packs' average $14.99 price, this 5.4 percent ABV beer has a factor of 4.32, rounding to 4.
Odd Notion Fall 2010
Appearance: Very pale yellow with a thin head. 8/10
Nose: A very odd combination of green apple, coriander and banana nutbread. That sounds like a terrible combination, but somehow it works. 9/10
Taste: A very weird combination of flavors that sounds like a trainwreck on paper, but somehow is intriguing enough to keep me interested. Green apple and orange peel sour notes get along just fine with a very pronounced banana flavor and a nutty malt flavor. Not a manly beer by any means. 31/40
Body: Very light and refreshing, appropriate for a wit. 10/10
Finish: Enough sourness and bitterness to keep the sweet notes at bay make it quite refreshing. 10/10
Style/Originality: A unique twist on a witbier. This would be great for girly girls who have graduated from wine coolers, or cider lovers looking to branch into beer. 10/10
Party Factor: Mine was a free sample. Usually, this is only available at stores in Texas as part of a variety 12-pack. Assuming past Magic Hat 12-packs' average $14.99 price, this 4.5 percent ABV beer has a factor of 3.6, rounding to 4.
Appearance: Golden and clear with a dense, persistent white head that leaves plenty of lacing. Not the expected amber color. Intriguing. 9/10
Nose: Very prominent hops that are a complex blend of earthy and grassy with tropical fruit, pine and some citrus, along with faint biscuity malt. With all the dope innuendo in the packaging (the press release says "Magic Hat encourages hop lovers to get high on hops," seriously, and it's pronounced "High P.A."), I expected it to smell like a fresh sack of Mango Kush or Trainwreck. The boutique-weed smell is there if you search for it, but there are plenty of other beers out there with an even danker aroma. Pot-like or not, it smells great. 10/10
Taste: Very bitter but not mouth-puckeringly so. Not too sour, with a hint of toffee sweetness. All the complexity of the nose is present in the taste. The high (for Magic Hat, at least) 6.7 percent ABV is completely camouflaged. I am very impressed. 38/40
Body: Medium-bodied as appropriate, with perfect carbonation. 10/10
Finish: Very dry and refreshing, compulsively drinkable and clean. 10/10
Style/Originality: IPAs are one of my very favorite styles, and I'll admit I was skeptical of what Magic Hat was going to roll out. It was going to take a lot to impress me, and this beer delivered. Magic Hat finally grew a pair. Or, more accurately, got their pair back -- this is a revival of a style that was on hiatus. 10/10
Party Factor: Mine was a free sample. Usually, this is only available at stores in Texas as part of a variety 12-pack. Assuming past Magic Hat 12-packs' average $14.99 price, this 6.7 percent ABV beer has a factor of 5.36, rounding to 5.