Ranking Special Releases From Harpoon and Magic Hat; Good News From Rahr

Just as I was finishing off the sample pack Harpoon sent recently, a few free samples from Magic Hat arrived, offering a nice opportunity to compare IPAs from two well-established New England craft brewers.

The contrast between the two companies could hardly be starker. Magic Hat has a markedly lighter, more whimsical approach to beer. Not only do the wild, colorful packaging and the hippie-dippie slogans under the bottle caps show a sense of humor, but the novelty ingredients, generally light flavors and mid-level ABVs seem to indicate that the company isn't taking the beer itself too seriously either. Rather than create a lovely pitch-black Baltic Porter or an intimidating Imperial IPA, they'd rather do something wacky (or "Wacko") like throw some beets into a batch and see what happens.

After the jump, a look at a few offerings from each brewery, plus some news that will please fans of Fort Worth's Rahr and Sons brewery.

Harpoon Leviathan Imperial IPA
Appearance: Clear and somewhere between golden and copper in color, with a sticky white crown. 10/10
Nose: Sweet and hoppy with pine and grapefruit mingled. 10/10
Taste: Like the nose, with caramel maltiness showing up and very well hidden ABV. 38/40
Body: Nice thick body you can almost chew on, without the syrupy slickness of lesser impy IPAs. 10/10
Finish: Slight bitterness and very drinkable. 10/10
Style/Originality: A very solid example of a challenging style. 9/10
Party Factor: Mine was free, but this retails for $9.99 a four pack. At 10 percent ABV, that comes to a party factor of 4.
Total: 91

Harpoon Leviathan Imperial Red
Appearance: Brownish-amber, clear, with a yellowish off-white head that leaves behind plenty of lacing. And, as with other Leviathan beers, it has a badass label. 9/10
Nose: Resinous hops. Not what I normally associate with red ales, which is fine by me. Not much else. 8/10
Taste: It tastes like a double IPA, which, again, is fine by me since I don't find red ales especially distinctive anyway. At first the citrus-peel and piney hops are all that I can detect, but some toasty, caramelly malts become more apparent as it warms. 35/40
Body: Thick but not too thick. 8/10
Finish: Very bitter and refreshing. 9/10
Style/Originality: Makes me reconsider my lack of respect for red ales. 10/10
Party Factor: Mine was free, but this retails for $9.99 a four pack. At 9.2 percent ABV, that comes to a party factor of 3.68, rounding up to 4.
Total: 83

Harpoon 100 Barrel Single Hop ESB

Appearance: Amber, clear with a persistent tan head that leaves plenty of lacing behind. 10/10

Nose: Toasty, bready malt notes with some mild hop presence. 9/10

Taste: Very subtle earthy, fruity hoppiness expertly balanced with the soft British-style maltiness. Mellow but not boring. 38/40

Body: Full, but not too thick. 9/10

Finish: Dry and drinkable. 10/10

Style/Originality: This is the first commercially brewed beer to feature the new Delta hop varietal, a cross between Fuggle and Cascade hops. How much more original could it get? 10/10

Party Factor: Mine was free, but 22-oz. bottles retail for $8.99. At 5.8 percent ABV, that comes to a party factor of 1.18, rounding down to 1.

Total: 87

Magic Hat Wacko Summer Seasonal
Appearance: Wacko indeed. The color is somewhere between the hues of a white zinfandel and an amber lager with a fizzy pink head. Can't say it looks appealing, but it's certainly intriguing. 10/10
Nose: Nothing. 2/10
Taste: Not much here either. Something like a mediocre pilsner, better than Miller Lite, but that's not saying much. Very summery -- in fact, too summery. 20/40
Body: Just a tad fuller than an American macro-lager. 5/10
Finish: It's got the drinkability of a summer session beer, and that's about it. 6/10
Style/Originality: The tagline on the bottle is "A beer with beet juice color." That's not a very compelling reason for existence. Why not, say, "A beer with a cocktail saber under the bottlecap" or "A beer wearing Groucho glasses"? Brewing a pinkish beer is a novel idea, but doing so at the expense of any actual flavor seems misguided at best. 6/10
Party Factor: Mine was free, but this retails for $8.99 a six pack. At 4.5 percent ABV, that comes to a party factor of 3.
Total: 52

Magic Hat Blind Faith IPA
Appearance: Hazy, copper with a big sticky white head. 9/10
Nose: Somewhat dry and earthy with a nice balance of citrus hops and bready malts. 9/10
Taste: Very well balanced. Straddles the line between British- and East Coast-style IPA, and a bit sweet. A very fine IPA without the in-your-face hop wallop. 35/40
Body: Full and highly carbonated. 8/10
Finish: Slight sting of hops, very drinkable. A good summer beer. 9/10
Style/Originality: Nothing outlandish, but a fine example of an IPA. 8/10
Party Factor: Mine was free, but this retails for $8.99 a six pack. At 6.2 percent ABV, that comes to a party factor of 4.13, rounding to 4.
Total: 82

Magic Hat Odd Notion Ginger Golden Ale
Appearance: Golden, a bit hazy, with a pillowy white head, appropriate for blonde ale style. 9/10
Nose: Hops with a very faint aroma of ginger, along with some banana and clove. 7/10
Taste: Again, the ginger is very faint. They seemed to err on the side of caution with the use of a spice that could have been overpowering, resulting in a mild, summery, refreshing blonde ale. 28/40
Body: Light, refreshing, appropriately thin as expected. 8/10
Finish: The ginger spiciness shows up on the finish, giving it a nice bite. 10/10
Style/Originality: Interesting idea. Magic Hat has clearly found a niche in light, refreshing beers with subtle flavors from unusual additions such as the apricot of #9 and this beer's use of ginger. Perhaps I've blown out my tastebuds with bigger, bolder beers, but many of Magic Hat's brews just seem kind of wimpy to me. This is one of them. 6/10
Party Factor: Mine was free, but this retails for $8.99 a six pack. At 6.2 percent ABV, that comes to a party factor of 4.13, rounding to 4.
Total: 72


Just got word today that Rahr & Sons Brewing Company will reopen the brewery to the public on June 12, four months to the day after the February 12 snowstorm collapsed its roof and damaged equipment, halting production and forcing the company to substitute Rahr Road Shows for its brewery tours. As much fun as those tours are, here's hoping the Road Shows continue.

And in case you missed Tuesday's bonus edition of Hophead, check it out for a few American Craft Beer Week event listings. Oh, and that House Resolution offering support of the craft-brewing movement? It passed.

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