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A Taste of Magic

January 23, 2012 - Phyllis Sigal
Friday nights are nights when it's just nice to get home from work, relax, perhaps have a martini and enjoy a long, leisurely dinner at home.

Especially when an ice storm is on the way.

But last Friday I had made plans to go to the beer tasting at Stifel Fine Arts Center, where my favorite, favorite, favorite beers — Magic Hat — were being sampled.

I came under the spell of Magic Hat #9 years ago. It was the hint of apricot that got me. It was the hypnotic bottle labels, quirky little sayings under the caps and the creative writing that kept me.

Here's the actual description of #9 from the Magic Hat website:

"#9: Not Quite Pale Ale — A beer cloaked in secrecy. An ale whose mysterious and unusual palate will swirl across your tongue and ask more questions than it answers. A sort of dry, crisp, refreshing, not-quite pale ale. #9 is really impossible to describe because there's never been anything else quite like it."

See what I mean? Creative.

So the trek out on a cold, January night was worth it for a taste of Magic.

The Stifel beer tastings are practically always sold out, and the weather Friday didn't discourage a soul. It was a full house. Kathy Figaretti from Mountain State Beverages introduced each brew and also offered some door prizes.

Ye Old Alpha provided the food. Each beer was paired with a menu item. We snacked on a cranberry salad; beef stew; chips and queso dip with roasted tomatillos and chipotle; blackened salmon with peach salsa; and a brownie chimichanga with hot fudge.

It was really more than a snack; there was plenty to eat.

We started our tasting with Circus Boy. Says the website: "Circus Boy: THE Hefeweizen. — Unfiltered and unfettered, Circus Boy is a unique and refreshing American-style Hefeweizen. Is he a who? Or a what? Or perhaps some of both? Be amazed by the flavorful haze of this wonderful wheat beer."

I like wheat beers. This was a fine one — not my favorite Magic Hat, though.

Next, we tasted my favorite— #9. We also found out why it's called #9.

On the Magic Hat website, a list of information is available for each beer. The type, yeast, hops, malts, ABV (alcohol by volume), gravity, bitterness and SRM (standard reference method, or how color is specified) is listed for each beer, as well as when it's available — many of the beers are seasonal, some are available year-round.

Magic Hat #9 has an SRM of 9.

The SRM value measures the light passing through 1 cm of beer — it's complicated and scientific, but refers to the beer's color intensity. Simply said, the darker the beer, the higher the SRM.

Next was Vinyl Lager, which could be my new favorite Magic Hat.

Says the website: "Scrumptious Spring Lager — Vinyl sails in on her shining wings as the spinning sun returns.  She is the season-shifter, bursting from her cocoon to sing the ancient song of vernal yearning and to summon spring's sweet green return... Her metamorphosis becomes our own.  Her thirsts are shared by all.  Drink in her mysterious elixir as the revolution blooms again. ..."

Vinyl is an amber lager with an SRM of 24 and a bitterness of 20 — the same bitterness as #9, but it's darker.

So I think I've discovered that I don't like a real bitter beer — probably around 20 or less, maybe as high as 30.

Plus Minus was a tasty brew, "brewed with the tradition English style in mind, +/- aims to bring drinkers a truly sessionable craft beer experience."

It's a dark beer, yet mild, with a bitterness of 15 and an SRM of 9. Yeah. I could drink more of this.

Last, we had Howl Winter Lager. "Black-As-Night Winter Lager — Born of dark and cold and snow in the marrow of the northeast's longest night, HOWL comes in on wailing winds with winter-weary eyes burning holes in sunless shadows. In its darkened depths our inner voids are warmed."

We drank that with our brownie chimichanga. It's got an SRM of 39! VERRRRRYYYYY dark. And a bitterness of 32. Definitely good with chocolate, but a bit on the heavy side for just general drinking.

I was glad to find out that #9 is available on tap at River City Ale Works and at Quaker Steak and Lube. Magic Hat beers just now have become available at Smoker Friendly, Figaretti told us. According to the website, Magic Hat beers can be purchased at Kroger and Reasbeck's locations in Ohio. (Magic Hat variety packs make it easy to have your own magic sampling.)

More beer tastings, as well as wine tastings, are available this year. (Check out the Oglebay Institute website for details.)

And for more info on Magic Hat, check out the wildly creative website and read about more of their brews. One visit, you'll be curious. One taste — you'll be hooked! One bottle — you'll want to visit the Vermont brewery! Well, at least I do!

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