The adventurous brewers at the Magic Hat Brewing Company (based in South Burlington, Vt.) boast some of the “most mysterious” ales of the region. Their fall 12-pack set included two bottles of six of their best — many of which are finally hitting the shelves in some of the finer local taverns this month.
We judged these beers based on the guidelines of the American Homebrewers Association’s official beer score sheet, used in every sanctioned beer contest by certified beer judges. In a somewhat scientific manner, we split six bottles of Magic Hat’s current and seasonal lineup, carefully pouring each brew into cylindrical sampling glasses, and played it seriously — just like judges at a real event. The scores reflect proximity to classic styles, technical merit, and significant flaws in five main categories: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression.
After the first sample, we compared our notes and scores and were pleased to find that as judges of beer, we’re very much on the same page, within a few points. The Jinx, Roxy Rolles, and #9 Pale Ale scored big.
Circus Boy Hefeweizen
This unfiltered wheat beer scored highest in aroma and appearance, giving off a sweet, zingy citrus and banana smell from its murky, golden body. Its immediate, hoppy tang and grapefruity, dry finish made it pleasurable despite a lightly metallic and yeasty demeanor. Overall we found it drinkable and excellent for a hot afternoon. “For all the chaos and magic they mention on the label, it’s not too weird,” says Lesemann. “It’s very refreshing and clean … a wheat beer that leaves you wanting another.”
Score: 69 out of 100
#9 Pale Ale
Magic Hat’s deep orange-hued flagship ale scored strong across the board, with its floral hints of apricot and butterscotch in aroma and taste. Lesemann found the smell “bready” and “buttery,” and complemented the “wonderful” head retention and “sweet toffee finish.” Its clean, malty, and original flavor earned it big points in the overall impression category. “A good beer for breakfast,” wrote Lawrence.
Score: 79 out of 100
Roxy Rolles Hoppy Amber Ale
The name doesn’t lie. Hops burst into the nasal passage when this bottle is cracked, giving off an earthy, grassy aroma that’s balanced with roasted maltiness that hints of cloves and pumpernickel. “Thick as a brick” in its confident copper color, it’s topped in the glass by a frothy, blonde head that Lesemann calls “lovely, clingy, and full.” Roxy Rolles’ perfectly bitter flavor combines a bouquet of Northwestern U.S.-tasting hops with fruit and caramel flavors, bready malt, and a long and dry finish. Mouthfeel scored big here, with its silky, nicely carbonated, medium/full body. It’s a quality brew for late fall and winter — a big pale ale that demanded we drink another.
Score: 81 out of 100
Odd Notion Mystery Beer
Odd can be interesting, and very good. Despite a hint of Robitussin in the “earthy, winey, estery, deep fruit” aroma, the sheer blend of rich flavor and lingering, chocolatey aftertaste had us both “serious” and “festive.” With a color like “wet saddle leather,” very little light penetrates the thick and confident deep amber beer. Odd Notion’s flavor doesn’t betray its 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, creating a big, dark ale that’s deceptively strong and very drinkable.
Score: 75 out of 100
Jinx “Medieval Ale”
“Chocolate raisins and pumpernickel bread,” wrote Lesemann upon one whiff of the Jinx. Its beautiful, burgundy color had us chattering away in our best Scottish brogues, enjoying the assertively toasty, dark caramel flavor that precedes a very dry, balanced finish. Its smooth feel, perfect spritz, and full body earned it high marks as a sturdy brown ale with miles of flavor. It’s a winner alone, in cold weather, and perfect with a beefy sandwich.
Score: 80 out of 100
Mystery Winter Beer
Not our favorite, but still enjoyable. With lots of lemony zing and strong, tarty but oxidized smells, we found the aroma hard to place. “A hint of smoke?” asked Lesemann. The bold orange color and nice frothy head were winners, but the confusing flavor reminded us of a “poor man’s Red Chimay” or “herbaceous flatulence.” Mystery flavors present included: candy sugar, caramel drops, tangerine, “cloying, smacky” fruit, and a medicinal tinge underneath. While creative, this mystery brew is “uncommitted, sneaky, and weird.” It stands to be stronger in either dark malt character or hop flavor and aroma.
Score: 66 out of 100
T. Ballard Lesemann, a brewing and beer history enthusiast, attained Beer Judge Certification through the Association of Craft Brewers in 1995 and traveled across North America and Europe in search of authentically “classic beer styles.”
Stratton H. Lawrence built his beer reputation more on quantity than quality — in a “case race” he’s unparalleled. After years of defending Busch Heavy (Gold Tops) as the world’s finest, Lawrence was handed a bottle of Sweetwater Brewery’s 420 Pale Ale in 2002 and his tastes finally matured.