The winter seasonal beers are upon us, filling our fridges and bellies with delicious flavors and styles. Typically, winter beers are malty and heavy, or spiced and crisp, evoking images of snow-swept fields and chimneys coughing out smoke somewhere up north. "Winter warmers," holiday ales and similar styles began appearing in November and will hang around until January or February.
Burlington, Vermont's Magic Hat Brewing Company has recently released its seasonal sampler, called "Winterland," for the 2011-2012 season. Introducing new flavors and bringing back old favorites, Magic Hat's offering will be available in variety packs until Jan. 15 at most stores and craft beer purveyors. The Winterland Variety 12-pack contains four different beers. The first is (as always) the flagship brew Magic Hat #9, the "not quite pale ale," an apricot-infused beer that has a significant following.
Continuing with its yearlong "I.P.A. On Tour" campaign, Magic Hat closes out 2011 with Encore, a hybrid Wheat/India Pale Ale that's deliciously hoppy with a citrus nose and a hint of the wheat in the aroma. This beer has plenty of Apollo, Simcoe and Amarillo hops to satisfy your inner hophead, and then gets you again with a dry hopping of more Simcoe and Amarillo. Well-balanced with a sweet malty backbone, I was very impressed with this latest addition to the line. Its 6.4 percent ABV is well hidden, and it drinks very smoothly, so imbibers beware. This beer is available in the variety pack, as well as in six-packs and single bottles at select stores.
A trend of late is the introduction of "black" beers. Black I.P.A.s, Cascadian Dark Ales (as some would have you call them), and Black Lagers introduce darker malts into beers that are traditionally lighter, giving the beers a roastier flavor but still staying true to the original style. That's the theory, anyway. Magic Hat offers up Howl, a black lager ostensibly influenced by the traditional schwartzbier style, that pours extremely dark with a minimal mocha-colored head. Aroma is roasted malt, but not particularly strong in the nose. Flavor is more roast, a hint of hops and chocolate, but the mouth feel is thin and light. At 4.6 percent, one could certainly enjoy several of these by the fire at the lodge. Howl is available in the variety pack as well as six- and 12-packs.
Rounding out the sampler is another from the "Flavor Flashback" series. Ravell is a vanilla porter, brewed with whole vanilla beans. It's another near-black pour, with vanilla and delicious roasty aroma, and thick head that lingers. The flavor is delicious — sweet malt and chocolate body with vanilla throughout. The mouth feel is silky smooth and coats the tongue with little bitterness lingering. The 5.8 percent ABV is definitely concealed behind the holiday goodness; it would be easy to have more than a few of these. This was my favorite of the sampler, and something I would go out of my way to find again. Naturally, it is only available in the sampler pack, and is a very limited release.
This was one of the strongest seasonal samplers I've had from Magic Hat, and I am a big fan of both their I.P.A. On Tour and Flavor Flashback concepts. All three of these new beers I would happily have again, and would recommend that other craft beer drinkers pick up this sampler and try them out for themselves.
DISCLAIMER: Magic Hat Brewing Company provided the beers for this review. However, reviews and opinions of the reviewed beers are unbiased and not influenced by the brewery in any way, shape or form.