Sunday, April 20, 2008

Beer O' The Moment - Magic Hat Lucky Kat

While I have always appreciated the fervor with which the folks at Magic Hat have tried to spread the notion of diversity in beer drinking, there have been precious few of their beers that I have found myself craving on a regular basis even though I find all of them competent and priced popularly.

Magic Hat has also been good at experimentation, forcing numerous styles on the American beer drinking public. Some of these styles (St. Gootz) were a success, others (Kerouac) interesting failures. They also have the best brewery website I can find.

Magic Hat has gone down the IPA road a few times before, with mixed results. Their most well-known offering is the now-retired Blind Faith, which was a good if not great English IPA. It lacked the hop character to which American IPA drinkers are accustomed, and therefore was probably ushered out to keep the hop-fantatics (such as yours truly) happy. Their Hi.P.A. is a decent brew, but in today's age where it seems every brewery is trying to come up with a signature, flagship IPA, the Magic Hat folks could probably see they needed something a little different; they needed something a little stronger.

Enter Lucky Kat. While I'm not sure I'm 100% in love with the name of this new concoction, I do have to say that I'm impressed with the beer itself. While I am not necessarily a proponent of more "extreme" beers, this one was a nice step up for a brewery that takes chances but doesn't necessarily take great leaps.

The beer is very nice to look at, and the most IPA-looking IPA they have come out with. It's dark orange and hazy, just the way it should be; it glows from within like a Christmas tree light. It pours a big fluffy head.

The aroma foreshadows a piney, woody IPA. There is some definite grassy pine action going on in the smell. It also takes the risk of putting in some oak. (Note: I've been told that I often sense oak where oak does not exist. I have sensed it in grape juice, caesar salad and my air conditioner so take that observation with a grain of salt.) The smell is nicely balanced, with some sweet and bready malt peeking its head out briefly.

The taste follows through on the promise of the smell, for the most part. The hops are definitely of the distinctly woody variety, and yes, that oaky flavor comes in too. It's altogether very grassy and outdoorsy, with the oily pine flavor dominating. It could use as much balance in the flavor as it does in the aroma, as the hops dominate the flavor completely, leaving only the very end of the swallow to make room for the malt to come in. This isn't a bad thing, as most imperial IPAs give the hops center stage, but a little more of the nicely toasted malt would have been a nice touch. The beer feels thick and oily, even a little milky, but smooth.

While I'm not going to say that this is an unadulterated home run for Magic Hat, I was surprised at how deep this beer is, and packed with flavor. Perhaps it's the silky, thick mouthfeel that surprised me the most. Either way, it's Magic Hat's best IPA to date, and if it sells well enough, it might be their last crack at the formula. I think they might be on to something.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Some Quick Notes (On The Occasion Of My Return To Captain Lawrence)

Today, I made it back to Pleasantville, New York's Captain Lawrence Brewing Company after a prolonged absence. While Captain Lawrence is still establishing its presence in the lower Hudson/Westchester County region (they still only bottle a select number of their beers in bombers, and a prominent display in the brewery's tasting room is a poster listing the small-but-growing number of establishments that serve Captain Lawrence beers on-tap), one constant since the brewery's opening has been Saturday tasting-room hours from noon to 6 pm.

Brewmaster Scott Vaccaro was among those behind the tasting-room bar on this warm spring afternoon, and, as a pleasant surprise, there were 2 new (well, to me) beers on tap. Here now are some quick notes on these new offerings from the Captain:

The first one that I tried was Sunblock, a Belgian-Style Wit beer. Captain Lawrence has done Belgian-style beers in the past (two of their standouts, Liquid Gold and Xtra Gold, are variations on Belgian Pale Ales). Unfortunately, Sunblock suffers from comparison to these standout drinks. Where Captain Lawrence's Belgian Pales are masterpieces, Sunblock sort of seems like a first draft. It's very light - extremely light, in fact, enough so that the nuances of the beer (hints of orange and spice) become insubstantial. The notes on Sunblock hint that there is a hop bite to be found at the end - I can't say that I found this. This is a rare miss for Captain Lawrence; certainly preferable to a macrobrewed light beer, but nowhere in the class of their other Belgian-inspired brews.

The other new offering was their Brown Bird Brown Ale, a spiced brown ale, and holy cow - another winner for Vaccaro and the folks at Captain Lawrence. My glass of this may have been enough to supplant Brooklyn Brown as my favorite of this genre. Originally intended as the Captain's fall/winter seasonal, Vaccaro and Co. have decided to brew Brown Bird year round - the beer's malty, dark-caramel finish is a welcome taste and, served fresh and cold from the tap, hit the spot nicely on this warm spring day.

It's always a pleasure to get up to Pleasantville and sample the goods of the Captain - the addition of these two beers bodes well for this developing brewery!