2.7AROMA 3/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 4/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 13/20
I used to be a huge fan of Magic Hat when I first got into the American Craft beer scene. Their beers were concoctions unlike anything anyone else was doing and they had the packaging and marketing to match. However, I’ve realized fairly recently that eccentricity and originality, while appreciable, isn’t necessarily quality. Their latest winter seasonal, Howl, is a good example of this. It’s a beer that is strong in flavor, but the overall taste is just strange and not very appealing.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
Since Howl is a schwarzbier it comes as no surprise that it pours to an opaque black body and forms a rather small, lightly tan head (which actually left some lacing on the glass). The scent is rather odd since, upon first whiff, it smells like a ham sandwich. A deeper sniff reveals something of a smoky aroma and roasted malts.
I have to admit that Magic Hat Howl is one of the strangest beers I’ve ever drank. My first sip tasted of smoked pork followed by a burnt chocolate bitterness (now that’s quite a pairing, eh?). As I drank on the palate began to taste more like how a typical American black lager might taste.
Up front I get a fairly malty, bready but mild taste followed by a roasty, bitter finish. What started out as a rich chocolate flavor morphed into a salty bitterness. Believe it or not, it reminded me of the aftertaste of a salty pretzel (which is a good thing when you’re eating pretzels, but not something you really want in a beer). I really enjoyed the roasted maltiness and the chocolate-like bitterness, but they seemed to give in to entropy as the palate became a mélange of strange flavors.
Not that Howl’s flavor is completely off-putting, but this just isn’t what I expect (or want) out of a schwarzbier. As it warmed I did get the slightest bit of a coffee taste, but again, it took a backseat to a bready, almost salty bitterness.
Black lagers are known for their smoothness, and Howl conforms to the style for the most part. It feels a little heavy in the mouth, but it passes over the tongue without much resistance. The composition seems to be highly carbonated for a beer of this style, as I could feel bubbles dancing on my tongue.
At 4.6% ABV, this is actually light for a winter seasonal. Considering the tastes present here I think it would pair well with any kind of BBQ, pulled pork, smoked sausage or other such meats.
It’s very rare that a beer with a fairly complex palate would receive a bad review from me (or anyone, really), but Magic Hat Howl just tastes too strange to appreciate. I did like the roasted malts and bitter chocolate flavors, but they took a backseat to the strange meaty flavors. It’s almost worth drinking because it’s such an unusual beer and it’s at least drinkable – but don’t say I didn’t warn you.