2.3AROMA 4/10 APPEARANCE 3/5 TASTE 4/10 PALATE 2/5 OVERALL 10/20
The Magic Hat Brewery out of Vermont is known as a very eccentric brewery constantly experimenting with beer styles. However, what separates them from a higher-end craft brewery like Dogfish Head is that their beers are targeted for the pedestrian beer-drinkers. It’s very difficult to sell the average supermarket customer on a beer style so niche that not even most craft beer geeks dig it, but that’s apparently what Magic Hat is trying to do with their “Odd Notion” for the winter of 2009 – “American Sour Ale.”
This is a very strange beer as it doesn’t taste like much of anything the average American beer drinker is used to. Nor does it has much appeal as far as taste. Not having experienced any authentic Belgian-style sours, lambics or guezes myself I can’t honestly say how appropriate it is for the style. However, something tells me most of those brews don’t taste like every other Magic Hat beer plus a sour finish.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
American Sour Ale starts off quite inviting as it pours to a vivid shade of clear mahogany/dark copper. It forms a rather small, white head which dissolves rather quickly and leaves only minor lacing on the glass. It’s quite effervescent at first, but after just a short time becomes completely tepid.
The smell is surprisingly familiar and yet a little foul. The aroma is very similar to most of Magic Hat’s seasonals with a mildly sweet scent. However, there is a distinct sour component to the nose – not unlike spoiled milk or perhaps even bile. It’s not very pungent (I think those European green-bottled pilsner with their skunky smell are even worse than this), but the scent is difficult to appreciate and off-putting.
It’s amazing how quickly the taste buds and the brain communicate with each other. Upon my first swig of American Sour Ale I tasted a rather sweet, fairly malty beer not unlike a brown ale. I got a light caramel sweetness and a slight hop crispness. But as the beer finishes the palate changes completely into something extremely sour, bitter and dry.
As I said, I have no frame of reference, but I do know what I like and this taste sure isn’t it. Much like the scent, the aftertaste hints at something gone bad. I would compare it to a serving of milk a day or two after the expiration date. There is something of a trace amount of candy-like tartness underneath this dry, bitter “sour” flavor, but it’s not strong enough to appreciate (imagine a no-name-brand knockoff of “Sour Patch Kids”).
Not that this beer is completely repulsive since I did genuinely enjoy the flavors at the front of the palate, but they’re not enough to save the beer from itself. If anything, I don’t think “American Sour Ale” is quite sour enough. Perhaps a more overtly sour palate would be more appreciable as the attempt here seems to be rather half-assed which would account for the dry composition and lingering aftertaste.
There’s definitely a difference between the drinkability of a beer whose palate is off-putting and the physical mouthfeel and ease (or lack thereof) of actually drinking a beer. Magic Hat’s sour ale falls victim to both of these components. The taste isn’t very appealing so drinking it is not very enjoyable. Additionally, the beer seems to be acidic and rough in the mouth – almost like liquid sandpaper. I’ve experienced very lively mouthfeels with Trappists brews and bottle-fermented beers, but American Sour Ale isn’t quite the same.
At 4.5% ABV this is, technically, a light beer. And since you only receive three bottles in a “Feast of Fools” 12-pack (approx $16), you won’t have much opportunity to drink this beer in large quantities (thankfully).
As I said, I’m probably not the most qualified beer critic to accurately asses Magic Hat’s American Sour Ale. As an everyman beer drinker I know what I want out of a supermarket beer and this isn’t it. I doubt the majority of Magic Hat’s target demographic has acquired the taste for this beer and this style, so why did they bother?