It’s funny how our palate can change over the years. Not our literal sense of taste (although I’m sure that changes a little), but our metaphysical sense of taste as far as what we prefer. Back in 2008 when I first started reviewing beers Magic Hat’s then-new India Pale Ale, Lucky Kat, amazed me. It was absolutely delicious and a pleasure to drink. Two years later I cannot say the same as I’m quite certain the brewery has changed the recipe. What was once an ideal IPA now tastes like an average pale ale to me. Is it me or is it Magic Hat?
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
I poured a 12oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. The beer produces a fluffy layer of eggshell-colored head which leaves generous lacing on the glass and never fully dissipates. The body is copper or burnt umber and slightly hazy and mildly effervescent. The aroma is extremely mild with only a touch of floral hops and perhaps a caramel sweetness. What had previously been an intense citrusy smell that was extremely inviting is now more of a doormat.
If I had drank Magic Hat Lucky Kat in a blind taste test I’d probably assume it was a standard American pale ale rather than an IPA. Immediately I get a taste of caramel and a touch of butterscotch and other confectionary sweetness. It’s actually quite pleasant since it’s not too rich and not overly sweet. There’s a mild bitterness across the center of the tongue with an ever-so-slight dryness commonly found in ales of this style. However, the beer finishes with a noticeably sour bitterness, akin to spoiled or contaminated hops. It’s tolerable, but it puts a damper on an otherwise good palate.
Considering this description it sounds like Lucky Kat is at least a decent beer, but I can’t honestly call it that for two reasons. Firstly, the taste here is a major departure from the robust, citrusy hop bitterness it used to have. There is a slight pine taste commonly found in East Coast IPAs, but it’s extremely mild. The strong hop bite and crisp body are also mysteriously missing (their website claims it’s 60 IBUs, I’d say it’s only halfway there).
Secondly, it’s a matter of principle. This beer drinks like a pale ale with a funky finish. I really try not to get hung up on styles since they’re just labels and fairly arbitrary, but in this instance I feel a little mislead. Magic Hat could easily repackage this as a pale ale and I might subconsciously enjoy it more, but until then I can’t since I know what an IPA can be and this just doesn’t cut it (anymore).
India pale ales are becoming one of the most popular styles of beer these days, but sometimes the average or casual drinker finds them too intimidating. At least with Lucky Kat, a non-hophead would find it palatable. The body is light to medium with little carbonation which makes it extremely soft in the mouth and finishes smooth. There is a weird sourness in the aftertaste, though, which becomes a little more annoying with each swig.
At 5.8% ABV this is actually a little light for an IPA. It could be sessioned, but I think the sour aftertaste might fatigue some drinkers. I’d recommend eating spicy foods with this beer to obscure its flaws.
It’s very disappointing to have to downgrade a beer from a favorite to an also-ran, but I feel it’s necessary. Magic Hat used to be one of my personal favorite breweries but I’ve found their quality has deteriorated over the last year or so. It’s a shame that Lucky Kat has not endured well.