Sketch of a werewolf in Fervere's clothing, silhouetted by the light of the moon.

Magic Hat Howl

Magic Hat Howl Black as Night Lager

  • Smokey, burnt wood
  • Bitter coffee and chocolate, mild smoke
  • Bitterness lingers

Magic Hat winter seasonal

There are some things that trouble me. If one were to look at the vast collections of reviews that I’ve written for our little site, one would find that I generally enjoy what I drink. There have been some wines or beers that weren’t to my taste, but I knew that millions of people would get more out of them than I would. (Note: We don’t have millions of readers, but that’s not my point.) So I try to be careful to note what I’ve tasted, without being terribly judgmental. I don’t have a particularly strong sweet-tooth and I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, but when I have a sweet wine or try a whiskey, I’ll let my readers know that those items are being judged on a bias.

To clarify, I don’t spend my time panning things that I don’t like. There’s just too much to drink and so little time for my liver to recover.

But, alas, the internet. So many places to comment; so many angered ejaculations of contempt. Now, while the commenters on this site are generous, upstanding drunkards and souses, the comment boards of many other sites are littered with unnecessarily impassioned sputtering. Which brings me to my current review.

Wait. Let me first say, Magic Hat Howl is wonderful. It is a classic black lager. When I tasted it, I was transported back to my third beer ever purchased at a bar. Back then, when we all huddled around the television by firelight in the caves, Guinness in a bottle was a totally different beast than the widgetized cans and bottles they serve now. It’s possible to find the old 12 oz. brown bottles with the yellow label, but very few people order it, because if you’ve tasted Guinness on draught, the bottle tastes almost completely, but not quite, exactly unlike the draught. That is, on draught the stout is smooth and silky and not very smokey, but in the old bottles it’s strong, bitter, and very smokey.

My third beer ever! And I couldn’t process the flavors at all. This was not just completely different from any other beer, it was completely different than any other liquid. I had no reference. I declared then that I wouldn’t have another. But we were shooting darts, and I had earlier made an oath never to drink Budweiser, so I went back to the Guinness after finishing my Heineken. (Ah, the old days, when Heineken was the reliable standby.)

The Guinness bottles were never my favorite, and a few years later they introduced the widgetized can, and the old bottles dropped off my radar. At the same time, my tastes in beers were changing—I’d like to say maturing, but who’s to say when old favorites are looked back upon with derision. Just a couple of years ago, Samuel Adams came out with their version of the black lager, and I enjoyed it. But what Samuel Adams does well is mellow the sharpness, which Howl has in spades. And the first sip of Howl knocked me back to that young fellow aiming for the double bull and tasting something he had no context to enjoy.

Now, I taste chocolate, bittersweet, and coffee with chicory. The smokiness lingers on the back of my tongue. Each swig is a bite off a beer that is richer than it should be. Unlike stouts, black lagers pour like water, but the flavor of Howl is all consuming. Drink it with a strong cheese or gamey piece of meat, and it’ll wrestle in the mouth for dominance. Drink it by itself and feel the punch of the smoke, not like bacon but like a hickory fire, and it’ll linger beyond the bottle. Howl is demanding as much as it is enjoyable. With dozens of holiday beers out there and about a dozen different flavors in my cooler, I continued to reach for the Howl again and again, each time thinking about the past and marveling at the complexity of flavors that I missed so long ago.

But, alas, the internet. My exhaustive research into my review subjects will take me first to the makers’ sites, Magic Hat being no exception. But Magic Hat is unusual. They have a space where one is free to comment on their beers. And thus, my sorrow. Howl is a complex beer. It is not the second beer someone should try if Magic Hat 9 is the first beer. It is not the second beer one has if all one consumes is Budweiser or Pabst or Miller Lite. But two out of the three comments for Howl are obviously from such beer drinkers. Here is the first, entitled “What the?” from Anonymous:

This new Black Lager isn’t even worth trying. After one beer, I had thoughts of pouring my remaining eleven down the drain and heading back to the beer store. The initial taste is ok, but the aftertaste is unpleasantly bitter and sticks to the back of your mouth for some time. Kind of causes you to “make that face” and shake your head. I would liken the taste and smell to burnt engine oil.

Maybe you guys should try to focus on making beers that people like and would buy again instead of trying to create brews that have weird colors and flavors added that are backed up by some pretty cool marketing. Every box I’ve bought has been a disappointment.E (sic)

This was not my experience with Howl at all. However, I have a suspicion that a beginning beer drinker might liken it to “burnt engine oil,” if only because the drinker does not have the same vocabulary. I’d also question why Anonymous above buys twelve-packs of beer from a brewer he has never had success with. Surely your favorite vendor has six-packs, Anon? Mix-and-match, maybe?

But first Anonymous is quite loquacious, where our second Anonymous is more blunt, with his missive, “This Beer Sucks.”

THIS BEER SUCKS. Literally you think it’s going to be good, but it isn’t. Too much syrupy goodness and way too much spice. It’s too many things into one. Too heavy. Too Spicy. Too much. If you want a crispy warm beer, try something else. Otherwise, keep working on it, Magic Hat. I have faith in you. Otherwise, I will be throwing out all of this winter shit soon.

Syrup? Spicy? Not in Howl. Howl has a touch of spice from the hops. There is no apparent added flavoring. I really have no idea what the above drinker was drinking.

But this is the crisis of the Internet. The only folks leaving comments are those that have strong opinions, and 66% (by this scientific sampling) of these folks are assholes. Again, I understand expressing disappointment when $20 worth of beer isn’t up to our finest expectations. I’ve had recommendations from trusted drinkers turn out to be some of the most difficult to finish. I’ll admit that it isn’t for me and move on. There are thousands of brewers, and each brewer often has a dozen varieties.

All this is obvious to you, of course: Readers of Drunk and Unemployed know the deal and leave the best comments on this site and others. We’re lucky to have you.

Howl is a delicious beer. It’s unusual, and some may not like the flavor that it presents, but for beer drinkers who are familiar with black lagers, it’s one of the finest, easily obtainable, examples of the style.