Old Magic, New Hat

Here’s a note I sent to Magic Hat back in August 2015:

Dear Magic Hat,

How long you gonna keep beating this #9 horse? it’s at the point where I don’t buy your variety packs because I gotta deal with three bottles of that stuff.

I love Magic Hat, despise #9. My local liquor store had a promotion to win a Magic Hat cooler but I didn’t enter because it’s a #9 cooler.


Here’s the reply:

Hi Rick-

Sorry to hear you don’t like #9; there are lots of folks who love the beer, so we’re probably not quite done beating that particular horse.

If you tell me where you’re located, I can check to see if the distributor in your area is carrying the IPA variety pack.

Consumer Affairs
North American Breweries

Things change, and they finally gave that old horse a break back in April of this year.

More recently, Magic Hat introduced the 2017 version of its annual Night of the Living Dead seasonal sampler, and the line up is even more of a departure — enough that some veteran brew fans are taking notice.

It’s not unusual in the sense that any of the four are far-fetched; on the contrary, long time Magic enthusiasts will recognize each as old favorites: Heart of Darkness Stout, Howl Black Lager, Lucky Kat Amber IPA, and Jinx Scotch Ale. These are all well-executed, tasty offerings. Yet two key questions come to mind…

The first is, does the person who enjoyed Lucky Kat in 2006 or Howl in 2010 still buy Magic Hat today? One of the few downsides to the current brewery boom is that the groundbreaking pioneers like Magic Hat have become old hat to the cognoscenti. It has evolved into something of a reliable, in-between player, fighting for market share with the Sams and Saranacs. The marketing power and positioning is still strong — good old Magic Hat #9 continues to be the go-to “not quite pale ale” for Stella graduates who are not quite ready for pale ale. (that’s not really true but I couldn’t resist)

So to many brew fans, Magic Hat is or was an important stepping stone for moving up from the Natty Light we were weaned on. That brings us to the second key question: Is the current #9 buyer ready for a box full of beer they have little or no experience with?

Dark, Dark, Amber, Amber

Thus the interest in this latest serving out of Burlington/Rochester — with the lowest SRM in the box easily double what the neophyte is used to, and no Number Nine in sight, Magic Hat is stepping way outside its comfort zone. Will it sell? If it doesn’t, you can be sure that #9 and some other fruity fodder will return rather promptly to the sampler packs.

Likelihood of the more experienced enthusiast grabbing this box is not high. With an IPA best described as a malt-forward English style, it has nothing for those who like to wait on release lines for pricey four packs of hazy juice bombs.

Or does it? Seems that many of the murky hop bomb drinkers bypassed the usual stuff that opened their eyes to better beer, moving instead from light beers to the low bitterness of the NEIPAs. Like those of us who came before them, their natural curiosity will eventually lead them to try a wider spectrum of styles. Hot on the heels of some eye-opening Oktoberfest offerings, they may indeed give this box a try.

As for the veteran brew fan? In a lot of places, Night of the Living Dead retails for about the same money as one of those high-end four packs that are currently in vogue. It’s arguably a better bang for your buck, and definitely a good way to mix things up a bit.


Lucky Kat image above courtesy John Rose, artist/photographer who hails from the Cobleskill area in New York. When he isn’t making good beer look even better, he’s probably on a hiking trail. Results of both are posted on Instagram at CameraBeerLife, where he can be found behind a floating bottle of — you guessed it — Magic Hat #9! Personally I think his photos are fantastic; beer fans who frequent Instagram definitely want to follow him. Thanks John!