Magic Hat, as the company name suggests, enjoys courting the unpredictable. They have long eschewed restrictive style categories, instead preferring to name their beers with mysterious monikers like #9, Circus Boy, Blind Faith, and Hocus Pocus.
It was no surprise, however, when I learned they created the Orlio Organic Beer Company as a wholly-owned subsidiary devoted exclusively to producing organic beers. The company has always been involved in the progressive business scene, participating in groups like Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Thusfar they are producing three beers, their flagship Common Ale, a seasonal IPA offered during the spring and summer, and now a black lager for the fall and winter seasons. Black lagers, also called schwarzbiers, are quite rare here in the U.S. and as I understand it their popularity is fading in their native Germany as well.
This style suits Magic Hat. The beer arrived appropriately shrouded in mystery, wrapped in black tissue paper. Schwarzbier is a great way to surprise the average beer drinker: an opaque black beer that is low in alcohol and clean and crisp on the palate with little aftertaste. Most drinkers, craft enthusiasts aside, seem determined to interpret every dark beer as a fudge brownie cake. Regardless of the actual flavor the color simply throws most people off the track. Even Guinness, the classic “dark beer” as I often hear it called, is actually a light, low-alcohol beer meant to be gulped, pint after pint. But schwarzbiers one-up the dry Irish stout by using lager yeast and therefore trimming back even further on the already minimal aromas present in a dry stout.
The Orlio black lager reminds me of a homemade concoction I occasionally construct when traveling in countries that have nothing but light lagers on tap. Into a glass of lager I’ll pour a few ounces of coffee. Presto! A black lager. The similarities are remarkable. Dry, roasty, slighty bitter but with little aftertaste and no hop presence. The label states this beer is 4.5% alcohol by volume but the press release says 5.4% ABV. The night might indeed become a mystery after a long session with this beer. (Update: the good folks at Orlio tell me it is in fact 4.5%).