Summer Beer Sipping: Magic Hat's #9

Photo: Farley Elliott
Why would Magic Hat, the popular Burlington, Vermont-based craft brewery, simply call their most popular beer "#9"? Well, if their website is to be believed, it's because it sold better than numbers 1 - 8. The truth, however, is shrouded in about as much mystery as the beguiling beer itself. Regardless of the hushed tones and mixed signals, Magic Hat #9 is one of your best summertime beer drinking options.

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From the first sip, #9 will keep you on your toes. It has the look of a medium-bodied amber, but doesn't finish like a lager. Instead, there's an underlying sharpness from Columbus hops that pushes things towards the pale ale category. And just when you think #9 gets there with its inoffensive crispness, a wash of stone fruit and caramel crosses your tongue and you're back to staring at the glass, searching for answers. To be sure, this beer is dry, but don't think for a second that it lacks for sweetness or depth. The strongest single flavor you'll find is from the apricots, infused during the fermenting stages, but by then #9 has picked up enough gusto to not fall victim to the oft-maligned 'fruit beer' category. Curious, indeed.

It's exactly these hard-to-place qualities that make Magic Hat #9 a perfect summer session beer. The hops are refreshing and bright, like a touch of August sun. The crisp sips stick with you, cutting through the mid-day heat as you cool down with a fresh pint. The caramel notes smooth out the rough edges in a way that makes this beer continually drinkable, glass after glass. The apricot fruitiness is pure summer, like pie on a windowsill or the aroma of a summer picnic. And by staying so mysteriously light, you can find yourself generating quite a collection of pint glasses as the night wears one. Just watch out for the 5.1% ABV, it'll sneak up on you.

As a New England summer beer, it's important for #9 to be all of these things and more. In Vermont, July and August arrive in full force, with heat and humidity and fruit trees in full swing. This beer represents a slice of all those things, yet is simultaneously the antidote, a widely drinkable summer session beer that works just as well up north as it does against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. All you have to do is ask for it by name, as hard as that may be. But if you think the nomenclature behind Magic Hat #9 is mysterious, wait till you take a sip.

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About the Author

Farley Elliott is a freelance food writer and comedian. He currently writes for KCET.org, SeriousEats.com, LAist.com, and L.A. Weekly. You can catch Farley doing comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Hollywood.
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