Months ago I took Savvy Company's Craft Beer 101 class hosted by Paul Meek of Kichesippi Beer Co.; I learned about different styles of beer making, how to properly taste beer and how to pour a perfect pint. During a segue, Paul held up a brightly coloured bottle with strange green zombie hops and asked if we liked the labelling. I didn't, I've passed on this beer before on the LCBO shelves thinking that the company that made it probably spent too much time on the packaging and not as much time on the beer. He poured the class a sample of the suspect beer, Flying Monkeys Netherworld Cascadian Ale, and I was surprised. Instead of the swamp water I was expecting, I tasted sweet malts, chocolate and an amazing amount of hops - it was wonderful! My beer label discrimination was making me miss out on some truly awesome beers.
Apparently my allegiance to boring beer labels holds strong because if it wasn't for a recommendation by a fellow beer enthusiast I would never have tried any of the offerings of Magic Hat Brewery. While Flying Monkey's psychedelic labels are part of a rebranding effort by the Robert Simpson Brewing Co., Magic Hat Brewing has been producing colourful labels and innovative brews since 1994 when founders Alan Newman and Bob Johnson decided to go against the norm after a 10 day / 33 brewery tour of the West coast. Their research led them to produce recipes using unusual ingredients and unique brewing techniques like open fermentation (having the fermenting tanks open at the top).
Magic Hat offers 8 different beers; four that are available year round and four seasonals some of which are only available at the brewery. At the Artifactory (brewery store) visitors can sample up to four brews, using my non-beer drinking friends I managed to sample the full eight beer menu (thanks Kate and Anne): #9, Circus Boy, Single Chair, Honey Wheat IPA, Demo, Blind Faith, plus/minus and Vinyl. My favourites were #9, an American Pale Ale made with apricot extract which gives the sweet malts and floral hops a balanced fruity flavour and plus/minus, a low ABV session brew that's full of bread and caramel malt flavour.
The brewery has installed a tour ramp with television screens and computer monitors so visitors can go on a self guided tour when the Artifactory is open but a guided tour is offered several times during the day on the hour. The guide talks about how the brewery was founded, beer successes and failures (apparently garlic beer didn't sell too well), the annual Mardi Gras parade and the current production line. Unlike every other brewery tour I've been on, Magic Hat's guided tour takes you through the factory on a catwalk and the production line is highlighted by signage. It was a little disappointing, especially after seeing the Dogfish Head tanks, kegging and bottling line in action.
Eventually we had to leave the dark, mysterious string light lit Artifactory but I bought drinkable souvenirs of #9 and plus/minus. Although I love both Magic Hat and Flying Monkey beers I still think the zombie hops and psychedelic colours on the label are gimmicky. Despite being proven that these beers taste nothing like I thought they would (good) I would still hesitate to buy future beers using similar marketing.
What do you think of labels/marketing used by Magic Hat and Flying Monkeys?