The folks over at Pyramid/MacTarnahan's are trying--I'll give them that. They have not let the the Mac's line become just a single product and this year introduced a new line-up of seasonals. All of that is good. They even put out an exotic saison (and exotic not just by MacTarnahan's standards). So definitely an A for effort there.
We come now to the critical portion of our review: the names and packaging for the new family of beers: Slingshot Summer Pale (good), Summer Grifter IPA (not good), and now the latest arrival, Winter Humbug'r (oh dear lord). The art is actually very cool, suggestive of graphic novels and dangerous fun. But a grifter is a guy who hustles you out of money--likesay the $8.29 you spent on the six-pack. Would you call a beer Swindler or Cheater? As for Humbug'r, the sense of the lurid is such that--Bug'r, really? I remember the crazy Bobbydazzler of years past, a bizarre Englishism, but harmless enough. One might hope that Humbug'r is a name of similar provenance, but the label convinces you otherwise: a soused lunatic brandishing a sprig of mistletown and leering. And it's called Humbug'r.
What were they thinking?
The beer? It's pretty good. A light porter with a silky, oaty body. Porters and stouts are great winter beers, and I commend Mac's for eschewing another winter warmer. This beer is actually a bit of amalgam, equal parts dry stout, with a slightly burnt, roasted front note, part brown porter, with a pronounced sweet middle, and part sweet stout, with that silky full body. It is a bit on the mild side (a house character, so perhaps appropriate), and on those really bitter December days people might be reaching for the Obsidian instead. But overall, a fine beer. I'd give it a solid B.
But since we're giving advice to breweries these days, here's mine. It's nearly 2010. Beers that appear to succeed in the marketplace are those that distinguish themselves with bold flavors. I haven't really seen a line that has succeeded by dint of a clever ad campaign or brand identity, and locals tend to be turned off by anything that looks like it spent too long in a room with a wine-drinking design team. MacTarnahan's seasonal lineup now features a pale, an IPA, and a porter. These are fine beers, and they're perfectly well-made. I just think Mac's needs to come out of the gate with a little more under the hood and a little less focus on packaging. You've hired some great brewers--turn them loose and get out of the way.