If you read this with any regularity, you will notice that I seem to have a love/hate relationship for Magic Hat beers. A lot of people are down on Magic Hat, mostly because a lot of people don't really dig fruit beers, and Magic Hat promote the hell out of their #9. It really doesn't help that they also include the Circus Boy wheat beer (and let's face it, because they throw lemongrass in it, it's really not a hefeweizen per se, it's more like a Spice-American Wheat beer, but that's just a technicality) in every sampler. So, if you're a newcomer to the brand, you buy a 12-pack sampler and get only 3 of the SeasonAle (Jinx, Roxy Rolles, etc.) and 3 of whatever Odd Notion they are putting in there (and for the most part, all of these have been outstanding; I've had a Belgium Dubbel, a Braggot, and a mild ale. Only the mild was sort of disappointing, although it was pretty). I find both the Jinx and the Roxy Rolles to be excellent beers, although I have recently discovered that the Jinx is mostly a Scottish Ale, which I'm getting interested in, but when I discovered it, I didn't know of the style. Roxy Rolles changed my attitude towards what an Amber ale could be. I always found them pleasant, but never anything compelling.
For the most part, I think that Magic Hat's #9 is a fine ale. It's a fruit beer, and for the most part, I enjoy a fruit beer now and then, but I don't really want to sit around all day drinking fruit beer. If you look at their ingredients on their website, Magic Hat also says that they use a "English Ale" yeast. According to various homebrewing forums out there, this appears to be a Ringwood-style of yeast. This yeast provides sort of a funky, old, London Dungeon sort of character to the beers, but more to a greater degree on the #9.
My first all-grain beer I brewed at home was a clone based on Magic Hat's Jinx, called Samhain, and it turned out pretty well. I was also reading about re-using yeast at the time, did some research, and got a wild idea to use the yeast by making the #9, because I never made a fruit beer, and thought it would be fun and simple. Instead of the Ringwood yeast, I used Wyeast's London Ale. I was a little scared of performing a diacetyl rest, which some people said was required of the Ringwood yeast. This would appear to mean that you just have to allow the beer to rest a little longer in the fermenter, but I have not researched this thoroughly.
I have an advantage to re-using yeast because I have a conical fermenter, which allows me to draw the yeast off into a mason jar quite easily. I sanitized a jar and lid, then after the yeast completed fermentation, I pulled some off, tightened the lid, and put it in the fridge. I made sure to crack the lid every 2 days - there is still gas build up. After two weeks, I made a starter and used it.
My efficiency doing batch sparging wasn't very good. I thought my original gravity would be about 1.054, but ended up at 1.045, which is actually closer to what the #9 is, so I was pleased. Also, I think I need to tone down the gas use during the boil. I had about 6.5 gallons, but only got 5 in the fermenter after I added the 2-quart yeast starter. I was hoping to get the final gravity down to 1.009, but only made it to 1.011, which was still fine.
The differences between my clone and the original are as follows: The yeast is cleaner, and the hops and tartness of the apricot flavoring come through without distraction. The #9 is actually lighter looking than mine. I'm not sure if Magic Hat uses Marris Otter as their base malt, but I did, because I like the biscuity flavor and roundness Marris Otter gives ales.
9.5 Weeks Apricot Ale
9.0 lb Marris Otter Pale Malt
0.5 lb Crystal Malt 30-50*L (This is what my LHBS has)
0.5 oz Cascade @ 60 min
0.5 oz Columbus @ 15 min
4 oz Apricot Flavoring in bottling bucket