Saturday, May 19, 2012

Smuttynose "Big Beer" Series

 Keeping things rolling with our Knightly Spirits haul is a dynamic duo from Smuttynose Brewing of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  I've been interested in sampling some brews from these wonderful folks since I first really got into craft beer.  My first resource for all things brews was an Eyewitness Companion guide to beer, edited by the late "beer hunter" Michael Jackson, which provides an excellent overview of the many different beers to be had around the world.  It was here that I first became enamoured with the American craft beer scene - its scope, diversity, its potential for growth, and the subculture that surrounded it.  I also feel in love with the unique and spectacular artwork and bottle designs that many of these breweries incorporated into their lineup, especially those who employed the services of artists local to their communities, and whose brews reflected the local character and history of the region.  Smuttynose is a prime example of this trend, and was one of the breweries featured in Jackson's work that really appealed to me.   Possibly because their brewery logo is a seal, and seals are awesome.

Smuttynose Brewing was founded by Peter Egelson in 1994 in the city of Portland, New Hampshire, and has since become one of the giants of the New England craft brewing scene, quickly surpassing the maximum output to be considered a "microbrewery."  It now is able to ship its brews in various markets on the Eastern Seaboard, including - of course - Florida.  The brewery is named after nearby Smuttynose Island, one of the Isles of Shoals located a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine.  The island itself is home to pods of Common Harbor Seals, which are the inspiration for the company's logo.  The brewery has long called the city of Portland its home, but for most of the past decade it has been attempting to move its facilities elsewhere.  Credit of course to the brewmaster, whose brews have been so popular that the brewery's output has skyrocketed to over 300,000 cases a year, and the old brewhouse is simply too small.  After two unsuccessful attempts to move its operations, Smuttynose has finally chosen a location for its new home.  The location is just south of Portland in the town of Hampton, and the property is an old farmhouse.  The farmhouse itself was in a less than ideal location, and so as part of the brewery's plans for moving into the lot, the house needed to be moved.  You can see the process of moving the house here.   It looks like the brewery's new digs will be operational by the end of this year - I wish them the best of luck in getting some quality brewing underway!

The brews of the standard Smutty lineup include a Belgian Pale, an American IPA, a Brown Ale, and a Robust Porter.  Thus far, I have only had the pleasure of sampling the Old Brown Dog brown ale, and it was pretty scrumdiddlyumptious.  In my wanderings through the well-stocked aisles of Knightly Spirits, I was recommended by one of the staff to give some of Smutty's "Big Beer Series" a try.  This special series of brews, like Uinta's "Crooked Line", are seasonal offerings that explore some of the more complex styles of brewing.  Because of their popularity and limited release times, these beers are sometimes - according to the website - "maddeningly hard to find."   Not so at Knightly Spirits!   At the specific recommendation of the staff member, I went with their Imperial Stout, whose bottle design shows the island of Smuttynose in an olden style nautical map.  My wife, a huge barleywine fan, opted for the Barleywine Style Ale - no info about the label I'm afraid, but the peasant girl imagery is quite appealing.  Let's dive right in!

Beer: Smuttynose Imperial Stout
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.8%

Poured into a small conic glass.  This brew, like most RIS's is inky black, with only the faintest hint of chestnut around the edges.  The head is a sturdy mocha cap, and it leaves a hefty amount of lacing around the glass.

When a Russian stout is done right, you can tell right from the first whiff.  Though I've often found that a great many examples of the style have a similar nose, because that combination of flavors is so appealing to me (coffee and chocolate is one of my favourite food-drink combinations), I rarely mind in the slightest that there can be a lack of diversity between brews.  Smutty's stout falls squarely in this camp - it's not a unique nose, but damn is in impressive.  Delectable dark chocolate, fresh coffee, cream, toasted bread, more chocolate, a bit of grape.  Just lovely.

Truly, this is one tasty stout.  The combination of chocolate and rich coffee does not disappoint, as this brew is both sweet and bitter, rich and smooth, and an absolute pleasure to drink.  A light grape flavor lingers in the back, which is augmented by a touch of smoke.  Finishes dry and roasty.  Superb stuff.   Silky mouthfeel, with only a slight booze character to the tongue.  Medium low carbonation, coats the tongue well.   Long dry finish.

Gotta hand it to the dude at Knightly for setting me up with this brew - very impressive.  Again, there's a lot to be said for doing something that's been done, but doing it extremely well, and Smutty has certainly delivered on that front.  (Grade: A)

Beer: Smuttynose Barleywine Style Ale
Type:  American Barleywine (i.e., uses American hops)
ABV: 10%

A brew shrouded in mystery.  In addition to not really understanding the bottle label, I'm not sure why this brew is called a Barleywine "Style Ale", as if barleywine was one of those Eurozone protected names like Cognac and Stilton.  It's listed on BA as being a barleywine, and it really tastes like one.  Walks like a duck, talks like a duck, I guess.  But rest assured, unless there's a technical reason for the naming, I can say to Smuttynose that there is no need for this lack of confidence - this is very much a barleywine, and a damned good one at that.  Name it with pride!

Poured into a goblet.  A hazy, amber brew, with some visible sediment that settles at the bottom of the glass.  Clearly a brew that could very well be aged.  A thin head is all that survives the pour.  Not the most attractive brew, I'll admit, but then again, few barleywines are.

The nose is quite inviting, with notes of caramel, toffee, malt, doughy bread, peach, a touch of booze and citrus from the hops.  Like the imperial stout, Smutty's Barleywine smells very much like you'd expect a barleywine to do so, but it really hits the mark well.

An excellent barleywine - flavorful and complex.  The citrus hops added a nice counterpart to the sweet malty blast that opens this brew.  A dry grain flavour to the finish.  Subtle notes of peach, apricot, and white wine.  Nice chewy mouthfeel, medium bodied, excellent carbonation.

A stellar barleywine that is far bolder than the innocent farmer girl on the label suggested that it would be.  Highly recommended!  (Grade: A)

Two solid brews from Smutty, which gives me all the more reason to want to explore the rocky shores of the Granite State.  Glad to see the brewery's upgrade going well - hopefully a new brewery means greater output and greater chance of seeing some of these excellent brews Ontario-way!

Next up - a sampler from Bell's Brewery of Michigan!

No comments:

Post a Comment