I’m not the biggest fan of winter beers and ales, unless they’re of the West Coast variety, which normally means more hops than spice—think Sierra Nevada Celebration, think Red Hook Winter Hook, or even think Anchor Steam Christmas Ale, which, while falling more into the traditional winter beer category, makes use of spices in a restrained and controlled manner. Read: the beer doesn’t taste like potpourri in a glass. But I am a fan of Smuttynose. So I decided to give this one a run. Or, better put, Elli decided to give this beer a run, since she bought the six pack. We’ve been hitting the Smuttynose IPA pretty hard as of late, so she decided to flip the script but keep the same crew in play. And as should be somewhat obvious by now, I’m always game with beer. Our earlier excursions into the land o’ Portsmouth include S’muttonator, Big A IPA, Old Brown Dog Ale, Baltic Porter, Imperial Stout, Shoals Pale Ale, Finestkind IPA and Farmhouse Ale. Scoring at home? That’s the kind nine.
Smuttynose Winter Ale pours a rich deep raisin-colored chocolate, something that looks chewy and inviting and decadent. For that reason, I am officially dubbing the color of this beer “figgy chocolate bread pudding.” How’s that for a name? It also appears rather clear, but since I can’t actually see through it, I’m not really certain. Works for me. The head is an off-white/eggshell cream color, but it rings rather rapidly, leaving me staring at the small skiff of cream and the luscious figgy goodness of my delicious repast. The aroma is mainly chocolate—more cocoa than milk—backed up by caramel sweetness, cracker-y biscuit notes, and even fainter spice and fruitiness. My fig and raisin gamboling might actually have some merit here. Flavors follow the nose pretty closely, although not in the same order—dry cocoa and chocolate into caramel, raisin, fig, and fruitiness. There is a possible touch of cinnamon and nutmeg spice lurking in the middle and the finish; either that, or some yeast phenol/spiciness. If forced to choose, I’d lean towards the latter. These flavors come across with the biscuit dryness in the middle, which blends well with the drier cocoa flavors that also return in the finish. While the flavors contribute to dryness of the beer, the beer does have some body on the tongue—it is slightly chewy even though the flavors run counter to that. The carbonation is gentle but present, and helps accentuate some of the biscuit and cocoa flavors in the final third of the beer. All in all, this was a very pleasant surprise. Thank you, Smuttynose, for the balance and restraint in this beer. If you were attempting to curry my favor for your previous failings (ahem! Big Beer! ahem!), consider it a job well done.
Hand-drawn map of Smuttynose Island from here
From the Smuttynose website: “Smuttynose Winter Ale is a full-bodied, amber beer brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast. Stylistically reminiscent of a Belgian Abbey Double, it features fruity aromas and flavor, balanced by soft Crystal hops. Warming, mellow & pleasantly complex, Smuttynose Winter Ale is your perfect cold weather companion.”
Best before: 4/17/2012
So it seems that the lesson here is that I like Winter Ales that really aren’t Winter Ales.