Tasting: January 7, 2012
Style: Shoals Pale Ale, IPA Finestkind and Big A (Imperial IPA)
Spending as much time as I do in beer aisles — I constantly walk past thousands of labels from hundreds of breweries. I see the same labels from store to store and there are certain breweries that continue to jump out at me simply because their labels, names or styles. Yet, I find that time passes, their lures still fail to drive me to pull the trigger on making a purchase. So this year, I want to change that and commit myself to try some beer from these breweries: Tommy Knocker; Smuttynose and Lakefront. I’m going to try a different tack with these breweries. I want to get a quick and rich experience, so I’m going to try and do a single session with two or three of their offerings. Don’t worry I’m a professional and can handle drinking most of three beers over the course of an evening. For those that don’t have some Irish blood in them – don’t try this at home. Well, maybe we start with two and do the third tomorrow.
Smuttynose Brewing is up first. For those that read my blogs with any frequency, you know that there is no way I’m going to let a brewery name like Smuttynose go by without some (hopefully) enlightening information. Smuttynose Brewing Company is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and is named after an island that is part of an nine island archipelago off the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine. The name was given by early mariners because they thought that the accumulation of seaweed at one end of the island made it look like a smutty nose (whatever a smutty nose looks like). The island itself is known for a double axe murder in 1873. Three Norwegian women were attacked in the middle of the night. The sole survivor implicated a local fisherman. The locals had already tried and convicted the fisherman before his trial — forming a mob and demanding his execution. After a brief escape from a Maine prison , hanging was his ultimate punishment. The fisherman denied any part of the crime right to the end and was so vehement in his claims of innocence that a lot of people came to believe that he was truly innocent.
First up is this breweries inaugural brew — Shoals Pale Ale — first brewed in 1994. Label shows the Samuel Haley home located on Smuttynose Island – at one time this homestead was purported to be the oldest home in Maine. The label also describes the beer as unfiltered and containing yeast sediment. Aroma doesn’t really reveal much. My first sip is bready grains like crackers, some underlying sweetness and a kicker of a hop finish that sneaks up on you. Hops are more ‘earthy’ (grass, moss, tobacco) than citrus. Mouthfeel is medium/light and somewhat fizzy. It is flavorful and would be something that I would call a decent “bridge beer” — meaning that if you wanted to take the leap from drinking beer from the big three to craft beer — this would be a nice introduction. I’ll put it at an 85.
Next is their IPA Finestkind – picture of two old New England guys on the label. How do I know they are from New England? — flannel shirts, lawn chairs, bean boots and a John Deere hat. This one is 6.9% ABV. IBU is at 65 — so moderate by today’s IPA standards. Bright white head floats on top of rich amber base. Smells like candied fruit. Flavor-wise, reminds a lot of their Shoals offering just amped up a bit. Not as bready – but grains are present but rolled over by big hops. The hops still remind me of earthy, grassy, black tea hops of shoals, but have some extra citrus influence. I’ll put this one slightly ahead of Shoals at 87 points. A really nicely balanced IPA.
Lastly is their Big A IPA. I guess if the other two were small and medium — this should be large. Label depicts a boxer from what appears to be the early part of the 20th century. Although they claim the boxer is Stash Wojciechowski, aka “Killer Kielbasa”, a polish boxer turned brewer, it turns out to be the image of boxer – Marvin Hart (The Fighting Kentuckian). The ABV checks in at 9.6%. Trying to find out the IBU and I read on some sites that it comes in between 100- 120. Again, candied fruit on the nose of this cloudy dark amber beer. This one seems to be the natural progression as the hops escalate to pretty big proportion here. Potent hop flavor of pine, grapefruit and lemon. Gone are the nice tobacco and biscuit that balanced off the first two beers. Sticky hop resin give this a nice mouthfeel. This one isn’t for the faint of heart and should be left for the serious hop head. This one is definitely 100 + IBU. Working my way through this one and there is a subtle sweetness — like honey that peeks out. This one is really enjoyable – 92 points.
I’m glad I put these three beers together. I’d suggest taking them in this order. If you like Shoals — move to Finest Kind – and ultimately take on the big A. Let me know what you think.