5.7% ABV bottled
The Most Underrated Brewery Around
This is an era of hype and of overrating things. Of proclaiming each new thing the “best” and the “greatest,” and constantly trying to rank things in an easily digestible top 5 or top 10 or top 100 order. Even I had thought of doing a list of the most overrated breweries in America. Because, of course, everything in this world nowadays is overrated in some way or other. In fact, it would seem impossible for something, especially something well-known, to be underrated. But sometimes things just slip through the cracks. And today I want to talk about the most underrated brewery in America: Smuttynose from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
I’ve been guilty of underrating this fine brewery for far too long. So has everyone else. Why is that? They have nicely named beers with great labels, their taps and bottles are ubiquitous on the East Coast and always at an incredibly reasonable price, and, naturally, all their beers are delicious. But for some reason, I’ve never intentionally sought out Smuttynose beer, nor even reviewed a single one of their brews on The Vice Blog. For shame, Aaron, for shame. That’s all about to change with this post.
The odd thing is, aside from their popular pumpkin seasonal beer, I’m not even sure if I’d ever even had a Smuttynose release until I tried their eye-openingly good Smuttynose Gravitation Quad at this year SAVOR event, finding it to be perhaps the best American quadruple around, and good enough to stack up with the legendary Belgians. It was maybe my favorite beer at a festival that had dozens of rarer and more ballyhooed beers.
Now you would think my experience at SAVOR would have been a watershed moment for me and I would have begun to intentionally start seeking out Smuttynose beers. But, dumbly, I still didn’t. I still passed over the countless reasonably priced offerings for sale at my bottle shops, avoided their taps while tying one on, eschewed their offerings completely. Perhaps it was the simple fact that I always knew I could get Smuttynose beers if I wanted to that led me to avoid them. Like the slutty girl on your dorm floor that you never hook up with because you know you can always hook up with her if need be.
The next time I tried a Smuttynose offering was the next time I was forced to. At a mediocre Williamsburg bar with all macro offerings save Smuttynose IPA “Finest Kind,” I obviously had no choice. And so glad my hand was forced because this is one of the most unique beers I’ve had this year. Far and away the most pungently bitter IPA I’ve ever had, on my first tasting I alternated between sips of “this is amazing” and sips of “this is absolutely wretched.” But for the rest of the week I couldn’t get the beer off my mind, and with future tastings I came to adore it. Finest Kind now stands as one of my favorite single IPAs that are readily available, and if I’m at a bar with a tap of it, I now always have to have a pint. (A-)
Yet even with that experience I was still not a Smuttynose acolyte. Next, while trying to find a beer my sister might enjoy, I gave Smuttynose’s Hanami Ale a whirl and I was greatly impressed by this spring seasonal. A nice and refreshing beer, this is the rare fruit beer that isn’t too overpowering, nor does it have a phony, artificial syrupy taste like most fruit beers. Hanami Ale is now one of my go-to recommendations to girls-that-claim-they-hate-beer-but-are-forced-to-drink-beer-with-me. And, you know, they always love it. (B+)
Later this very summer, while at Rattle ‘n’ Hum one Saturday afternoon, I noticed Smuttynose’s Baltic Porter as being the only beer on the menu I had never tried. Interestingly, as much as I had ignored Smuttynose, I had been ignoring porters for even longer. For some reason, I assumed them to be the red-headed step-brother of far superior stouts. I’ve since learned that is very much not the case and, in fact, though they are similar and this is purely anecdotal, I’ve found, ceteris paribus, that I actually often enjoy porters more than stouts. Whereas a bad stout can have that overly roasted, burnt taste like a Starbucks coffee, porters often have a more pleasant, sweet and malty taste. Such is the case with this phenomenal Baltic Porter. Big bold flavors of sweet dark fruits with just an underlying hint of chocolate, this is one incredible beer. (A)
Shockingly, I still wasn’t on the Smuttynose bandwagon. What the fuck did I need?! Am I such a dope that I need a brewery to have multiple entries on the Beer Advocate Top 100, that I need them to have a slew of barrel-aged beers, that I need them to have countless small batch release parties and overpriced beers for me to hail their greatness? I guess so, because, again, just this week while watching the Yankees clinch #27, I only ordered Smuttynose’s Star Island Single because I was forced to with nothing else appealing on tap. Glad my hand was played again because this Belgian pale ale, Smuttynose’s newest regular lineup release, is imminently drinkable and quite tasty. Strong tastes of banana Laffy Taffy-like esters, honey and a nice citrusy yeastiness, I could drink these all night. And, in fact, I did for 9 innings. (A-/B+)
Finally, after having liked, loved, and been blow away by five Smuttynose beers in a row, did I decide last night to intentionally purchase one, grabbing a bottle of their Robust Porter to enjoy with the “Mad Men” finale. Of course, such as life, this was my least favorite Smuttynose beer so far, but it was still very solid. Dry and roasted, with a nice coffee and chocolate taste, this is a no-frills beer that is quite drinakble. (B+)
I feel like it’s taken me a full year, if not a whole beer-drinking lifetime, to “discover” a brewery. A brewery whose beers have been around me since I first started tippling the good stuff. I’m excited to now have tons of new beers I want to try from Smuttynose. Their Really Old Brown Dog old ale and their Big A IPA and their imperial stout and wheatwine and barleywine and all their others I have yet to have.
I still don’t understand why Smuttynose is universally underrated, maybe it’s due to their odd name, maybe due to getting overshadowed by their sister brewery Portsmouth and their legendary Kate the Great imperial stout, but I will no longer underrate what has easily become one of my favorite breweries in America. Nor should you.