Smuttynose Finally Arrives in Chicago

November 16 2010 - 11:16 AM

Smuttynose Brewing arrived in Chicago in November with their lineup of sturdy Anglo-American styled beers.  Although they did not arrive with the pomp and circumstance as Stone, they do not arrive without a solid reputation, an award winning roster, and deserved praise.

Smuttynose hails from Portsmouth, NH, and is the only NH brewery that I can think of, although I’m sure I’d know plenty more if I lived in, say, Concord.  They’ve been in existence since 1994.  Everything about their website, reputation, and actual product says that they are no-frills but rich in quality.

I recently tried two of their beers.  My first foray into Smuttynose-land was their standard IPA, the Finestkind IPA.  I tried this one on tap at the Twisted Spoke, which gives every beer on tap massive love.  My pint glass was thickly layered on top with a white foamy head.  The color is a straw pale.  I detected a modest nose with pine and citrus.  As for the taste, I wasn’t overly impressed. I’ve had a lot of IPAs in my day; they’re my bread and butter bouncy castle for sale beers.  This one has a gentle onset and a hop explosion mid palate.  Nothing wrong with any of that.  The finish, though, was too overwhelming for a standard IPA.  When the hops kick in, they quickly become out of balance with everything else and, combined with the beer’s rather heavy mouthfeel, are somewhat of an oppressive experience for the palate.  My great curiousity about this beer was satisfied but met with disappointment.

But, success would soon be my lot with Smuttynose.  The following day I went to Sheffield’s, always a great spot, which happened to have several of their offerings on tap thanks to a recent tasting.  I tried the Shoals Pale Ale in a standard 12 oz. American pint glass.  The head was modest and it had the typical greyish amber color of an American pale ale.  Yet the flavor trumped most pales I’ve tried that I can remember.  Unlike Founders Dry Hopped Pale or Sierra Nevada’s flagship beer, Shoals had a richer flavor.  A nice pine and grain flavored hop presence gave it backbone and a twinge of malt softened it.  With the lean body of the beer and light mouthfeel, this made for a very refeshing, palate cleansing experience.  Every ingredient is efficiciently used.  This will go with most foods you pair it with.   It is a treat.

If you like hops but don’t want a huge, dense IPA, I highly recommend the Shoals Pale Ale.  It’s on tap at a number of places, and liquor stores that cater to craft brews should carry it.  My goal is to soon try the Smuttynose Big A IPA.  That could be a rough go but the delicate balance of Shoals has reassured me that this brewer is well worth revisiting.