Rhode Island has an interesting take on beer. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think no good beer can come from the state; a sort of self-loathing. In my line of work, I see self-proclaimed craft connisseurs go for beers from Dogfish Head and Founders 10x more than they purchase something from their hometown brewery.
I started thinking about this because I picked up this bottle of Smuttynose from Wakefield Liquors a couple weeks back. Smutty hasn’t really taken off in Rhode Island, which is just a trip for me since I recently moved from New Hampshire where Smuttynose was THE brewery of seemingly the whole state. New Hampshire beer drinkers are a unified front when it comes to drinking local and bolstering their beer economy. Rhode Island is still skeptical. It has only started to see a beer resurgence within the past few years, and even so, you can still almost liken it to the craft beer boom of the early 90’s, where everyone was starting a brewery and time had to cull the herd a bit to see who would stick around.
I would love to see more brewery tasting rooms that are akin to bars so consumers can meet the people brewing their beer and create social gathering spaces (damn you three-tier system) And while it’s nice to have plenty of choices in bars, I would like to see a better balance between local options and the Belgian imports that a lot of the better beer bars place their money on. But no matter what, there’s still no denying that it’s an exciting time for beer in the state.
Onto the review! This is the Winter Ale from Smuttynose which has been aged in red wine barrels. It pours a very deep brown with reddish copper highlights – looks like a very concentrated cranberry juice. The head billowed up and then settled back down into a creamy thick film on top. The carbonation seems pretty decent.
Tart aroma; very winey and akin to cooking sherry but with a touch of oak. My first flavor impression was of milk chocolate with a touch of caramel, which really threw me off a bit. There is a light berry sweetness that begins to fade into a big oak character. I think the original Smutty winter was there interpretation of a dubbel – I remember tons of dried cherries and a big caramel malt character, very bready and spicy. With the addition of the wine barrel-aging, I feel like something was lost. I am enjoying the vinous qualities, but they’re not blending as smoothly with the underlying beer.
You still get the nice bready quality, complimented by a light cocoa, raisins and big vinous fruits. The tartness is medium with the acidity lingering in to the finish. The body is a little on the lighter side, but it still feels rich and smooth. It’s not bad by any means, just interesting. This was the first beer in Smuttynose’s Smuttlabs Series. I like seeing breweries being able to expand and play around with styles a bit so keep at it, Smutty.