Welcome back, everyone. We’re keeping this hootenanny…hootenanny-ing with another Winter Ale, straight outta New Hampshire. It’s Smuttynose’s Winter Ale. I’m not sure what this one will taste like (the bottle offers me no hints), and I don’t even know what a Smuttynose is (possible a seal?), but I’m feeling festively hopeful, so let’s get to it!
Starting out, a rich, malty base blooms out of the bottle, bringing hints of plums and cherries along for the ride. At the sides are super mild notes of pipe tobacco, adding hints of smokey earthiness. It’s a great combination of holiday memories and comfort. The aromas are finished off with a mild hoppy bitterness, just enough to provide a touch of zesty freshness. So far, it’s a great start, showing a completely different way to capture the essence of winter.
Malts dominate the initial taste, bringing hearty flavors of bread and biscuits to the tongue and creating a solid backbone for the other flavors. At the back, some fruity hints of apples, cherries and plums add a touch of sweetness – not overpowering, but allowing the hearty malts to remain on top. Finally, like the aroma, a zesty burst of hops round out the flavors, adding some freshness and a pinch of bitterness to the back end, but staying well below the malts. The aftertaste is a mild breadiness, with just the smallest hint of fruits. Each taste fills the mouth, allowing the malts to cling to every inch.
Poured out into a pint glass, the aromas subdue a bit. The malts still reach the nose first, and are once again joined by mild fruits, though they are barely noticeable. The earthy tobacco vibe from earlier returns, mingling with the fruits and creating a super pleasant warmth on the nose. Additionally, some hints of brown sugar add a dash of sticky sweetness that enhances the overall aroma, working quite well with the malts. Finally, the same hoppy freshness shows up once more – subdued just as much as the other notes, but still distinguishable. Visually, it pours a dark ruby, almost black, with a fluffy tan head that clings to the glass.
The post-pour flavors take on a darker vibe. Hints of roasty malts mingle with the breads and biscuits, and notes of dark chocolate rise up from the bottom, adding a touch of earthy sweetness here and there. Despite the chocolate, the malts continue to dominate, ensuring the flavors don’t approach a stout level of darkness. The fruits are quite subdued, adding just a faint sweetness at the edges of each taste. And, once again, the flavors are capped with hops, bringing a freshness that doesn’t quite last under the full-bodied strength of the malts. It drinks super smooth, filling the mouth with flavors of bread which lasts for quite a while.
In the end, this is ale is all about the basics – bready, mouth-filling warmth. There aren’t too many seasonal notes, or even a Winter Warmer strength, but it does bring a big flavor that speaks of comfort and happiness. Having said that, there are some hints of fruits and chocolate here and there, and even some notes of tobacco smoke in the aroma, which helps to place it in the winter category. It doesn’t quite bring the oomph to keep it on par with other warmers, sitting at 5.7% ABV. And, though it is tasty, it wasn’t too different from any malt-heavy beer I would be able to find year round.
Despite that, I would recommend this beer for cold evenings and family get-togethers. It’s flavorful enough to go with most seasonal dishes, and – despite its low warming strength – it’ll bring you a little warmth after an afternoon of shoveling snow. Smuttynose’s Winter Ale earns a solid B+ (seriously, is the seal named Smuttynose?)
Lasting Strength: 10/10
Overall: 8.8/10 B+
Winter Warming Bonus: 5/10