Beer Review 0488: Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale

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Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Smuttynose Brewing Company is named for Smuttynose Island, the third largest of nine islands that comprise the Isles of Shoals, located seven miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coasts. The island is best known for a brutal double axe murder that took place in 1873.

The brewery began production in 1994 and are currently expanding, with a new facility being built — there’s even a website where you can watch a live camera of the building process. Be sure to check out the video at the bottom of the page which shows a time lapse from the beginning of construction until now; the facility is very close to completion.

Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale comes from their Big Beer Series, which sees limited release of several different offerings in 22 oz. bottles periodically throughout the year. This beer is their take on the Farmhouse/Saison style, a beer that is native to the border region of France and Belgium. The beer stye was traditionally made in cool weather for farm workers (“Saisonaires”) to consume in warm weather. At a variable ABV (alcohol by volume) each year, the 2013 Smuttynose version comes in at 7% and uses a Belgian yeast strain to impart the traditional Farmhouse flavors. It’s also brewed with sage.

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Pouring makes for an average size, frothy and foamy bright white head that quickly shrinks away. The beer is straw yellow in color and is cloudy when held to light, but is absent of particles and sediment. The carbonation is very active, zooming bubbles to the surface from the bottom of the glass. Lacing never happened; in fact, at just 7% ABV, this beer left some alcohol legs.

On the nose, there’s lots of crisp spices up front — although this is brewed with sage, I could never specifically detect it. It’s just an herbal blend, predominantly highlighted by clove and white pepper. Straight away, I noticed some alcohol. This beer is very bready, and that comes through in the malt and especially in the yeast, fresh-risen dough and toasted crust. There are touches of grain and orange peel, and a small hint of pink bubblegum.

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The flavors are a bit of a mess, save for the middle, which is a nice blend. Crisp herbal grains start out, but there just isn’t much body here, leaving behind some watered-down flavor. But a wave of candied oranges kick things up a notch, imparting clove, orange peel, and some pink bubblegum. Just before the swallow, sweetbread segues into a big hit of sweetness — too much, really, and a final dose of oranges and wheaty grain. Smuttynose’s take on a Farmhouse Ale is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel that has a slight drying effect.

This beer hits its high point in the middle of the taste, but the punch of sweetness kind of makes the drink tiring on the palate. Also, for 7% ABV, this tastes more like 9%, although ease of drinking is still high. A very good beer but not what I’d reach for when I want a Saison.

Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale, 85 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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