Smuttynose Baltic Porter
Smuttynose Brewing Company
Hampton, New Hampshire
STYLE: Baltic Porter
4.1 / 5.0
Look: 4.5 | Smell: 4.0 | Taste: 4.0 | Feel: 4.0 | Overall: 4.1
Brewery at a glance: By now, you know the story of how I first discovered Smuttynose. If you don’t know the story, you should check my review of the Pumpkin Ale that I did back in November. Since the writing of the Brew Review and being a little blown away at their pumpkin ale offering, I’ve taken a good, hard look at some of the other beers that I have on the market and have plans to spend more money and time purchasing and drinking their brews.
Even though this has been in the back of my mind, I have yet to purchase a Smuttynose brew until just recently where I purchased two of their offerings and have been, once again, blown away by what they make. So if the Smuttynose Pumpkin Brew Review wasn’t enough to sway you to go out and buy their product, let me know if this one convinces you. If it doesn’t, check back in the upcoming weeks where I’m going to be writing a review of something a little less traditional by the brewery. If you are curious about what that may be, you’ll just have to read through the rest of this blog post in order to find a less than subtle hint.
Look: Smuttynose Baltic Porter pours a dark opaque brown-black with minimal sticky tan foam. It appears that there is mild carbonation with a thick brown lacing left on the glass once sipped. I’ve had very few Baltic Porters but this is exactly what I expected in appearance which could only be described as a big, bad, and bold porter. Aside from the generally great association I have with brews made by Smuttynose, I have to admit that I had to purchase this brew because of its incredibly compelling label.
As you can see in the pictures above, the label features a wood carving image of what I assume is Father Time holding a little child’s hand in one hand and a beer and sickle in the other. The child is dangling out of a clock that has struck midnight which is floating above the cloud. It appears that Father Time may by lowering the child to earth or pulling him into the clock. Previous incarnations of this brew seemed to only be available in 22oz “Bomber” format but this brew was purchased in a four, 12oz pack with similar art on the beer carrier. I’m a huge fan of the Baltic Porters I’ve had previously and was also a fan of Smuttynose before this brew. But, being completely honest, this label took me from uncertainty to certainty in just a few seconds time.
Smell: This brew smells strongly of licorice, dark fruits, smokey sweetness, chocolate, and a peaty scotch. Once warmed, I started to get notes of raisins, coffee, and some sweet caramelized sugar. After a few more whiffs, I started to detect a deep, nutty scent that almost reminded of me of toasted almonds. My scent memory conjures up memories of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout and 3 Floyds Dark Lord but, since it has been so long since I’ve had either of these brews, it might just be wishful smelling. This smells like a big beer and I cannot wait to taste it.
Taste: This Baltic Porter is very reflective of its scent. I get a lot of licorice upfront that settles into raisins, chocolate, coffee, and scotch. Once the taste has stuck around on the palate, there are noteable hints of this brew being barrel aged with notes of nuts, bourbon, smoke, and earthy oak. I checked on various websites and cannot determine whether this is barrel aged or if this is simply the characteristics of the the brewing process of its heavily roasted malts. As the above suggests, there is very little hop bitterness present in this brew but there is a tinge of bitterness at the end of the flavor profile that helps round out the finish and bring out the the more subtle aspects of its flavor.
For those not a fan of the black licorice flavor (for future reference, I used to eat bags of black jelly beans when I was in high school), I should mention that this brew might not be for you. Where some brew reviewers suggest that the licorice is subtle, I’m getting a lot of this flavor at the beginning and the middle of the flavor profile and only start to taste the raisins, chocolate, coffee, and scotch towards the end. For those that are fans of licorice, you’re going to love this one.
Feel: Smuttynose has made their Baltic Porter thick as a brick. It is creamy, oily, and very lightly carbonated. It has flavors that start quickly, stay around for quite some time, and finish with a sharp dry, bitter edge that helps clear the palate for another sip. Given its high ABV, the brew has a bit of a boozy bite that is a welcome addition to the complex flavor profile that the brew has to offer.
Overall: This beer will most likely be one of the first beers that I’ve reviewed that could potentially be polarizing. There is no escaping its strong licorice flavor that, in this reader’s humble opinion, helps set it apart from the relatively small offerings of other Baltic Porters on the market. For those that can get over the licorice flavor, there is a lot to be had in this brew and shows that Smuttynose can be an incredibly versatile brewery that consistently offers up the goods. There’s scotch, chocolate, raisins, and other goodies to be had in this brew and shouldn’t be missed. Check back in the next couple of weeks where I plan to review their take on Rocky Road ice cream!
Have you had this brew? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.
Special Note About Style
Brewer’s Association Style Guidelines: Starting with this Brew Review, I plan on providing you with a description of what characterizes a specific style whenever the style is less common. I’ll always be providing direct quotes from The Brewer’s Association Style Guidelines in which you can either skip or choose to read should you be more interested in what constitutes the style. This is the perfect beer to do this with since, before I drank this brew, I was unsure about what made a Baltic Porter different than a regular porter. You can find the complete style guidelines for 2015 at The Brewer’s Association Style Guidelines:
“Baltic-Style Porters are very deep ruby/garnet to black. Distinctive malt aromas of caramelized sugars, licorice, and chocolate-like character of roasted malts and dark sugars are present. Roasted dark malts sometimes contribute coffee-like roast barley aroma. Low smoky aroma from malt may be evident. Debitterized roast malts are best used for this style. Because of its alcoholic strength, may include very low to low complex alcohol aromas and/or lager fruitiness such as berries, grapes, plums, but not banana; ale-like fruitiness from warm fermentation is not appropriate. Hop aroma is very low, though a hint of floral or sweet hop aroma can complement aromatics without dominance. Medium-low to medium-high malt sweetness is present, with distinctive flavors of caramelized sugars, licorice, and chocolate-like character of roasted malts and dark sugars. Roasted dark malts sometimes contribute coffee-like roast barley flavor, yet not bitter or astringent roast character. Low degree of smoky flavor from malt may be evident. Debitterized roast malts are best used for this style. Hop flavor is very low. Hop bitterness is low to medium-low. Baltic Porter is a true smooth cold-fermented and cold lagered beer, brewed with lager yeast. Because of its alcoholic strength, may include very low to low complex alcohol flavors and/or lager fruitiness such as berries, grapes, plums, but not banana; ale-like fruitiness from warm temperature fermentation is not appropriate. Diacetyl and DMS flavors should not be apparent. Body is medium to full.”