Style: Pale Barleywine aged on Oak Chips
Bottled On: 1/13/15
From: Portsmouth, NH
The beer pours a brilliant, pumpkin-orange color. It forms a nice, rockier head of off-white and tanning bubbles, which form sheets of frothy, slick lacing when splashed over the sides of the glass. In body, the beer is clear of particles, and fairly cloudy from oak and protein and such. It looks good and fall-like in the glass (perhaps it’s because it is the color of a pumpkin?). On the nose, the beer smells of stale oak, musty malts, caramel, a touch of butterscotch, dried figs without a “full-on-fruity” character, and nougat bars. It mellowly smells like rich malts, which is superb because that is exactly what this beer should smell like. The oak is gentle and well integrated in the nose. It’s not an overly complex nose, and is actually a touch delicate for what the beer is, but it is inviting and nice. It smells of good beer, if that makes any sense… This bottle has some age on it now, admittedly, but I think it’s done the beer wonders in pulling everything together. On the tongue, the beer tastes of sweet, bready malts, with just perhaps a whisper of dark fruit acidity in the middle of the sip, and then the finish brings a healthy blend of herbal hop bitters and tea-like tannins to dry out the mouth and keep this beer well away from cloying. There is the faintest touch of minerally earth just as the bitters wash over the tongue, adding subtle complexity to the sip, and the very finish shows a nice gentle heat of booze to remind you this is a barleywine. Unfortunately, as you sip, the bitters grow a little overbearing and definitely take the reins of the beer, quashing some of the gentler malty notes. The beer begins like a rich, malty English ale, but ends like an herbal bitter-bomb, suggesting that this beer would have done even better with another year or so in the bottle. Flavors begin with mallow, nougat, a touch of indiscriminate nuts and chocolate chip cookies, but this is all washed with herbal bitters, nettles, faint touches of pine, and a tannic tea character that smacks the lips. In the mouth, the beer is full bodied and languid, displaying a mild carbonation that keeps things in balance with light prickles while the beer oozes over the tongue with a smooth, almost-syrupy mouthfeel. When the beer leaves, the mouth is left dry and bitter with a slight snap, though spittle pours from the tongue and builds in the cheek pouches. Overall, this is a very English Barleywine, but with an American bitter twist (not in the traditional American Barleywine way, though). The malt is exquisite and complex at the start, but the hops are a tad too overpowering with the finish, leaving me wanting more rich malty character. I think a little longer in the bottle will bring out the malt a little more, while letting the hops mellow in their bitter ways. As is, it’s another fine sip from Smuttlabs, and is definitely aging gracefully. If you have a bottle, hold on to it for another half year to a year and see where she goes.