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Wheat Wine Ale

Smuttynose Brewing Co.

Portsmouth, NH

22 fl. oz., 12% ABV

$6 @ Trader Joe’s

This week, we’re tasting Smuttynose Wheat Wine Ale. This beer is part of Smuttynose’s Big Beer Series, an ambitious set of brews that have more body and a higher alcohol content than their “core” offerings. In short, these beers are the pride and joy of Smuttynose and are meant to be treated specially. This is the first beer I’ve tried of the series, which earned very good recommendations from my friends.

Smuttynose describes its Wheat Wine Ale as a mix between a barleywine and a wheat ale. Barleywines are beers brewed mostly with malted barley; they are approximately as strong as wine (12 percent ABV) with lots of fruity undertones and an amber color. Wheat ales are not typically as strong, have less fruity notes, are more yellow-brown, drier, and — you guessed it — have a higher proportion of wheat. Although I can definitely taste both styles in this offering, the barleywine dominates.

Before getting into the tasting, I prepared my palette with some Vermont goat cheese on wheat crackers. The creamy cheese goes well with the smooth texture of the pseudo barleywine. This beer has plenty of volatiles, and I’ve served it in a red wine glass. The beer is amber colored, like a red ale, but unfiltered and cloudy. There is virtually no sign of head, a sign that this beer is only lightly carbonated.

The first order aroma is a delightful burst of dates. Upon tasting the beer, fruity sweetness is immediately present, and grapes dominate. Don’t let the name of the beer and the grape notes fool you; this is still very much a beer. The wheat is finally noticeable with a fine grain flavor. Booziness is definitely there, but not overpowering. Drinkability is good since the lack of carbonation makes it smooth. The aftertaste reminds me of juice, with a slight alcohol burn. The hop aroma is very evident on the nose at the end.

Overall, the alcohol isn’t as well hidden as the higher-ABV Dogfish Head beers I’ve tried, but this 12 percent beer is still tractable. The entire bottle has 4.4 times as much alcohol as a 5 percent ABV 12 fl.oz. beer and is best split with a friend and consumed over the course of an hour.

Smuttynose Wheat Wine Ale is indeed mostly a barleywine and not a bad introduction to that beer style, even though it’s more of a wheatwine. I enjoyed the pairing with the goat cheese immensely, and I would also recommend trying it with dates or mangos. I recommend this beer to anyone exploring the Smuttynose Brewery, anyone exploring barleywines, or anyone exploring the right drink to go with their chèvre.

Send agreements, disagreements, suggestions for future beer reviews, and offers for project management positions in the Boston area to dtemp@mit.edu.