Serious Eats: Drinks
On the Beer Trail: Smuttynose Imperial Stout in New Hampshire
Editor's Note: Ethan Fixell tours the country as a comedian—and as a beer drinker. In On the Beer Trail, he'll share his tales from the road, favorite destinations, and beer recommendations.
For anyone under the assumption that New Hampshire, the geographically conjoined twin of Vermont—America's greenest state; the neo-hippie birthplace of Ben and Jerry's and Phish—would produce anything but some of the baddest-ass beer in the country, I must correct you. And you're lucky I'm the one doing it, because if New Hampshire were here, she'd probably be a whole lot less polite about it.
Following a string of shows in New England, I decided to take a weekend off to visit one of my best buds, a professor at Dartmouth. (Sometimes comedians hold friendships with respected intellectuals to balance otherwise debaucherous lifestyles.) Of course, no two beeroisseurs assemble in New Hampshire without paying homage to the great Smuttynose Brewery, so a road trip to Portsmouth was soon in order. (Beer trail tip: Always call ahead—many breweries, like Smutty, only offer limited weekend tours.)
Smutty touts its Finest Kind IPA as its flagship. But to be perfectly honest, East coast IPAs have never really done it for me—I'll look to Cali or Oregon if I'm craving hops. Instead, my friend and I came to Smutty on a cold December afternoon for the dark stuff: those warmers, porters, and stouts, which, in my opinion, best combat the frostiest season in one of the frostiest states.
There were quite a few winners that day, including the always dependable Winter Ale, a roasty, toasty dubbel brewed with Chimay yeast, and their newer Zinneke, a Belgian dark strong ale partially aged in bourbon barrels. (Ok, I'll admit it. I'd drink camel milk if it were aged in a bourbon barrel). But the clear champion would be enjoyed hours later at our hotel in downtown Portsmouth, from a relatively rare bottle available only for purchase and take-away.
"I'd recommend one of these," suggested our tour guide, pointing to two tall ones in the retail fridge. "The Herbacious is an herbal ale currently only available at this brewery; and then," he began with a longing sigh, "we have the Imperial Stout."
"I think I might have tried that at some point," I said.
The tour guide shook his head knowingly and smiled. "But you haven't had the 2008."
The 2008 Smuttynose Imperial Stout pours like melted dark chocolate (my original thought was motor oil, but I'm not sure that makes for a positive endorsement). The scent alone, full of cocoa, molasses, and nuts, is strong and complex enough to keep you occupied. At one point my face was fully buried in my disposable plastic hotel cup, huffing from it the stout's fumes like glue.
A surprising amount of carbonation keeps the party bumping as the liquid coats your mouth with chocolate. Flavors of coffee and dried fruit are present too, along with just enough bitterness in the finish to eliminate any threat of cloying sweetness. If it weren't so damned smooth and tasty, you'd probably more quickly realize that this beer is nearly 10% ABV. (In my case, it took twenty-two ounces and a regretful phone call to an ex before I would come to this understanding.)
If you go to a brewery and see something that's hard to find or elsewhere unavailable, buy it. Worst case scenario, you'll sample a less than enjoyable beer that you'll never taste again. Best case, you'll pine over a very enjoyable beer that you'll never taste again. But isn't it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
If you've got a weekend off in the next month or two, spend a couple of days in the "Live Free or Die" state. You'll need a heavy coat to visit New Hampshire, but she'll provide the beer.
About the Author: Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic "dating coach" duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com.