2014 MARKS THE 10th anniversary of Smuttynose’s IPA and the 20th for the brewery overall. Though only introduced a full decade after the brewery’s launch, this aggressive ale (aka “Finestkind”) now stands as one of their longest-tenured and most popular brews. Perhaps the delay was prudent—the brewers suspect that few drinkers would have been ready for a 75 IBU pale ale back in 1994, not least on the East Coast where lupulin isn’t worshiped as it is west of the Rockies.
Even today Finestkind is something of an anomaly: first, it’s a highly assertive IPA brewed in a region where balance is still more in vogue; second, it’s unfiltered—not a unique trait, but hardly the standard for IPAs, much less American-style ales in general. Thus Finestkind sets apart quite deliberately, poised to either be a trailblazing success or a flagrant flop. After 10 years on the market, it’s obviously lived up to its own billing.
Despite the sediment finely dispersed throughout its marvelous amber body, yeast does not impact the mouthfeel appreciably. Finestkind has a clear, clean, and crisp initial presence on the palate that is deeply refreshing. Its moderate eggshell-colored head is sticky, a little creamy (not quite to West Coast levels, though), and leaves substantial lacing on the glass. High marks for first impression on both the palate and the eyes.
By now the first taste will be settling in, meaning it’s time to start grappling with hops. The beer’s flavor/aroma cultivars are familiar (Simcoe, Magnum, Centennial, and Amarillo dry-hopping) with one outlier—Santiam. Its lineage is noble German, and thus its relatively low alpha-acid content is hard to pick out amidst all the American muscle. It’s likely included for support and guidance, helping tie Finestkind’s more aggressively bitter threads into a neat knot instead of a frazzled gnarl. Initial flavors are of zippy pine, with a leafiness that slowly spreads across the back of the tongue into a more pronounced and broad bitterness by the finish, accentuated by the tingle of carbonation, a slight alcohol note from its 6.9% ABV, and minerality. The Magnum used for bitterness makes a powerful statement indeed, asserting its seductive dominance—commanding the palate and yet tempting one into another sip almost too soon.
A dash of C-60 malts are included for body (light side of medium at 2.7 Plato), balance, and color, but don’t contribute too much to the flavor profile. 2-Row and a pale malt base provides a subtle grain aroma and otherwise are a transparent conduit for aggressive bitterness. In fact, the hopping here is perhaps even more pushy than a West Coast IPA in that there are no gushing nectar flavors and minimal caramel malt sweetness to counter its pithy bitterness.
A second level of flavors and aromas once it warms somewhat–some grapefruit and a little lemon, caramel as well as a touch of resin. This denser midsection makes an effort to catch up with the bitterness, creating a compelling tension that never quite resolves. Reswirling the glass at this stage will also pull out the clinical alcohol notes into the head. Finestkind is an excellent food beer for how strongly it cleans the palate, but this also means it can be a little piercing when drunk on its own. That more focused, sharper bitterness is an interesting recasting of cultivars we so often associate with big floral and fruity flavors. Altogether a case-in-point refutation of anyone who doubts that East Coast IPAs can pack a serious punch.
Served: 12 oz bottle best by 04/24/14