Brew Review

Beer Review – Smugglers’ Notch Sampler


Smugglers Notch Sampler A

I’m a big fan of the beer sampler as I find that it’s a great way to try a variety of beers either from a single brewer or from a variety of local brewers. This was the case when at Smugglers’ Notch, I had the opportunity to try an IPA from Fiddlehead Brewing Company, an unfiltered ale from Switchback Brewing Company and Smugglers’ Notch’s own Prohibition Ale.

First up was the IPA. Fiddlehead Brewing Company, located in the beautiful town of Shelburne, Vermont, is the brainchild of brew master and owner Matthew Cohen. He is on a mission to produce full flavored beers with a focus on flavor and freshness while trying to use local products whenever possible. While the brewery is known for producing a new recipe every couple of weeks (over 60 different beers are listed at the website), the Fiddlehead IPA is their flagship beer and can be found throughout Vermont.

Before we begin the review, here’s what Fiddlehead has to say about the IPA:

Our flagship brew.  This one can be found on tap at over 400 bars & restaurants in Vermont.  Hop forward with a bright citrus & pine aroma, nice dry finish. Very drinkable.

My impressions…

  • Appearance: Apricot with a light, white foam.
  • ABV: 6.2%
  • Aroma: Heavy citrus with pine.
  • Taste: A bit sweet with the requisite hoppy bitterness. With a short finish. A bit of a muted IPA. Nothing offensive; nothing outlandish.

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Next was the unfiltered ale from Switchback.  Previously, I have reviewed the Switchback EPA, which I also was fortunate enough to try on this trip. So, I am now familiar with this brewery and have come to know that it was founded in 2002 and is one of 30 or so craft brewers in Vermont. Switchback produces 7 quality unfiltered, naturally carbonated beers that run the gamut from their original Switchback Ale (2002) to the Citra-Pils Keller Bier (2015).

Before we begin the review, here’s what Switchback has to say about their ale:

Brewed using only traditional ingredients, Switchback Ale is a reddish-amber ale which is particularly well-balanced, allowing for complexity of flavor coupled with an unusually smooth and refreshing character. Five different malts, select hop varieties, and our own specially cultivated yeast create an ale which leads with hop flavors and a subtle impression of fruit (our yeast’s contribution), followed by a palate pleasing malty finish. Our own special process uses the yeast to naturally carbonate the beer, and we leave it unfiltered. The result is a satisfying brew full of flavor with a remarkably clean and smooth finish.

My impressions…

  • Appearance: Amber with a quickly dissipating, white foam.
  • ABV: 5%
  • Aroma: Doughy with some clove and allspice.
  • Taste: A bit earthy with wet wheat bread and a little bitterness. A bit meh. I read unfiltered as unfinished.

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Finally, I took on the Smugglers’ Prohibition Ale. I tried to research this one but I couldn’t find out much information on the brewer or if this ale was really made just for Smugglers’ Notch or was offered under other labels as well. Suffice it to say, that what I found was nada and I’m not sure if that is a good thing or if the silence is protecting the guilty.

My impressions…

  • Appearance: Chocolate brown with light foam.
  • ABV: ?%
  • Aroma: Heavily roasted; bakers’ chocolate. A bit of coffee.
  • Taste: A little thin; with some chocolate and a hint of coffee. Just the slightest bitterness in the finish.

The Verdict

Clearly, I found the Switchback Ale to be the least desirable of the three. There was nothing really wrong with it, it’s just that for as much as I liked the Switchback EPA, this one just didn’t “WOW!” me, i.e. the flavors were not quite in my wheelhouse and I was underwhelmed. The Fiddlehead IPA was a decent East Coast IPA. I think that was the problem. Once you get going on West Coast IPAs and their big, full flavors, the East Coast IPAs are typically a little soft. To me that means very drinkable (as the Fiddlehead is advertised) but also a little lacking in oomph! So, the winner for me was the one I know the least about. I really enjoyed the Prohibition Ale. Of course, with all of the roasted notes and chocolate, this was a wheelhouse beer for me. So, for a little more than the cost of a pint, I was able to try three local brews and get at least, a sense of the local flavor.

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