Smuttynose Brewing Company by: Stephanie Doan
Ever walk into the store and leave with more than you set out to buy? That’s a little like what happened to Peter Egelston when he walked into a bankruptcy auction anticipating to “just look around” but left as the new owner of a small brewing company. What lingered as the remnants of Frank Jones Brewing Company soon transformed into what stands today as the Granite State’s leading craft brewery.
Smuttynose Brewing Company sits in the seaport city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The company steals its name from the third largest island of the rocky Isles of Shoals, located seven miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coast.
Egelston himself was a previous brewery owner. Peter and Janet opened both Northampton and Portsmouth Brewery together before ending their partnership. He and Joanne Francis currently own both Portsmouth Brewery and Smuttynose.
Crafting came easy as by July, the brewery already released its first batch of Shoals Pale Ale. The beer was a hit and remains one of the company’s year-round crafts. Old Brown Dog – another regular – soon followed. There are five year-round beers in total.
These brews, as well as a slew of seasonals, are what give Smuttynose its “something for everyone” feel, says JT Thompson, Minister of Propaganda.
“We get a good cross variety of people,” JT said. “I think that’s because we have such a broad selection of beer.”
It’s all about the beer. Even during visiting tours of the Smuttynose brewery, visitors are put on the front lines. Thompson describes a space with no flat screens or informational videos, or added frills or polish. When travelers enter into Smuttynose Brewing, they’re not standing behind a piece of viewing glass but directly next to the maintenance bench. The humble ambience, however, showcases the heavy machinery, tanks, puddles, hoses and other tools used for the yeasty artwork.
The surprise caught on viewers’ faces as they witness the real machines at work shows how far detached our society is from its food sources, said JT.
“From the minute you walk in the door – you’re literally in our brewery – what you see is what you get,” JT said.
Smuttynose broke ground on their new brewery in August 2012 and anticipate it’s completion in September of 2013. Bigger and better, with a much larger brewing capacity, the new place sits 15 minutes down the road. Breaking ground not too long ago, the brewery will be up and running in 14 months. The brewery distributes to 19 states, stifling a growing need for more brewing capacity before even thinking about gaining more distribution territory.
As for the old walls, Smuttynose hopes to see a smaller, up-and-comer fill its shoes by taking over the current brewery.
UP AND COMING
One great opportunity for Smuttynose lovers is the ongoing “Big Beer Series” which began in 1998 and is ongoing and offers up a new or returning brew every month. September’s pick is the Scotch Ale, which sits at an eight percent alcohol level. JT says it’s nice and malty with a smoky presence. Right now the monthly picks are dwindling as the year’s up, but the brewery’s goal is to keep thinking and planning at least six beers ahead.
JT recently posted on the Smuttynose Facebook page asking what beer lovers want most, and surprisingly, many requested more malt beers. He said the Scotch Ale has quite the cult following.
Subscriptions to the series include either a case or a half case of each release (depending on which option your choose) a case of nine consecutive releases, signature glassware, enrollment in the sister brewery Portsmouth’s rewards club and an invite to the release party for subscribers onely. The only catch is subscription members must live “within driving distance of the beer” suggests JT because the brewery by law cannot ship to individuals.
Also coming this month is the return of the Big A, a double IPA favorite, while December brings the bottled debut of a Short Batch IPA honoring Greg Noonan, who passed away three years ago. Noonan founded the Vermont Pub and Brewery and authored a slew of craft beer reads. The tasty craft releases around Christmas time.
With new and old beers hitting distribution centers JT still encourages tasters to visit the brewery in New Hampshire. Tours run Friday and Saturday. Guests are definitely encouraged to visit the tasting room.
Besides, there’s only a little more time left to see the original standings. JT, brewery tour expert, says Smuttynose tours are one of the best. The tour guides know it all and love sharing the place with visitors. And of course, his number one reason to see the place:
“These are the people who make the beer.”
SHOALS PALE ALE
Inspired as a classic English pale ale, this craft is unfiltered. We began with the English inspiration but exclusively use American hops and yeast in this hybridization of two great brewing traditions It contains absolutely no animal products (that goes for all Smuttynose beers) and offers a hopped-up medium body taste. Bread is the strongest flavor in the blend of malts, hops and crispness. JT pointed out that this is one of his late afternoon “desk beers” – a solid favorite.
OLD BROWN DOG ALE
You may not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but you sure can make ‘em taste good. Made in the dog days of 1988 at the Northampton Brewery this dark ale pours rich mahogany in color. It contains more hops than most English Brown Ales, giving it a fuller body. This beer has flavors of chocolate and caramel. An old classic, this brew took the brown ale silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver just one year after its birth.
Even though the Indian Pale Ale gets its roots across seas, Smuttynose has really made their IPA an American craft. By using Hopheads grown in U.S. soil, like a mixture of Simcoe and Santiams as well as one from Amarillo, brewers met a change in demand of drinkers desiring more hops. A common IPA, gold in color, the balance of fruity hops to bitter ones is sensational. This hopped-up beer is for pro league IPA drinkers. Watch out for the lees, or sediments, lingering in the bottom of the bottle – a byproduct of an unfiltered beer.
STAR ISLAND SINGLE
Neighboring Smuttynose Island is Star Island, which is where this Belgian-style pale ale gets its name. The brew is extremely refreshing as it carries sweet tastes from Honey Malt and Belgian yeast. Only the slight bitter that arises from using mineral water in the brewing process tames the ale’s sweetness. It’s suggested for social drinking, especially during summer time. It is sure to be a true star at any neighborhood barbeque.
Another one of JT’s “desk beers” he enjoys this malty beer. Pouring dark and rich, this beer is near black in color. The cocoa taste is close to dark chocolate, offering a smoky taste as well as caramel. Its’ bitter hops linger on the tongue after each sip. This is a highly rated porter. The Smuttynose website jokes that a Charles Dickens character would enjoy this 19th century London-style craft beer. Perhaps this is not the first time a Robust Porter has made a good late afternoon getaway.
What you drink is what you taste. JT talked a lot about the approaching season. As the weather turns crisper, with every falling leaf most breweries start pumpkining-out their ales. But the Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale stands alone by the brewery’s standards of keeping the beer a beer – and not a pie. Using pumpkin in beer actually dates back to colonial times. There is a brown sugar taste up, front but the pumpkin and spices come in more toward the beer’s ending taste.
“It’s not overly sweet, not overly spicy – it still tastes like beer,” JT said, who describes the beer as drinkable and approachable.