Talking beer with Smutty's head brewer
On a whim, in inclement weather no less, I decided to venture out of the house on Monday afternoon, as I was seemingly one of very few people to have the day off. I headed north in an attempt to find the Smuttynose Brewery, and more importantly the Imperial Stout. Easy to find is the Portsmouth Brewery, situated nicely in downtown Portsmouth. Not so easy to find is the Smuttynose Brewery, which by all appearances is in Greenland.
I brought my laptop with me to keep the directions handy, guided my truck through frozen rain and back roads, and finally arrived at my destination. I parked around back, and made my way to the iron door on the side that says simply, "Welcome". I opened the door and headed inside, and was immediately smacked in the face by the strong aroma of malts. This brewery is by no means a polished brewpub. It is essentially a production facility with a small bar at the entrance with four taps and a fooseball table. I ran into one of the brewers, told him I was interested in purchasing some beer, and sat down at the bar. He cordially poured me a fresh pint of IPA.
Let me just tell you, it was delicious.
The brewer said he would get someone for me, and headed off on his way. Not long after, a man came out to greet me, who I would soon learn is the head brewer at Smuttynose, David Yarrington. We spoke for a little while, he explained that while they do sell beer by the case there, it is at retail cost as they do not want to undercut their distributor and resellers. After a few minutes, I grabbed some goggles, and we went into the brewing operation.
David led me around, we looked at the fermenters, looked at the bottling line, he explained their current output, potential output, and plans for growth in the future. They are looking at some property to build a proper brewery, as their current location is essentially a retro-fitted warehouse, lacking the proper drainage you would hope to have an actual brewery. The bottling line is from the 70's, and the label machine is from the 50's. They are currently set to bottle 60 bottles per minute, and while they could bottle more, they are limited by the aging label machine.
Smuttynose recently surpassed a very significant milestone. They shipped just over 15,000 barrels of beer in 2006, launching them from micro-brewery status to that of regional craft brewery. The article covering this milestone can be read here. When I asked David why they were looking to expand their production, whether it was for wider distribution or better saturation, he said they wanted better saturation in their current market. They currently distribute as far south as Virginia and, as far as David is concerned, that is good enough. David also oversees production at the Portsmouth Brewery, although the brewer he hired to run the operation has a pretty good handle on things, so he doesn't really have to focus too much attention to them.
Although they are owned by the same owner, Peter Egelston, Smuttynose and Portsmouth Brewery operate as two separate entities. If you have been to the Portsmouth Brewery, you may have noticed that in addition to brewing their own beers, they also carry Smuttynose's Shoals Pale Ale and Portsmouth Lager on draught. What I found intriguing is that, because the two businesses are separate entities, the Portsmouth Brewery has to purchase their kegs of the two Smutty beers through a distributor, just like any other establishment would have to.
In closing, it was a very educational experience, and I was glad to have had to chance to speak with David and get his take on the current state of beer at Smuttynose, certainly one of our favorite local breweries. Although the Imperial Stout is not quite ready for release, it has been bottled and is just conditioning for a couple of weeks before it is sent to market.