Quietly tucked off the main drag, but not quite hidden off the street, a sign appears bearing a harbor seal and the word, "Smuttynose." Â Those that are privy know where they are; others who are not will soon find out...
We recently visited New Hampshire for a weekend of good beer drinking and hanging out with some good friends. Our first stop was my favorite East Coast brewery: Smuttynose, located in a somewhat industrial section of Portsmouth (which in my opinion is quite the town for beer lovers, but we will save that for a later post.)
For those of you thinking this is a big time brewery - it is not. At Smuttynose, quality trumps quantity.Â This regional brewery distributes from Maine to Florida. If you are lucky enough to live within distribution, you just might find it at your local beer store. They are on par to do just under or just over 30,000 barrels this year, a fraction of the 125 million Budweiser will brew. Hell, the staff consists of about 30 people, with only half of that actually involved in day to day operations.
These guys deserve a lot of credit they may not be getting everywhere. They are artisans creating quality beer with quality ingredients they will stand behind, all while keeping sustainable practices a priority. All of their spent grains go to the local New England farmers for cattle feed and they recycle as much water as they can within the brewery.
When we first walked inside we were greeted by the friendly staff andÂ immediatelyÂ offered as many samples as we liked of some of their fine beers. These guys know hospitality and there's nothing better than brewery fresh beer!
My particular favorite had to be the Oak Aged Baltic Porter which had been aged in Sam Adams Utopias barrels - yeah Utopias barrels! Sorry, that one is not available in stores, so you're going to have to venture to NH to taste it. Â A worthwhile trip if you haven't gotten that feeling already!
This is John or "JT" as we introduced ourselves. He is the minister of propaganda at Smuttynose, or in the preferred nomenclature, public relations. He gave us a Smuttynose history lesson, beginning with their origin and how they worked their way up to where they are today. JT didn't hesitate to answer any questions, he's a wealth of information and a hell of a nice guy. If you happen to meet him someday, don't be shy!
Here we have our tour guide Jason standing next to the grain mill, describing the grains and various malts used in the brewing process to craft these delicious beverages. Jason, an obvious beer lover, was a pleasure to talk to regarding the brewing process, equipment, Smuttynose, and beer in general. Jason told us he was recently hired, but I could tell he's passionate about their beer and I'm sure he'll be around a while. Â So when you take the tour, be sure to hang around and chat with him for a few minutes. (After reading this, you will be making a trip to Portsmouth for the tour, right?!?)
As you can see there are no shortages of supplies here. These are all their specialty grains; their base pale malt, US 2-row, is kept in the grain silo outside the building (as you can see in above pics) and piped in directly to the grain mill. Awesome!
This is pretty much the entire brewhouse in a nutshell. It's hard to tell because, well, all these stainless steel vessels look pretty much the same. In the back is the mash tun and boil kettle; upfront, a conicalÂ fermenter. Not pictured through the rear door are the newer additions to the brewery - conical fermenters and bright tanks. Pictured on the right is the interior of the mash tun. This picture does no justice for the scale of this tun. When they had their newest vessel delivered/installed they had to have the roof peeled back and used a crane to drop in the massive stainless steel container!
As JT explained, prior to the Smuttynose takeover of this current facility, there was a brewery residing in the estate that had been around since pre-prohibition, or a continuation of the name at least (which completely escapes me right now.) There is some pretty old equipment still in place from this company's time in the building, such as these bright tanks. The Smuttynose brewers were sick of looking at the painful, 1950's blue-green color, so they painted the few tanks with some bright colors and awesome designs to increase the aesthetics in an otherwise boring industrial space. Check out the slick USSR hammer & sickle logo.
This is the madness that is their bottling line. I'm pretty sure this is another relic from the pre-existing owners as it'sÂ definitely not a brand new machine, but hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I don't really recall how many bottles per hour this Rube Goldberg looking system fills, but I do remember the guys explaining how it takes 3hrs of manpower to change the bottle system over from 12oz to bomber size bottles. Keep that in mind next time you pop a cold Smutty!
The second half of the building houses the logistical/distribution side of the facility full of pallets of kegs and cases stacked, labeled, and ready to ship out to your local beer distributor. This type of organization requires serious computing power that only an iMac G3 circa 1998 can handle. I hope we have a picture of that...
Having taken this brewery tour I now have a better understanding and bigger appreciation of the effort that goes into making a craft beer. As I crack an '09 wheat wine ale this Thanksgiving, I will be thinking about what the employees of Smuttynose went through to get this great beer to my glass.