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The beer biz

Smuttynose’s Egelston tells UNH forum about growing a beer business

Union Leader Correspondent

September 22. 2013 3:28PM
Smuttynose Brewing Co. CEO and founder Peter Egelston, at left, chats with Brent Merriam of NEMO Equipment in Dover after speaking during this year’s first University of New Hampshire CEO Forum in the Huddleston Ballroom on Thursday. (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)

DURHAM — Of the 50 or so company executives gathered in the Huddleston Ballroom Thursday morning, only one was wearing jeans and a button-down shirt unbuttoned at the top.

That is Smuttynose CEO Peter Egelston’s typical attire, and he can be seen wearing it in advertisements, at CEO forums and in his Portsmouth brewery most days.

Egelston does not look like a typical CEO, and his path to head of one of the nation’s top craft brewers was not always typical either. But now that craft beer has taken over about 7 percent of the market, Egelston’s ways cannot be discounted.

During the first University of New Hampshire CEO Forum to be held this year, Egelston traced the path of Smuttynose Brewery from a kitchen table in his Brooklyn apartment in the 1980s to the opening of the Portsmouth Brewery in downtown Portsmouth in 1991.

Accidental beginning

He started Smuttynose Brewing Company in 1994 almost by accident after purchasing a building full of brewing equipment at auction.

This year, Smuttynose Brewing Co. will ship more than 45,000 barrels of beer to 23 states and the District of Columbia, making it one of the top 50 regional specialty breweries in the nation.

When he started the Portsmouth Brewery in 1991, there were fewer than 100 craft breweries in the country, and most were on the West Coast.

Today there are more than 2,500 craft breweries nationwide, and that number is expected to exceed 3,000 by this time next year.

But growth is not always a good thing for a growing industry, as Egelston has learned. Smuttynose has maxed out capacity in Portsmouth and is building a new brewery and brew pub in nearby Hampton at the former Towle Farm property.

He hopes to start shipping beer from the new facility by the beginning of next year.

The move is focused on increased capacity, logistical efficiency and energy efficiency. The building will be certified to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

“We really want our brewery to become a significant tourist destination for the state, and I think we have a good opportunity for that,” Egelston said.

He said the company’s approach to growth over the years has been on an as-needed basis, and when it could afford it. This includes distribution, which has slowly expanded from the Northeast region across the United States.

Smuttynose began shipping to California last week and will soon be shipping to Michigan. Indiana and Kentucky were added earlier this year.

In addition to its year-round beers, Smuttynose offers a seasonal line that Egelston said is a driving factor for the craft brewing industry. The fall pumpkin ale is one of Smuttynose’s most popular brews.

“There is an amazing demand for beer with vegetables in it. I don’t get it myself,” Egelston said.

Attendees at Thursday’s forum had an opportunity to try some of the brews themselves, giving the next executives to speak after Egelston a tough act to follow.

Future speakers

Portsmouth Regional Hospital President Anne Jamieson will speak on Oct. 17, and Matthew Albuquerque, founder and CEO of Next Step Bionics and Prosthetics, will speak on Nov. 14.

The UNH CEO Forum was initiated in 1997 to serve as an outreach program of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics and the UNH Graduate School for CEOs, company presidents and senior managers. The forum provides members with opportunities for networking and idea exchange in an informal setting.

Brent Merriam with NEMO Equipment in Dover recently earned his MBA and attended his first CEO forum on Thursday.

“I think it’s great. It’s nice to listen to what they have to say and nice to integrate with other business leaders,” Merriam said.

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