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Smuttynose ready to grow at Towle Farm

Sunday News Correspondent

May 24. 2014 1:28AM
Smuttynose Brewing Co. founder and president Peter Egelston said his brewers have been working hard to adjust to new control systems while maintaining the familiar flavors of Smuttynose beers. (MIKE LAWRENCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

HAMPTON -- A Seacoast brewing giant will pop the cap on its new home Saturday, May 31, when Smuttynose Brewing Co. opens its 14-acre, $24 million campus on Towle Farm Road in Hampton to the public.

The brewery is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and will kick off summer tour hours with Saturday's event, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The lush, sprawling campus also includes an orchard; a barn with foundations dating to before the Civil War; a 19th-century farmhouse that's being converted into a 95-seat restaurant - recently named Hayseed - that's scheduled to open in the fall and will have an outdoor beer garden; and even tentative plans for a public disc golf course and a food stand, which would be set up in the iconic metal trailer that's used on labels for the brewery's top-seller, Finestkind IPA.

"This whole facility has been designed for interaction with the public," company spokesman JT Thompson said Thursday. "This is all about having people come and see us."

Scott Schaier, executive director of Beer Distributors of New Hampshire and, along with Thompson, a co-founder of beer industry promotion effort Brew NH, said he expects the Towle Farm site to become a destination for "hop heads," a friendly term for beer aficionados.

"It's fantastic. It's a showpiece," Schaier said of the site, calling it a blend of a "quintessential New England farm feel" with high-end production equipment.

That equipment has taken some getting used to.

Smuttynose Brewing Co. founder and president Peter Egelston said his brewers have been spending the last several months adapting to a brew house imported from Germany and a new, computerized control system to maximize the equipment's potential while maintaining the familiar flavors of Smuttynose beers.

In other words, they've been trying to teach an Old Brown Dog some new tricks.

"We've been using the line, 'Our beers are the same, only better,' and I think that's a fair assessment," Egelston said, referring to Smuttynose top-sellers such as Finestkind IPA and Old Brown Dog Ale. "(The brewers) have gone through enough cycles where they've got the flavor profiles really dialed in."

Egelston said brewing beer isn't like some kinds of cooking, in which recipes can simply be scaled up to create larger portions. The increased capacity at Smuttynose has presented new challenges for brewers on staff.

"The bigger your batch size, you tend to get more utilization out of your hops," Egelston said. "If you just took a 5-gallon recipe and scaled it up, the beer would be way, way too hoppy."

That has created a need for some trial-and-error. Egelston said new fermentation tanks that can hold multiple batches of beer allow brewers to blend batches on the fly to find just the right mix.

"There's an aspect of Willy Wonka," he said with a grin.

Smuttynose is expanding its shipping, as well. Thompson said the company, which has distributors in 23 states, D.C. and Sweden, recently expanded sales to Puerto Rico and will ship to the United Kingdom, South Korea and Germany in coming weeks. Bouncy House IPA, the first new beer produced at the Towle Farm site, has just begun hitting the shelves.

New beginning

Smuttynose is in the final stages of its transition from its former production facility on Heritage Avenue in Portsmouth, where Egelston said a few small batches are still brewed.

That site covers about 25,000 square feet, compared to about 40,000 square feet at Towle Farm. Egelston said the company employs more than 60 people and expects to add staff as they settle into the new facility. He said hiring plans aren't yet clear, but Hayseed restaurant alone should add about 50 jobs when it opens this fall.

The move remains an ongoing process.

Padding lined the inside of an elevator at the Towle Farm site Thursday and shelves in the retail shop had yet to be stocked, but a few ebullient tasters were sipping bottles in a foyer just inside the front entrance, where bottling and packaging lines are visible through broad glass windows onto the factory floor.

"In some ways, it feels like a startup," Egelston said while walking through the facility. "When we take the furniture padding down, then we'll know we've really moved in."

The move has caused some headaches. Previous cost estimates for the total project were around $16 million. Egelston called the new estimate of $24 million a "shockingly high number," but said a lot of those increases have been conscious decisions rather than unforeseen expenses.

The company is seeking gold-level LEED certification, for example. The effort to meet federal energy conservation and environmental standards has required constant consultations with power companies, mechanical engineers and more, about everything from stormwater runoff to heating and cooling systems.

"I don't regret making the choices we've made," Egelston said.

Schaier said he believed the finished product will consistently draw visitors, despite the site's somewhat isolated location on the quiet Towle Farm Road.

"People will go out and find it, no matter where they are," Schaier said. "People who are excited about beer will go the extra mile to seek out those experiences."

Ellie Day, owner of Towle Farm Market & Deli, said customers have been asking about the opening of the new Smuttynose plant, which is just up the road from her market.

"I think people are pretty enthused about it," she said Thursday.

Egelston said Smuttynose encountered some resistance when it considered sites in Portsmouth for its new brewery. Day said she viewed the development as a positive for the Towle Farm community.

"The more the merrier, I say," she said. "Business brings business."

Egelston said he couldn't be happier in his company's new home.

"I believe strongly that this is where we were meant to be all along," he

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