DOVER — The brightly lit test tube bubbling over the door of the old Washington Street mill building downtown is the first sign that an experiment is brewing inside.
Up a small flight of stairs, willing taste testers on a Saturday night are hefting glass beakers of yellow, amber and brown-colored concoctions and sampling appetizers ranging from pretzels with a zesty beer cheese dipping sauce to black teriyaki ginger chicken strips, which a bartender confides gets its hue from squid ink.
Smuttlabs Brewery and Kitchen, a testing ground for limited-edition brews and outside-of-the-box menu choices, operates in the renovated former home of 7th Settlement Brewery, which shut off its taps at 47 Washington St. last year.
The SmuttLab pilot program has been developing small-batch brews for several years at Smuttynose’s Hampton home base, but the Dover brick-and-mortar site is the first for the experimental, small-batch initiative and head brewer Charlie Ireland and assistant brewer Tyson Demers.
Smuttlabs, which had its grand opening last week, makes good use of the 5,000-square-foot open space, drawing on the mill’s industrial history with brick walls, hardwood flooring and exposed piping while playing on the entrepreneurial sense of a modern experiment in the works. There is test-tube themed art everywhere and exposed-bulb lighting and starburst fixtures blaze bright enough to reflect in the broad window panes at the entrance and in other shiny surfaces.
The ever-evolving brew lineup is featured on a mounted wall menu that offers corresponding tap numbers to make orders easier for patrons and servers.
There was just a half-hour wait for a table — some with glimpses of fermentation tanks through a set of windows — but it proved more fun to pull up a seat in front of the taps, along the great expanse of the wooden bar, to sample menu items and watch other patrons do the same.
“We’ve traded in white coats for brewer’s aprons, letting our imaginations run free and putting even the wildest ideas to the test. No style is off the table, no ingredient deemed too outrageous,” Smuttlab’s mission statement says.
Chef Anthony Ricco has created a menu of starters, sandwiches, burgers and entrees, some of which include beer in the ingredient list. Try out pub fries served poutine style with duck confit, cheese curds, caramelized onion and porter gravy, or the charred cauliflower drizzled with pumpkin ale honey. Dinner options include fried chicken and OBD (Old Brown Dog) waffles, and top it off with a dessert of Chupa Churros with the option of stout spiced frosting.
On this day, the tap list includes a pale ale called “Pity the Fool,” a single-hop French saison — which gets a thumbs up from our corner of the bar — and one called “Battle Grounds,” a coffee porter brewed in partnership with Battle Grounds Coffee as part of the Black Ale Project to support Operation Delta Dogs. Plus, an espresso martini special gets a caffeinated nod of approval.
One note: Smuttynose’s Siamese Gorilla, a Thai-Irish Red Ale with lemon grass, kaffir lime and ginger that has become a favorite at the Towle Road site in Hampton, hasn’t been included in the rotating lineup.
Overall, Smuttlabs Brewery and Kitchen is a bright, tasty outing that makes patrons feel like they’re in on the experiment.
SmuttLabs Brewery and Kitchen is located at 47 Washington St., Dover. Information: smuttynose.com or 343-1782.