By Steve Dunfey
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, July 30, 2008
[The following article is courtesy of Seacoast Scene ]
The Smuttynose Brewing Company of Portsmouth has presented plans to the Hampton Planning Board to construct a new brewery and restaurant at 105 Towle Farm Road. Smuttynose is New Hampshire's leading craft beer maker and presently operates at a site in Portsmouth's industrial park.
The facility there is inefficient in terms of its layout and its energy consumption, forcing owner Peter Egelston to construct a totally new facility. The 14 acre Hampton site is zoned for this type of business and for the past few months, Egelston has been allaying any questions that the planning board may have.
Smuttynose, named after one of the Isles of Shoals off the shore of the Seacoast, has been in business since 1993. Starting out as a microbrewery, which is defined as an out put of less than 15,000 barrels per year, it is not Egelston's first brewing business. He and his sister Janet opened the Northampton Brewery in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1987. At that time, they were pioneers in the northeast with the brew-pub/restaurant combination concept which they had discovered in California. The two of them came to Portsmouth and opened a similar operation on 56 Market Street in 1991. Both locations have been very successful and in 2000 they split up ownership with Janet taking over Northampton and Peter taking complete control of the Portsmouth Brewery.
In 1993, Egelston bought at auction the equipment of the Frank Jones Brewery in Portsmouth and Smuttynose began. Smuttynose now produces more than 15,000 barrels, making it an independent regional brewery. They broke that number two years ago and now produce just under 20,000 barrels or the equivalent of 275,000 cases. Even though there has been 20% growth in each of the last three years, it should be noted that Smuttynose is not Budweiser or even Redhook (located at Pease International Tradeport) and the plan for the scale of the business is limited to about 60,000 barrels a year. Egelston says, "that is a manageable number and any more would require our culture to change." A tour of the present facility reveals that there are no noise or odor issues and the brewery's neighbors have signed affidavits revealing that there have been no odor problems.
According to Egelston, at any given time, he is brewing 8 different beers. Five of those beers are full time (including Shoals Pale Ale, Old Brown Dog, IPA, Robust Porter and Portsmouth Lager). Then there is one seasonal beer, such as Summer Weizen. There are also two beers in a "Big Beer" series of short batches, limited to 50 kegs each. Egelston then deals with 18 different wholesalers in 14 states. "We have a good relationship with all our distributors and we value our relationship," says Egelston.
Now Egelston would like to, "grow into a permanent home. There are four major reasons for the move. One, we are running out of physical space. Two, we are not energy efficient. Three, we have logistical inefficiency. There is a lot of extra movement because of the way the plant is laid out. We need spatial efficiency. Four, we would like the public to come visit and have a chance to tell our story. We would like to have a hospitality component. Hampton is in every way perfect for us. We are light industrial so we do not need any zoning relief. We would be off the road but still near, a destination. We like the physical location. We would keep the barn on site and incorporate it into our hospitality plans. Keeping the barn is important to us." Egelston has also told the planning board that he will seek "LEED" certification for the new facility. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and certification requires certain standards for environmentally sustainable construction.
"We are also not going to do a lot of paving over." says Egelston. "We would rather have green space than asphalt.
We do not want to over-build or create a footprint that is too much. The questions that the planning board has asked us have been good and they have put us through their paces. They have done their job nicely. They have asked us for data from a traffic study and an independent review of site plans, utility connections and other technical questions. We are cautiously optimistic but there is always an element of some doubt. We want to make a positive contribution that would make the people of Hampton proud to have us."
The proposed restaurant in the project would have 218 seats, of which 215 would be year round and 73 would be seasonal outdoor seating. Egelston's Portsmouth restaurant, New Hampshire's original brew-pub, is of high quality and has survived 17 years in the highly competitive Portsmouth restaurant market. According to the Boston Globe, the brew-pub is "A linchpin in the revitalized core of downtown Portsmouth, NH, the brewery that bears the name of this old maritime city is everything a small brew-pub should be." Every Tuesday night at the Portsmouth Brewery is "Community Pint Night". For each beer bought, 25 cents goes to various charities.
When he started in the brew-pub business, "We got away with a lot of mistakes. The whole landscape has changed, not only in the beer business but in a lot of consumer preference habits. When I was young there was only Wonder Bread. Do they make that anymore? There is an increase in choices of ice cream, organically grown local foods and others. There's a tremendous sea change in beer options too. When we started with craft beer, businesses like Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's took off too. That's a deeper change. Craft beer is the only alcoholic beverage sector with that kind of growth, faster than wine and hard liquors. We're riding the crest of a wave. This is not a trend, it is a basic change of patterns. People drink but they are looking for quality. People know the difference. We feel good about it."
Egelston is obviously a savvy businessman and involved citizen. He has come a long way from his New York days. He studied Spanish literature at New York University, and is 3 credits shy of earning a master's degree ("I still had to pay off the loans," says Egelston). He spent a few years as a doorman at Manhattan's Tuscany Hotel, then took a big pay cut to teach high school. That is until his sister Janet persuaded him to partner with her and open the Northampton Brewery, which is now the oldest brewpub in the Northeast. Egelston is committed to the community and excellence in his business endeavors. In 2004, he was given the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the local chapter of the anti-hunger group Share Our Strength. In 2007, he was awarded the Excellence in Business Award for Manufacturing by the New Hampshire Business Review. Smuttynose has also won many awards for its beers (check them out at www.smuttynose.com).
Smuttynose Brewery is a member of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility. A major principle of the organization is that, "businesses can be financially successful while bringing about the best in the human spirit, enriching the community and being respectful of the natural environment." Egelston was a finalist for the organization's 2008 Cornerstone Award and was a panelist at their spring conference discussion of, "The Power of Buying Local".
While Egelston is cautiously optimistic about his Hampton plans, the Hampton Planning Board is still reviewing the project. It is on the agenda for their next August 6 meeting. He believes that the board has handled the application "with professionalism". Should all go well, Egelston would like to be up and running in Hampton within the next 2 years. He believes his success, and the future are, "a testament to the people who work here."
Tours of Smuttynose's Portsmouth brewery are conducted every Thursday and Friday at 3pm. Groups can arrange tours by calling (603) 436-4026.