One Saturday afternoon, I drive just 4 miles south from the Martin Hill Inn to take a tour of the Smuttynose Brewery in Portsmouth, NH. But at first, I think I’m in the wrong place. My first impression is one of having walked into a machine shop. But as soon as I round the corner of the work bench, there was the beer. Standing around the beer taps were about 20 other folks waiting to see the inside workings of the little brewery that has grown by leaps and bounds.
There are no fancy viewing windows here and I recommend a pair of gloves to ward off the chill. The brewery asks you to wear sensible shoes because you really get the sights and sounds of a brewery here as you stand below the fermentation tanks and step over hoses. Sacks of barley and hops are stacked along the walls of the milling house. The control panel of the brewing house are right above the tanks and we are told about the natural filtration process and cooling process that leads eventually to fermentation time. Finally we get a look at the fermentation tanks, some of which date from the first brewing operation in this building.
Founded in 1994, the brewery now produces around 40,000 barrels annually. As Smuttynose grew, so did the equipment. Some of the tanks are so large, they had to cut holes in the roof to lower the tanks into the building. To preserve the outside of the tanks from rust and perhaps to kill a little time, workers have painted some really interesting designs on these tanks. One of them looks like a pool ball and another a gigantic eye ball!
Second to last stop on the tour is the bottling machine. It was not running that day and according to the tour guide that was probably a good thing. This is no ultra-sophisticated, high-tech, lightning fast bottling line. This is a reconditioned soda filling line from the 1950’s. It makes a lot of noise. But the slower speed and custom changes made allow Smuttynose to package variety 6 packs that other companies won’t do because of the labor involved. The labeling machine is a second-hand German labeling machine updated with a laser printer. It takes 8 people to run the whole bottling line when it’s going, filling glass bottles containing 25% recycled glass at a rate of 185 per minute.
Last stop is the warehouse. This is a beer drinker’s heaven, stacked high with cases and kegs of the craft beers that Smuttynose sends up and down the east coast and out to Chicago. The top selling brew is Smuttynose IPA. Did you know that the city of Chicago now consumes more Smuttynose beer than the entire state of New Hampshire? And they only started distributing there in November 2010! In the coming year, the brewery will be moving to its new location in Hampton, NH into a larger facility so that even more states and cities can enjoy this wonderful brew.
At the end of the tour, we return to the tasting area where you can buy some more brew, including short batches and older vintages in limited and irregular numbers. Can’t get to the brewery for special brews? Sign up for the Big Beer Series Subscription to receive nine special edition brews.
Tours are held at the brewery on Fridays at 5:30 p.m., Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Tours are free, but the staff requests that you donate something to on of two local charities instead. Up to 46 visitors can be accommodated. Walk ins are taken on a first come, first served basis starting 10 minutes before the tour begins. So reservations are recommended and can be made on line. ID required.
The Smuttynose Brewery is located a short drive from the Martin Hill Inn. After the tour, if you find yourself a little hungry, you can visit their sister micro-brewery, The Portsmouth Brewery, in downtown Portsmouth. There you can enjoy great food and a tasting flight of their specialty brews before walking back to the Inn.