For Smuttynose, it's beer wagons west

Return to Hampton Business History Table of Contents

By Jim Cavan

Hampton Union, December 27, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Peter Egleston
Peter Egelston is the president and founder of Smuttynose

Editors note: The following story is from the Green Alliance.

HAMPTON — Before long, Smuttynose Brewing Company will officially christen its brand new, multi-use headquarters on Towle Farm Road in Hampton. Crowds will come, a celebration will ensue, and the next chapter of Smuttynose's already sterling story — craft brew pioneer, beloved Seacoast staple — will turn to new chapters.

Still, the impetus for bigger digs was as much practical as poetical, a fact that will be made abundantly clear next month, when Smuttynose officially broadens their distribution into California and Michigan.

JT Thompson, self-described Minister of Propaganda for Smuttynose, says the company has had designs on expanding into more far-flung, beer-friendly markets for a while now.

"We've pretty much been at capacity for a few years now," Thompsons says. "Also, both states boast pretty robust craft beer. So we knew we needed the extra room to be able to get into those markets in a meaningful way."

West Side Distributing, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will be tasked with putting Smuttynose onto more Wolverine State shelves. Meanwhile, Craft Beer Guild Distributing of (out of San Diego) and El Dorado Distributing (located in Signal Hill near Los Angeles) are slated to handle Smuttynose's California expansion.

In both cases, the resulting partnerships were forged over a period of years — enough time for both sides to figure out the best possible arrangement.

"Whether it was at big beer events like Craft Brewers Conference or just an email here and there, West Side politely and casually let us know they were interested whenever we were ready," said Peter Egelston, Smuttynose's President and Founder. "But being at capacity for the last four or five years meant entering a large, craft beer-loving state like Michigan was impossible. With our new brewery project almost ready to come online, I was excited to talk to West Side about moving forward."

For the time being Smuttynose's offerings will be limited to four key markets: Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Detroit, with the brewery's Finestkind and Big A IPAs being offered exclusively on draft for the on-premise trade, while shipments of bottle packages will begin in early 2014.

According to Thompson, the Michigan rollout is already well under way, with Smuttynose reps making the rounds to introduce their beloved libations to the thriving Michigan craft beer community.

Meanwhile, Smuttynose's California shipment is slated to include a number of the brewery's big Beer Series releases: Homunculus, both the Rhye and Finestkind IPA, as well as three kegs of Cluster's Last Stand, to be sold exclusively at Stone Brewing Co.

Where Smuttynose's Michigan expansion entailed forging a new distribution relationship, L. Knife Distribution — which has handled much of the brewery's growth along the Eastern seaboard — made Egelston's decision to target the West Coast a much easier one in scope.

"We've shown strong growth in other L. Knife markets and they certainly know our beers," Egelston says. "I have faith that we will see similar results in the California market, even though it's a different landscape because we're both starting fresh."

With California in particular, Smuttynose will be broaching a beer terrain long lauded for their adventurous methods, bold flavors, and forward-thinking philosophies. But from Thompson's perspective, having Smuttynose's wares placed alongside the stars of Golden State brewing amounts to a pairing of peers.

"We're excited to show California that New England has a pretty amazing craft beer market itself," Thompson exclaims. "The 'Class of '88,' as it's called, which includes some well-known West Coast breweries, always gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. But we think the Class of '87 is right up there."

Now, after hitching wagons west to bring two new states under the growing Smuttynose umbrella, Egelston and his team are turning their attention in the other direction, where the brewery hopes to make waves on a new continent altogether.

"We've been looking to export to Sweden for a while, and it looks like we're just about ready to make that happen," Thompson says. "Sweden is the number two market for American made beer in Europe, behind England, so having a presence there is a huge coup for us, and for American brewing in general."

While watching their favorite New Hampshire brewery assume a higher profile might feel odd for some — akin, perhaps, to letting go of their favorite local band — Thompson thinks the end result will be more of what people want: good beer made by creative people, and in a way that grants the utmost respect to ingredient and process alike.

"We'll always be a New Hampshire company," he says. "But it's only natural to want to share what's best about our company — and our region — with the rest of the world. That's exciting to us."

Founded in 1994, Smuttynose is New Hampshire's leading craft brewery. In 2012, its 50 employees worked to brew, package and sell nearly 41,000 barrels of beer across 22 states and Washington DC. After nearly 20 years in their original home in Portsmouth, the international award-winning brewery will move into its new, LEED Gold-registered brewery and visitors' center on the historic Towle Farm in 2014.

Return to Hampton Business History Table of Contents