July 23, 2018
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New England brewery excited to restart its experimental beer lab

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Charlie Ireland, head brewer for Smuttynose Brewing Co.'s Smuttlabs, and brand manager Mariah Scanlon hold out some cans of their new Lady Stardust craft beer.
By Max Sullivan, Hampton Union

HAMPTON, New Hampshire — Smuttynose Brewing Co.’s experimental branch Smuttlabs is making its return this week with its first new release since the creative line stopped production last year.

Lady Stardust, a New England style IPA named for one of Smuttlabs head brewer Charlie Ireland’s favorite David Bowie songs, will be introduced Saturday at 11 a.m. at the company’s campus at 105 Towle Farm Road for a brewery-exclusive release, sold in four packs of 16-ounce cans. It will be the first of what Smuttlabs hopes will be a monthly series of experimental beers sold at the facility as well as in some exclusive locations, according to Mariah Scanlon, brand manager of Smuttlabs.

Ireland, who has headed Smuttlabs since it launched in 2014, said he was always confident the experimental operation would start making beer again. The company began curtailing new releases in recent years because of financial struggles that led to the sale of Smuttynose, founder Peter Egelston said this year. New CEO Rich Lindsay has said new products would come as part of the brand’s revitalization.

“I’m really excited to get out there and be expressive with some new beers in the market,” Ireland said.

Ireland said he is a music lover and has always equated the creativity that goes into brewing with that of music. He said “Lady Stardust” is one of his favorite songs from the Bowie album “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

The beer’s flavor was chosen because Ireland said Smuttlabs had never made a New England-style IPA, the fruity flavor of which has become increasingly popular in the craft beer market. Smuttynose described Lady Stardust this week in a press release as a “delicate IPA with mild bitterness and tropical fruit aromas: pineapple, citrus, mango, and just a dash of pear.”

“It’s something we really hadn’t taken a shot at,” Ireland said. “I thought it could do well, and I wanted to go away from the traditional piney, kind of garlicky resinous hops that some people are using.”

Smuttynose on Friday will hold an exclusive preview of Lady Stardust from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. in the field behind the barn. There will also be a “Walk Among the Stardust” from 8:15 to 9 p.m. along the Smuttynose Disc Golf Course, which will end at a bonfire in the field where pints of Lady Stardust will be served, the company announced this week.

Smuttlabs was originally based in Smuttynose’s former location on Heritage Avenue in Portsmouth, but its team has worked in Smuttynose’s Hampton facility since it began working on beer ideas again earlier this year.

Ireland has been with the company for 20 years, working his way up from a job on the packaging line to being made head brewer of Smuttlabs in 2014. He said running the team is an ideal job for a creative brewer, dealing with a small production system that allows interesting ideas to be tested out in ways not possible with a larger line.

“It was kind of unbelievable when it was offered to me. I was really excited and honored,” Ireland said.

Smuttlabs beers had potential in the past to become actual Smuttynose releases, which was the case with the Rhye IPA. Scanlon said whether Smuttlabs will be used as an incubator for the Smuttynose product line is yet to be determined.

The return of Smuttlabs is one of several changes coming to Smuttynose as part of its revitalization. Scanlon said Hayseed Restaurant, located on the Hampton campus, has acquired a smoker and will soon begin serving items like brisket, pulled pork and other southern barbecue favorites.

Smuttynose is also holding several events this year in hopes of making the most of its 13-acre campus, including a bluegrass festival July 28. It will also host Yappy Hour July 18, when $1 from each beer sold between 6 and 8 p.m. will go to the New Hampshire SPCA. Customers are encouraged to bring their pets while they enjoy a beer in Hayseed’s outdoor beer garden.

Ireland said the new owners have brought excitement to Smuttynose and helped foster a “family-oriented” workplace. The company is also holding a July 17 home-brew competition among employees with teams working on beers to be judged by local brewers.

“I’m really excited to have new ownership on board. They’re great people,” Ireland said. “It’s an amazing place to work. It’s good to come here every day.”

Smuttynose was purchased by Runnymede Investments after being bought back for $8.25 million by The Provident Bank at a foreclosure auction in March. Lindsay said the focus during first couple of months since the sale was on transitional matters like vendor and customer relationships, bringing in ingredients and packaging material, but also brewing beer.

He said Smuttynose has taken steps toward a return to innovation by adding a new pilot brewing system and an aggressive new product development schedule. He said the plan is for Smuttynose to stay true to its brand while also working to “kick start innovation.”

“It’s a competitive market and will take time, but with our focus on innovation, new products and creating experiences for people to enjoy Smuttynose, we anticipate significant growth,” Lindsay said.

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