Re-Imagining Smuttynose Brewing Company
Boston, MA - It’s been a rough year for Smuttynose Brewing Company. After being purchased by New Jersey-based Provident Bank earlier in March for approximately $8.25 Million at a foreclosure auction, the 25 year old brewery was sold one week later to venture capital firm Runnymede Investments. And while the New Hampshire-based brewery has always maintained a reputation as being one of the early pioneers in craft brewing, it cited many of the same factors facing midsize beer manufacturers nationally as a predominant reason for its foreclosure; market oversaturation (particularly from small batch brewers) and a lack of growth in craft beer sales.
When Rich Lindsay, former Controller for Boston Beer Company (a company these days only marginally connected to craft brewing) took over as CEO for Smuttynose earlier this year, few knew what to expect. With a resume that included stints as CEO of the Everett-based Night Shift Brewing and the Hudson Valley, NY-based Tuthill Spirits Distillery, he certainly could prove adept at steering the fine line between artisanal and mass craft breweries; but that same resume also included periods as CFO of a midsized pharmaceutical firm and an electronics manufacturer. Hardly a beer-centric C.V. to turn around a struggling company.
Smuttynose earned its reputation early on in the microbrew revolution by capitalizing on the big trends during the late ‘90s—overtly hoppy IPAs, Brown ales and Porters. Bold tasting beers which made for a bold new entry into the market. Bold tasting beers that managed to land no small share of awards at numerous international beer festivals.
But something happened in towards the end of the last decade. The micros had gone macro. And a whole new generation of start up brewing concerns were waging their own revolution, producing limited batch runs of brew types in a plethora of styles. Saisons grew into vogue. As did cask ales. Barleywines. Kölsch. The rise of pop-up-breweries. Taproom only direct-to-consumer offerings. Suddenly, midsize companies were no longer sufficient to meet the growing palate of craft brew advocates, who gleefully chastised the once beloved Smuttynose as a step above Vermont’s Magic Hat (as Forbes once dubbed it, “a gateway beer for college kids.”)
While Lindsay is hedging his bets that there will always be room in the collective fridge of local consumers for flagship standards like Old Brown Dog and Shoals Pale Ale, Smuttynose has introduced a new line of seasonal and offbeat styles to meet the increasingly non-conventional tastes of the national beer market. Blackberry sours. Wheat wine ales. Cinnamon plum sours. Lupulin based IPAs. And, intriguingly enough, a Mexican stout brewed with cinnamon, vanilla, cacao and ghost pepper which might even have the most ardent anti-stout advocates reevaluating their stance (yes, our hands are raised).
“The market for beverages has really gone experimental, it’s gone local, and it’s gone new,” said Lindsay. “People are doing a lot more sharing. They’re continuing to pick beverages for occasions, which they’ve always done, but even more so now thinking of, ‘Who am I going to share this with? Does this need to be a talking point?’ That dynamic works against brands that have built a pretty loyal following over time.”