Sunday, June 14, 2009

Smuttynose Brewing Builds its Dream House - Part 2 - Early Explorations

One afternoon is the summer of 1995 or '96, my ex-partner Paul Murphy and I drove across town from Heritage Avenue to Islington street and, armed with flashlights and screwdrivers, let ourselves into a vacant mill building with a key that had been lent to us by the building's owner, Joe Sawtelle. We had been warned to beware of rotten floorboards in the upper floors, so we trod very carefully through what appeared to be a 35,000 square foot pigeon coop. (And yes, there are baby pigeons - we saw lots of them that day.)

Although Smuttynose Brewing was still in its infancy - our production was just a few thousand barrels a year- and we did not distribute outside of New Hampshire - the microbrewery segment of the beer industry had experienced explosive growth from the mid-eighties through the mid-nineties, and we were already wondering if we'd need to seek out new digs before long. How Mr. Sawtelle knew that, I have no idea, but he contacted us and encouraged us to look over his building at 1001 Islington, which he said he'd sell for $500,000. But although it was fun to fantasize about building a new facility in an old mill located a stone's throw from downtown Portsmouth, common sense told us that the time was not right and we did not pursue the idea any further than a few self-guided tours through the musty old hulk of a building. Eric Chinburg purchased the building shortly thereafter and converted it into a very nice apartment complex.

Around the same time, we were contacted by the owner of the old Frank Jones brewery buildings, which were located a bit further down Islington Street. This complex of late 19th-century buildings had housed until recently Schultz's hot dog factory. The Schultzes where looking for potential new users for some or all of these buildings and thought we might fit into their plans to revitalize what they called Schultz's Brew Yard. Though the romance of relocating our brewery into the remnants of the historic Frank Jones Brewery was appealing, we did not give it serious consideration, given the magnitude of such a project. Ten years later, in 2005, we would take another look at the same buildings, which had recently been sold on auction and still remained vacant (and still are). But in the interim we had turned our focus to surviving the brutal shakeout that hit the craft beer business in the late nineties. In the meantime, finding a new home for Smuttynose Brewing would have to wait.

In the next post, I'll write about our exploration of the mills in Newmarket. As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Peter:

    This is an interesting read... I was just wondering the other day whether the project had been completed. Wishful thinking on my part I see.

    I look forward to reading more about your progress.