CT Beer Trail

Craft Beer as Tribalism: A Conversation With Smuttynose Brewing Company's Joe Grotto

Re-posted from my blog: Malted Musings.

Every Tuesday Eli Cannon's Taproom in Middletown, CT holds beer tastings where beer brands are poured and represented by the actual people responsible for their production! Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Joe Grotto, the Area Sales Manager for Smuttynose Brewing Company.

Smutty Nose Brewing Company is a leading craft brewery located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The philosophy behind their beer has always been to brew a well-balanced, clean beer. This isn't to say that they brew weak beer or focus on "easy-drinkability" (although drinkablity does naturally follow a good, clean beer); for instance their "flagship" (or at least one of their top-sellers) is Old Brown Dog Ale, which is clean, dry, a little sweet, and an impressive 6.7%! 
The Old Brown Dog herself! (Courtesy: Smuttynose Brewing Co.)

Even though it is a bigger beer, says Grotto, the Old Brown Dog is very drinkable as it is well balanced and focuses on a cleanliness of taste, not just a big, brutish brew. Even their bigger IPA is brisk and lively, but evens off nicely with fruity hop notes that counter-act the bitterness and ground the beer to an even, clean aftertaste. 

One of my first questions was regarding the Smuttynose logo, which prominently features an image of a harbor seal. When asked about this, Grotto nodded, grinned and replied that's because the pictured seals are everywhere near the brewery. Close by to Portsmouth are the Isles of Shoals. This collection of islands serve as inspiration for much that goes into Smuttynose's beer. One reference to the Isles are these seals who call the Isles of Shoals home, and whose likeness adorn every bottle. Another reference is the name of the brewery: Smuttynose is actually the name of one of the Isles. Grotto explains that this personal, local connection is very important to the brewery. The dog on the Old Brown Dog's label is Olive, the owner's dog! Most of the other labels also feature people who work at the brewery or are extended family members. This keeps the beer closely connected to its home no matter how far it may roam beyond New Hampshire.  
The logo! (Courtesy: Smuttynose Brewing Company)

As Smuttynose is a small business, it has the opportunity to help out any causes or charities that are near and dear to its employee's hearts. Grotto, for instance, plays in a heavy metal band and has played for charity events, and had Smuttynose sponsor a variety of giving outreaches that he has taken part in. Some employees are runners or cyclists, and Smuttynose has sponsored marathons and other such events in turn. This leads to another key Smuttynose philosophy- which is to embrace the fact that craft beer has many tribes. As Grotto explains it, beer brings people of like-minds together, and those like-minded people use beer at an adhesive for their group. Whether its sports fans drinking light beer and watching the game, grease-monkeys working on a garage project and then kicking back with a cold one, musicians drinking after the gig, or beer nerds hanging out at their favorite beer bar: beer brings people together in meaningful ways. It's this tribalism that Smuttynose embraces, according to Grotto, and that's why Smuttynose focuses on community connection and embracing their employees' different interests and passions. 

Smuttynose was founded in 1994 and has since spread to 19 states. Though this is impressive, Grotto  says that Smuttynose has no real desire to move beyond the east coast. Local is good, says Grotto, and that's kind of the whole reasoning behind Smuttynose. Local beer keeps costs down and keeps beer fresher. That being said they are moving to a huge new brewery soon, which will enable them to put out even more limited releases and seasonals at a very affordable price point! 
For reference, a real (cute) harbor seal. (Courtesy: Wikipedia.org)

Smuttynose is multiple-award winning and has been featured in the New York Times and even in Wine Enthusiast. I find their philosophies are very appealing to me, as I too love local outreach and find the whole "beer tribe" idea a fascinating new way to look at the communities that surround craft beer. If you want more information on Smuttynose check out their website, or check out their blog here for more information on their big new Hampton brewery. Also, be looking forward to the next Eli Cannon's pouring event: Dogfish Head! JD (the bar manager) has some tasty ideas in store that involve Dogsfish Head's Chicory Stout, coffee, vanilla bean, and Werther's Originals. Stop in Tuesday at 7 to experience it all for yourselves! Be sure to follow me on on BloggerTwitter, and Facebook and stay current with all the beer happenings you could ask for.

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