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For many of us on the East Coast, Smuttynose beer is a standby. Dave Yarrington and his crew make dependably delicious beers in a number of different styles. I'm thrilled to welcome Dave to Serious Eats—he's got some wise things to say about craft beer and some exciting news about some possible new large-format beer releases!
Name: Dave Yarrington
Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Occupation: Director of Brewing Operations, Smuttynose Brewing Co.
What was the first beer you ever tasted? When did you start drinking craft beer? I'm not sure what the first beer I tried might have been, but I do remember that whenever Pop brought Michelob home you knew the folks were celebrating—Michelob being obviously synonymous with quality because it was made with imported hops.
I started drinking craft beer—or to be historically accurate, microbrewed beer (seems so antiquated when you see that term used now, eh?)—as an undergraduate in Maine. I went to Colby College and we used to drink Geary's Pale Ale and Porter a bit. It wasn't until a cross-country trip in 1991 when we toured several small breweries, including Anchor Brewing, that I really started to enjoy and understand the glory that is fresh, well-made beer.
How did you learn to brew? When did you know you wanted to make beer professionally? I ended up home brewing the last couple years of college but it wasn't until I started working at the Twenty Tank Brewery in San Francisco that I really figured out what I was doing. I think the fact that we started our brew day around 10 a.m. and then headed to the bar for a post-mash-in pint, that my fate as a professional brewer was sealed. I mean, come on! Sign me up, right?
How would you describe your brewing style? If you had to pick a favorite Smuttynose beer, which would it be? I lived in Japan for a while and one of the great aspects of Japanese culture is the idea of Wabi Sabi, which I think encompasses my brewing style quite well. Here's a definition lifted right from Wikipedia:
if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi...[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
I guess you could translate it as New England Rustic: solid and well-made but a bit rough around the edges. With that in mind, my favorite Smuttynose beers are the ones that work despite some aspect being out of balance, some flavor component being skewed. I love the way the crystal and caramel malts in the Shoals Pale Ale play off of each other. It creates a unique, almost tea-like quality. I like the hopping in the Robust Porter as it brings a strange harmony to a gorgeous black beer. I really like the subtle malt character in the IPA. It's almost not enough and that makes that beer so damn drinkable.
Can you tell us a bit about the Short Batch series? What sorts of beers are you experimenting with? The Short Batch Series are draft-only releases that allow us to offer one-off beers that don't require the full range of packaging accoutrement. It allows us the freedom to play with recipes, ingredients and techniques without the need for repeatability or, in some cases, even the need for commercial viability.
What Big Beers will we see in late 2010 and early 2011? The next few Big Beers will be S'Muttonator, Baltic Porter, and then Wheat Wine.
What are your favorite Smuttynose beer and food pairings? I've been really enamored with beer and cheese pairings. One of my favorite being our Barleywine matched with a blue cheese so stinky it'll peel your eyebrows clear off. Beautiful. (The pairing, not the loss of eyebrows.)
What are your favorite non-Smuttynose brews? If I'm not drinking Smuttynose I'm probably living the High Life.
What's coming up for Smuttynose? What will we see in the coming months and over the next year? We're looking into releasing some of our Short Batch Series and barrel-aged beers into cork-finished 750ml bottles. Also, look for more kettle-soured beers like the Rouge d'Shire.
What do you think is the future of craft beer in the US? I think you need to look at the larger trend of local, fresh foods and products. Will we stop eating warm crusty bread baked each morning at the corner shop and start picking up more loaves of Wonder Bread? Will we stop heading to the local coffee shop because we really crave Maxwell House? I guess some people will. I mostly feel like we're moving past the "As Seen on TV" phase of purchasing trends and buying items that resonate on a more personal and tangible level. If I'm correct, then craft beer has a great future. If not, it's at least been a hell of a ride.