Star Island Beer labelSmuttynose offers a new local brew

March 24, 2009 6:00 AM

By Rachel Forrest

PORTSMOUTH — In a city where hundreds line up for a release of the Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout, a new brew from its sister beer crafter Smuttynose Brewery is also an exciting event.

No one will have to get in line at 5 a.m. to buy this one, however, because the Star Island Single is a full-time beer that will be around for quite some time. But, in order to make room for the new brew, something had to go. After 11 years, Portsmouth Lager is all tapped out.

“It’s an old friend,” said Peter Egelston, owner of the Smuttynose Brewery and the Portsmouth Brewery. “I’ll miss being able to order one at the brew pub. It’s been a hard one for us. We’ve always liked that beer. At beer festivals it’s usually the most popular beer we serve and it’s popular in the brewery. It’s always been well-received.”

Egelston said it was a challenge to figure out why the beer didn’t sell as much as brewery staff thought it would over the years.

“Maybe it’s the image — the lobster buoy on the barn door didn’t tell the story,” he said. “But I do think lager beers tend to have an uphill battle in the world of craft beers.”

Other factors like hometown branding might also have been a factor, Egelston said.

“We tried to identify it with our hometown, but it wasn’t an easy sell,” he said. “New Hampshire has a history of shooting itself in the foot — it’s separated into little fiefdoms: the White Mountains, the Monadnock region, the Seacoast. It’s difficult to market.”

Egelston said the new Star Island Single reflects the growing awareness of the convergence of two trends in the beer world: a growing awareness of Belgian beers and some hip packaging, which will help get the word out that this new beer should be noticed.

“We saw the pendulum swinging hard toward extreme beers,” he said, “but the Star Island Single is designed to be the beer to have — like the old Schaefer commercial: ‘The one beer to have when you’re having more than one.’ It’s the more user-friendly, ‘session’ beer.”

David Yarrington, executive brewer at Smuttynose Brewery, said he and his staff worked on the beer for about a year.

“We had different variations of it floating around; one was under the Blond Ale name, but we decided to go closer to the Abbey style. It’s a Belgian ale style that even if you don’t understand what it is, it’s accessible.”

Yarrington said they added a little coriander to it.

“With a great Belgian beer you should understand there’s something special about it but not quite what it is,” he said. “This has a little honey malt with the Belgian-style wheat strain.”

The team came up with packaging for the Star Island Single that reflects both the character the beer and the area. A photo of a mermaid with flaming red hair, relaxing against tall gray rocks, gazing at a golden chalice filled, one imagines, with the new brew, calls beer lovers like a siren.

“At first, we had a hard time coming up with a visual concept for the beer. We wanted to tie it to the Seacoast,” Egelston said. “Joanne (Francis), who does all the graphic design, wanted to have a mermaid and we were at the brewing conference in San Diego. We walked into a consignment shop, and the woman running the shop had this towering flaming red hair and Joanne asked her if she would model for the label.”

The woman turned out to be a model and burlesque performer called Miss Dixie von Trixie.

“She came out last June,” Egelston said, “donned a complex costume complete with fins and became the Star Island Single mermaid, flaming red hair and all.”

While Egelston said he’s sure there will be many who’ll miss the Portsmouth Lager, including himself, he hopes the new beer will be much like the vibrant new packaging.

“We hope it’s alluring,” he said.


Try the Smuttynose Brewery’s new Star Island Single at a launch party at The Press Room in Portsmouth Thursday, March 26 at 6 p.m. and on tap now at The Portsmouth Brewery.