Thanks in a large part to the Brewers Association’s seemingly timeless “Support Your Local Brewery” sticker, the concept of local beer is the backbone of recent interest in craft beer. With nearly 5,000 breweries in the US, almost everyone can enjoy a locally-brewed beer. To many people, distance between a brewery and the drinker defines local beer even though everyone seems to have their own metric.
In New Hampshire we’re lucky to have some breweries that are taking the local concept further by sourcing beer ingredients from the fields of New Hampshire and New England.
All beer is a magical combination of malted barley, hops, water, and yeast, but the vast majority of malting barley comes from a just a few growing regions. In North America, these fields are largely found in the Canadian prairies and in the northern Great Plains of the US- not exactly close to New Hampshire.
Valley Malt, one of America’s first craft maltsters, is driven by a sustainable, local-centric vision, began selling their own malt in 2010. The Hadley, MA-based operation has been malting barley from New England farms and steadily growing their production and customer base by improving quality and building relationships with their farmer-partners. They’ve led the charge back towards local brewing agriculture, which we in NH are grateful for.
Many breweries around the Granite State use these largely organic, direct-from-the-farm sourced malts, but none more than Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, NH. Founders Annette Lee and Nicole Carrier clearly articulate their vision of regionally-sourced, regionally-consumed beer that has taken root at Hobbs Farm. Throwback’s beers range from 65%-100% local or regional malt, which they define as within a 200-mile radius of the brewery. Interestingly, Carrier and Valley Malt co-founder Andrea Stanley are cousins who share this vision locally-grown, locally-brewed beer.
Despite a rich history of hops growing in the northeast, only recently have small farms and alliances sprung up to meet some of the demand for local hops. Some of the smallest breweries in the state could probably source all their hops from regional sources or dealing directly with small farms, but the New England hops industry still has a way to go to reach the scale of its malted counterpart. That hasn’t stopped brewers from taking things into their own hands.
Canterbury Ale Works has its own hops yard which exists to provide this one-barrel nano-brewery with “hops security” while also serving as a varietal incubator for test plantings of some wild, New England-native varieties. Brewer-Owner Steve Allman even built his own brewhouse, that’s powered by water and fired by wood. It’s one of the more unique beer spots in the state and definitely worth a visit. Allman said it himself in an interview with NHPR earlier in the year; “I feel compelled to do everything myself.” The 3/4-acre yard has plenty of capacity to fill and Allman estimates it’ll be near that for 2017’s harvest.
There’s no better time to experience the beauty of humulus lupus than late August through late September, when hop harvest beers take their momentary time in the spotlight. These rare beers feature freshly-picked, undried “wet” hops added right into the brew kettle from the hop vine as quickly as possible. This unusual approach packs in juicy, fresh hop flavors that are lost during the drying process that virtually all hops undergo. Wet-hopping turns your hops to 11! The seasonal technique takes much more planning than simply going to your refrigerator to fetch a new box of hops. Brewers have a narrow window in which to make these beers and several choose to bring the entire operation in house.
Flying Goose Brew Pub in New London grows hops on site and hosts an annual hop picking party- a beer geek’s dream day mixed with a ribbon of Tom Sawyer-labor sharing. Participants pick the hop cones, while brewer Rik Marley gets the brew underway. Hop pickers are treated to lunch, a private brewery tour and question-and-answer time with Marley, one of the most charismatic brewers in the state. While the event is kept small for space considerations, any legal-age beer drinkers can enjoy the fruits of the vine in Full Blown Home Grown, a light-bodied wheat and spelt based beer, starting the last week of September exclusively at the brewpub. Tuckerman (Conway) and Throwback also have their own hop yards.
Craft beer is full of words that describe a process that has been harnessed by humans for millenia. The purpose of this blog isn’t to cast some approaches as better than others, or to create a hierarchy of what you should or shouldn’t be drinking. We just want to highlight some of the more unique approaches to brewing a truly unique New Hampshire beer.