It’s no big secret that we like beer. We pretty much do whatever we can to try to include something beer-related almost every issue, and we enjoy doing so.
That’s why it should come as no surprise that during our field trip to Henniker, we stopped by Henniker Brewing Co. to see what it was all about.
We’ve tried some HBC beers before and even reviewed some in these pages, but due to our electronic monitoring anklets we were never allowed to go visit the brewery until this very issue.
Tim set the whole thing up, then I stepped in to handle the rest, naturally. It worked out well for me because I got to learn about and drink beer.
I got there before the place opened so I could take my time asking questions without keeping the staff away from customers, and I was immediately impressed with how it looked. Everywhere I looked I saw natural wood, and it felt very rustic. The high ceilings gave it a nice, open feel, and the dozens of empty growler bottles above the bar really added some character.
I met marketing director Ryan Maiola, who showed me around the tasting room pointing out some of its features. One wall is lined with shelving full of products related to beer (such as beer hot mustard, beer bread mix, beer jelly), mostly made by other local companies. There’s also some general merchandise and, of course, actual beer.
As he showed me around the room, Maoila told me the brewery hosts a couple big events each year, one as a summer kick-off and another as an Oktoberfest. They close off the parking lot and invite local musicians and food vendors to join the party, and they open the garage door in the tasting room.
“We had about 800 people last time,” Maiola said.
Once I was acquainted with the tasting room, I was led out back to where all the magic happens.
The first stop was the storage cooler. All of the Henniker Brewing Co. product not in stores or restaurants/bars lives here, and it’s a sight any beer fan would drool over – cases upon cases of cans, kegs upon kegs.
We then left the cooler and walked over toward the area where the brewing takes place, a sight that calls Walter White’s lab to mind (only there’s no illicit drug-making going on here).
Giant metal tanks and other contraptions, hoses and valves and gauges and instruments were aplenty, and head brewer Devin Bush knew all about it.
When I met Bush, he was emptying liquid from a big metal tank into a bucket.
“I’m transferring the beer to package and carbonate it,” he informed me. Next to the tanks is a big assembly line-looking machine that handles this task. Empty cans get filled with beer, which is then injected with CO2 for carbonation. Then they get a date stamp so you know when it’s good until, and finally a cap goes on top.
“Cans are better for the beer than bottles,” Maiola said. Cans don’t let in any light, and they often seal tighter than bottles, meaning canned beer stays fresh longer than it does in a transparent or translucent bottle.
The whole time I was back there, there was a noticeable hissing noise coming from somewhere, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
“That’s the sanitizer,” Bush said. One of the brite tanks, where the beer goes to achieve its light color, was being rinsed out with a sanitizing machine. The liquid spraying all over the inside of the otherwise hollow tank accounted for that hissing sound.
After every batch, Bush said, the tanks must be fully rinsed and sanitized before anything else goes in. Cleanliness is a priority in a business like this, as one little impurity can ruin hundreds of gallons of beer.
“Basically, a brewer is a glorified janitor,” said Bush, who started at Henniker Brewing Co. about five months ago.
Luckily, though, there haven’t been any contamination issues yet.
“Devin keeps it so clean, so we haven’t had any problems,” Maiola said.
After the tour – which the brewery offers at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and can be scheduled online – it was on to the fun part: tasting.
The brewery usually has seven beers on tap at one time – four year-rounders and three seasonals or “Off the Grid” beers, which are made in small batches once a year – though they sold out of kegs of The Roast so mine was poured from a can instead. I got one 4-ounce taster of everything: Amber Apparition, Hop Slinger, Working Man’s Porter, Miles & Miles, Damn Sure (new) and The Roast.
Each one was exceptional and quite different from one another. My favorites were the porter, the amber and The Roast, a coffee stout – yes, I chose three favorites.
I really enjoyed the Damn Sure, a double IPA, as well as the Hop Slinger and the Miles & Miles, but my palate jived the best with the other three.
Bush and Maiola brought me some of the raw materials – pellet hops and a few types of malt – to inspect and try while I sipped my beers. I ate the malts and they had a nice, crunchy texture and a kind of corny and toasty taste. I could tell the difference between each type, and I could see how the beers got their flavors this way.
While we were sipping away, I asked about all the different non-HBC growlers over the bar. They told me about the growler-exchange program they have, in which people can bring in an empty growler from another brewery and trade it for an empty Henniker one. They started it about three years ago and it’s really taken off – nobody has counted, but there’s probably more than 100 up there.
Cool stuff like that is just what Henniker Brewing Co. is all about. Go to hennikerbrewing.com to set up a tour or learn more.