What’s Cooking at Wachusett Brewing Company?
Founded in 1993, Wachusett Brewing Company is the second largest packaging brewery in Massachusetts. Harpoon Brewery in Boston is the biggest, and Boston Beer Works — the company that produces Samuel Adams — does not package its products in Massachusetts. Wachusett is a town-centric brewery that packages over 250,000 cases each year, with nearly all of it being distributed in Massachusetts (and they prefer it that way).
Trying to find Wachusett beer is not an easy task. They have always stuck to their roots in the Northeast, more specifically in Massachusetts, where 99% of their product is sold. Luckily, my beer store here in South Jersey grabbed some of their Octoberfest and Winter Ale. Both were a real treat.
I recently caught up with Dave Howard (Howie), head brewer at Wachusett, to get the inside scoop on everything from how Wachusett has survived all these years to the current hop shortage and the 2009 Hometown Brewer Series.
Howie first started working with Wachusett in April, 1995 and has been a vital part of their success ever since. He spent many of his days in Portland, ME and could often be found at Gritty McDuff’s. When he decided that he wanted to hone his home brew skills (and actually use his closets for something other than fermenting buckets), he contacted Kevin Buckler and later that fall, was volunteering at the brewery filling growlers.
Fed up with corporate America and extremely interested in the science of brewing beer, Howie took immediately to the engineering focus that has made Wachusett so special. Although he admittedly took a pay cut, he was happy with his choice and for once in his life, looked forward to going to work.
The unique entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity on which Wachusett was founded, is still alive and well. Howie recalls a story from a few years ago where Kevin somehow got his hands on an old bottling line from Pennsylvania. He was amazed at how quickly it was up and running as if it were always there. In fact, it is this Yankee ingenuity that has helped Wachusett do so much with so little. They’ve custom-designed and built a $50K mash tun for right around $8K, converting it from an old shrimp processing kettle. They also have a 120 barrel copper brewery originally from Germany up the street from their main location and hope to get that up and running within the next few years as they continue to expand brewing operations.
Howie has always tried to design beers that he likes to drink. For the most part, he keeps it simple and because he does not do small test batches, he sticks to traditional styles and flavors so there is very little waste. Howie admits that after so many years of doing it this way, he knows what will work and what is more of a gamble. His past successes, like Wachusett’s flagship Blueberry wheat beer, have afforded him the ability to have complete control over designing new beers.
Some recent variations include everything from a vanilla porter, to a wet-hopped Cascade ale and even some unfiltered cask beers. He loves using oak spirals too because they can give you a complex oak taste in just a few short weeks. Howie also talked about the possibility of doing their Octoberfest as a lager this year. We will keep our fingers crossed on this one.
With so many horror stories about finding hops last year, Wachusett has been pretty fortunate when it comes to the hop shortage in America. Howie’s strong relationships with hop producers has proven to be worthwhile. And although the prices have spiked, so far Howie has been lucky enough to get the quantities he needs to keep Wachusett busy. His secret: getting his order in quickly for the entire year. He also added that it is a good idea to have backup styles in the event you cannot get enough of a hop variety to brew a particular style.
During my interview with Howie, I also learned that 2009 marks the 250th Anniversary of Westminster, home to Wachusett Brewing Company, and was the original inspiration for their Hometown Brewery Series that began appearing in late 2008. It is Wachusett’s “payback” to the people and the community that have been so important to their growth and success. You can find these limited draft-only beers at one of their largest accounts, Wachusett Ski Mountain, or if you are lucky enough, at your local bistro or beer bar. Did I mention it helps to live in Massachusetts? Finally, Howie mentioned that as of last week, they began releasing new sampler packs. You have to check the box labels to see what is included, but the plan is to continue with new variety packs throughout 2009.
TheFullPint.com would like to thank Howie for his time and wachusett brewing company for being a member of the Full Pint
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