Move over, Vermont: New Hampshire is making its way onto the craft brewing scene.
The Granite State is at least in the process. While Vermont ranks first in the nation for craft breweries per capita (9.4 for every 100,000 adults over 21), New Hampshire ranks ninth. It has 4.5 breweries per capita, according to the Brewer’s Association.
Of the New England states, Maine is doing well, too – ranking fifth in the nation with 5.9 breweries per capita.
But back to New Hampshire. The Granite State may not be as saturated with craft beer as its neighbors, though it’s not for a lack of enthusiasm or hard work.
Just two weeks ago in Concord, Northwood resident Steve Bradbury opened Litherman’s Limited Brewery, one of the state’s newest breweries.
With the help from his friends at Concord Area Homebrewers, Bradbury went from basement brewer to a three-barrel operation in an industrial space on Hall Street in Concord. Bradbury and partner Michael Hauptly-Pierce already distribute to six stores and serve samples of six different beers in their small tasting room.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he said Tuesday. He added that being a part of a homebrewing club helped his business “a ton.”
It’s that type of supportive atmosphere that’s helping New Hampshire’s craft beer scene take off.
Scott Schaier of the nonprofit Brew NH said new craft breweries are opening all the time.
When Schaier looked up the current number of licensed brewers in New Hampshire, he said there were 55, 11 more than 2015. Then he looked at the breweries licensed at the federal level by Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
“Their number of approved businesses was higher by 16,” Schaier said, adding those would most likely soon become state licensed, too.
One boost to the industry was a law passed in 2014 that allowed nanobreweries to become state licensed for just $240, as long as they produced fewer than 2,000 barrels of beer each year.
And then there’s been the increasing attention to craft beer in the state.
In contrast to Vermont, Schaier said, the Granite State hasn’t been great at promoting local beer and connecting its various brewers in the past.
“People in New Hampshire tend not to be very braggy,” he said.
But Schaier and friends were sitting at a bar three years ago, wondering whether there was a way to spread the word out about locally made, locally consumed beer. Then, they sketched out a plan for their nonprofit – Brew NH – on the back of a cocktail napkin.
The organization now has a website, connects distributors, craft brewers and consumers, and keeps an eye on beer-related legislation.
“It’s one stop,” Schaier said. “There’s no way to sort of scientifically determine how much effect there is. It gets people talking, it gets people interested.”
He added, “I think that’s made a big difference. Getting the word out there is half the battle.” The beer
The other important thing, of course, is brewing the beer. When it comes to New Hampshire’s craft breweries, Schaier said, “Someone being a homebrewer is the most common denominator.”
And that’s where homebrewer clubs come in. Brew Free or Die began in 1991, and has been one of the largest and most active homebrewer clubs in the state. Based in the Manchester area, the club hosts brewing competitions, does fundraisers and, most importantly, hosts monthly meetings so members can trade sample homebrewed beer batches and give each other feedback.
Brew Free or Die’s president, Mike Rego, said the club’s membership – at 150 active members – has grown by about 50 percent over the past decade. And in the time since it began, several members have turned their hobby into a business.
“The homebrewing scene has really contributed a lot to those breweries that have popped up,” Rego said. He cautioned that not every brewery makes high quality beer, but those that can afford quality assurance can.
One example is Great North Aleworks, a Manchester brewery that opened last fall. Owners Rob and Lisa North joined Brew Free or Die after they moved into a house in Manchester, and it was then that they wanted to take what was originally a hobby for Rob to the next level.
“My wife and I looked at each other and asked, ‘Why aren’t we trying to support ourselves with what fills us with passion?’ ” Rob said Tuesday. He left his job in information technology in 2012, worked as an assistant brewer in Newburyport, Mass., and then the couple put together a business plan for their own craft brewery.
They now have a staff of six plus one part-timer (including a quality assurance manager), make three year-round brews plus seasonal beers, and run a tasting room in their industrial park property. They brew about 60 barrels of beer each week, and through an agreement with Amoskeag Beverages, distribute to about 300 stores in cans and 120 places on tap.
“Brew Free or Die helped to spark what would eventually become a business,” Rob said.Working together
Rob North said in general, everyone in the industry encourages and lends help to emerging, homegrown breweries. As they opened Great North Aleworks, he said other, already-established businesses gave advice, lent equipment, shared distributing accounts and even sometimes ingredients.
“I guess the big thing we’ve found is the craft brewing community is really tight knit and we typically help each other out,” Rob said.
Ed Ramshaw, the founder and president of the Concord Area Homebrewers group, said Tuesday that’s because craft breweries are still emerging and are trying to carve their place in the beer industry.
Nationally, craft beer comprised just 12 percent of beer sales in 2015, according to the Brewer’s Association.
Ramshaw’s group makes an effort to bring homebrewers – and beer fans, too – from all across New England together with an annual brewing jamboree, which will take place for the 20th year in a row this fall.
“Rather than looking at it as competing with one another, we see what’s good for you is good for me,” Ramshaw said. “You don’t see that in many industries out there.”
That’s perhaps due to the nature of beer, which tends to pull people together, Ramshaw said. “Beer is sort of everyone’s friend,” he said.
In that spirit, Great North Aleworks will be participating in a tasting event at Barb’s Beer Emporium on Route 106 in Concord on Thursday. The tasting will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306,email@example.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)