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The Job Interview: Henniker Brewery seeks to make its mark in New England

  • Chase Hand moves a case of freshly bottled IPA to a refrigerated storage room at Henniker Brewing Company;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)

    Chase Hand moves a case of freshly bottled IPA to a refrigerated storage room at Henniker Brewing Company; Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • General Manager Dave Currier (right) talks with  Danny Walsh at The Henniker Brewing Company's production room;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)

    General Manager Dave Currier (right) talks with Danny Walsh at The Henniker Brewing Company's production room; Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Head Brewer James Moriarty (left) watches as Chase Hand moves a bottle filled with India Pale Ale to a machine that will cap it at The Henniker Brewing Company;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)

    Head Brewer James Moriarty (left) watches as Chase Hand moves a bottle filled with India Pale Ale to a machine that will cap it at The Henniker Brewing Company; Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A tag indicates that a storage tank is filled with Amber Apparition Ale at Henniker Brewing Company bottles;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)

    A tag indicates that a storage tank is filled with Amber Apparition Ale at Henniker Brewing Company bottles; Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Chase Hand moves a case of freshly bottled IPA to a refrigerated storage room at Henniker Brewing Company;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)
  • General Manager Dave Currier (right) talks with  Danny Walsh at The Henniker Brewing Company's production room;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)
  • Head Brewer James Moriarty (left) watches as Chase Hand moves a bottle filled with India Pale Ale to a machine that will cap it at The Henniker Brewing Company;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)
  • A tag indicates that a storage tank is filled with Amber Apparition Ale at Henniker Brewing Company bottles;  Wednesday, February 20, 2013.  <br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor Staff)

For the past several months, in an icy, nondescript warehouse at the outskirts of Henniker, David Currier and three burly young men have been building what they hope will one day be a pillar of the New England beer industry. Their fledgling venture, Henniker Brewing Co., opened its doors earlier this year, and is now routinely churning out 491-gallon batches of dark, bubbly ale.

Currier, who owns the building and started the business last year after his medical supply company relocated out of state, is a newcomer to the American craft brewing scene. But he has moved to balance his inexperience by hiring James Moriarty, a veteran local brewer, to head his production team. The company has already developed two signature beers – an amber ale and an Indian pale ale, or IPA – and plans to introduce additional varieties in the future. Each variety will have a character and story attached to it, Currier said. The IPA, for instance, is named Hop Slinger, after a fictionalized Civil War sergeant who was forced to discharge wads of hops when his regiment ran out of cannon balls.

The facility currently houses 15 barrels and has the capacity to produce approximately 982 gallons of beer each day, according to Currier.

Currier, who is also a former Henniker selectman and state legislator, recently sat down to describe the operation and his vision for its future.

What was your experience with beer-making prior to this?

I enjoyed a cold beer, obviously, but the thing was I didn’t know a lot about the actual manufacturing of beer. My manufacturing experience was all in first-aid kits and spinal immobilization products. I jokingly tell people that I went from Band-Aids to beer.

What prompted you to start the business then?

I needed to figure out something to do with the space. A group of us was talking about different options, and we thought about the beer thing. When you look at the demographics of New Hampshire, the Seacoast has a lot of brew pubs – Portsmouth Brewery, Smuttynose, Redhook – but there’s nothing between Concord and Keene. The

closest brew pub is in New London, and there isn’t one in Concord – which is surprising to me. So there’s not a lot of direct competition.

What is your long-term vision for the brewery?

We’re concentrating on New Hampshire right now. And then we’ll decide about expansion into Massachusetts and other surrounding states. We want to be a New England player, basically the six regional states and possibly some of New York.

What has been the hardest part about starting this?

It’s a very time-consuming process because, for instance, to launch a spring seasonal beer . . . well some of the spring beers are already in the market now. You think to yourself, “Alright, well, it takes up to 30 days to get TTB (Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau) approval, because every label has to be approved by the feds and the state.” To be sure you’re not wasting time you really have to research out what you’re doing and how you’re applying for various licensing and approvals.

What about the biggest surprise?

I never realized how much science there was in terms of making beer. It’s a big chemistry set out there now. Bacteria is your worst enemy when making beer, so we’re constantly cleaning stuff. Also, when the (brew) tanks got here I thought we would be ready to brew. I didn’t realize all the plumbing it was going to take, plus the electrical.

Are you getting any advice or help from other brewers?

Oh yeah. The one thing I’ve been amazed at in this industry, it’s like everybody loves to talk about the process of making beer. And part of that is people want to make sure nobody is making bad beer. And so they want to make sure no one is getting off on the wrong foot and that you’re doing things right. The brewers are a very close-knit organization. I’ve felt very warmly welcomed into this business. And it’s been great learning from people who have been in the industry, and I’m talking everyone from home brewers to major players like JT Thompson at Smuttynose.

Where can people find your beer?

This is the problem, because I’m getting that question every day but we haven’t gotten the first depletion report from our distributor yet, so we basically have no clue. We do know it’s at some places – Barb’s Beer Emporium and Penuche’s, the Meat House and the Barley House in Concord.

Has your background in local politics helped you pass the usual startup hurdles, such as licensing and inspections?

You know, I think knowing the system and knowing how to maneuver in the system definitely has not hurt. I don’t think I had an advantage compared to anyone else, but just knowing the licensing and the red-tape procedures . . . everything has just gone really smooth. That’s probably also due to the fact that the building already existed.

Now that the business is up and running, are you happy you decided to do it?

Yeah, you know there have been a couple of points when it was a little questionable, like our wastewater treatment facility was $165,000 over budget. When you take a big gulp like that you start questioning yourself. But, of course, you’re at a point by then where there just isn’t any turning back. And the thing is, because we did it the way we did it, we have a (treatment) system that is large enough to handle future growth.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319 or
jblackman@cmonitor.com.)

The Apparition Ale is great! Had some at Daniel's last week.

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