Chris Shea is busy. The lone brewer at Henniker Brewing Company is pulling double-duty on a recent Tuesday, brewing two batches of beer in a day that has him at the brewery from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later. During time he’s set aside to talk by phone to a Globe reporter, an air compressor turns on and hisses in the background, sending Shea scrambling to shut it off.
“Lots going on today,” he says.
Shea is busy because the 15-barrel brewery, located in Henniker, N.H., is churning out more beer than ever, beer proudly displayed on the brewery’s website as being made “in the only Henniker on earth.” Shea came to this small town west of Concord two years ago after working at Morgan St. Brewery in St. Louis. Most of Henniker’s recipes are Shea’s own. The brewery opened operations in December 2012.
The company’s most prominent brands are the Working Man’s Porter, an English-style dark ale, Hop Slinger IPA, and Whipple’s Wheat, an American-style wheat ale. The beer is named after William Whipple Jr., who signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Hampshire way back when beer was safer to drink than water.
I sampled Whipple’s Wheat this week from a growler poured at the brewery. American Wheat Ales are an evolving style. Shea dry-hops this one “with a blend of citrusy American hops.”
“Dry-hopped wheats are a style that’s developing,” says Shea. “I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional German wheat beers.”
The beer pours cloudy and the color of natural honey, which makes sense given the brew is unfiltered. It’s got a nice lemony nose. When trying the brew I made a note to ask Shea about the kind of yeast he used, because I didn’t detect the banana flavors so prominent in Belgian and German wheat beers. Whipple’s Wheat was brewed with an American ale yeast, Shea confirmed.
The first sip reveals juicy orange. It’s sweet but not cloying, a hint of spice preceding a nice, wet finish. It’s like drinking fresh-squeezed without the pulp. This is really nice, one of my favorite wheat beers to date because the yeast doesn’t overpower. I shared the beer with my wife on our first afternoon on the back porch this season.
Henniker will remain a local brewery for the foreseeable future. The beer is currently distributed only in New Hampshire, but Henniker is in negotiations with Pine State Beverages to enter the state of Maine, and could eventually expand to the rest of New England.
“If there was a market in New Hampshire that could take up all of our beer I would totally do it,” says Shea. “It’s been good. People are starting to recognize us.”
Henniker’s tap room (129 Centervale Road, Henniker, N.H., 603-428-3579) is open for growler fills, tours, and tastings Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
World Beer Cup winners announced
The 2014 World Beer Cup named winners last week in one of the largest commercial beer competitions to date. The contest saw 4,754 entries from 1,403 breweries representing 58 countries. It was a 21 percent increase in the number of entries from the 2012 World Beer Cup, which had 3,921 entries.
A panel of judges worked in teams to conduct blind tasting evaluations of the beers and determine the awards. Beers were judged within categories. As you might expect given the commercial popularity of the style, the American-Style India Pale Ale category had the most entries with 223. The winner of the gold medal in that crowded space was Hop, Drop ’n Roll from Charlotte, N.C.’s NoDa Brewing Co.
Two Massachusetts breweries were among the 253 that took home prizes. Cambridge Brewing Company earned a bronze in the Specialty Beer category with Le Saisonniere, a Grisette-style Saison. Framingham’s Jack’s Abby won gold in the Baltic-Style Porter category with its Framinghammer and bronze in the German-Style Dopplebock category for Saxonator. In addition, Vermont’s The Alchemist, makers of the wildly popular Heady Topper, received bronze in the American-Style Imperial Stout category for Beelzebub.