Chris Shea got into his business like, he says, any good brewer.
“By drinking,” he said, cracking only the smallest smile.
Shea is the head brewer at Henniker Brewing Co., which will mark the anniversary of its first barrels of beer next month. He’s one of just five people at the operation, just five local guys running a local brewery, just trying to build a visible brand with an almost nonexistent advertising budget.
“We can’t really put billboards up, like [rollinglinks]‘Drink our beer[/rollinglinks],’ ” Shea said. “It’s really by word of mouth and driving around the state and shaking hands and letting people know who we are.”
The brewery should cap 700 barrels this year, Shea said, though they hope to work their way up to between 5,000 and 7,000 barrels a year in a few years. Seven hundred barrels is a small number compared with some other craft breweries in the area, but that figure is a big deal to five guys trying to convince everyone they meet that Henniker Brewing makes some really good beer.
“At the beginning for every small [rollinglinks]brewery[/rollinglinks], that’s a very difficult thing to do, especially when we’re not making[rollinglinks] really sexy beer[/rollinglinks],” Shea said. “We’re not doing barrel-aged, 12-percent, sour-gin beers. We’re making adult, human-being, drinking-person beers. Like really, really high-quality, six-pack beers that are just more interesting, more thoughtful, than what most people are used to. It’s hard because we don’t get the beer blogs and nerds writing us because who’s going to write about a porter?
“But they haven’t had my porter.”
Henniker Brewing formed in 2011, when longtime Henniker resident Dave Currier and a handful of other investors
decided to start a brewery that could move into a large industrial building owned by Currier when his then-tenants moved out in summer 2012.
Currier paced through the brewery’s tasting room, smoking a pipe and staring out the window, an older man than the young brewer and the marketing team. But when he turned around from his view to talk about the company he founded, he spoke energetically about starting the project, ordering the equipment, waiting for the equipment while it was delayed, designing the labels, waiting even longer than expected for the delayed equipment – and then finally getting the brewery off the ground.
“When the tanks got here, I was just like, ‘Yes! We can start [rollinglinks]making beer[/rollinglinks],’ ” Currier said with a laugh. “Not.”
The equipment was installed and tested and then, finally, used to brew the company’s first barrels last December. Since then, the small team has been hosting pint nights and inviting the entire staff of prospective buyers to tastings, planning [rollinglinks]seasonal brews[/rollinglinks] (including a coffee-flavored brew set to premiere in December) and offering their product to anyone (over 21) who will try it.
“It’s obviously paying dividends because the [rollinglinks]beer[/rollinglinks] is picking up here and getting recognized to the point where we get calls now or emails or text messages or Facebook messages saying, ‘How come they don’t have the porter at Market Basket yet?’ ” Currier said.
As the company prepared to send out its first bottles, marketing director Ryan Maiola said he walked into every store and every restaurant with a sense of anticipation like Currier’s.
“Every time I would go into a[rollinglinks] beer store[/rollinglinks], I would just say I can’t wait until Henniker Brewing Co. is coming out with beer on the shelves,” Maiola said. “I can’t wait to go into a bar and order a beer that I helped get out there and market. . . . So the first time you walk in and see one of your beers on the shelf, definitely a good feeling.”
Now the beer is on the shelves or on tap in more than 200 locations across the state, all of which are listed on the company’s website (hennikerbrewing.com).
They’ve been building their image on what sales manager David Paquette calls “sessionable beer,” or beer that is meant for sitting down for a long conversation, talking with good friends, enjoying a pizza-and-beer night.
Paquette leaned back in his chair, wearing a green T-shirt with the words “New Hampshire on Tap” written in sloping white script across the front. “Being a New Hampshire beer, being part of New Hampshire, being New Hampshire,” Paquette said. “That’s what Dave set out to do from the start. Just be New Hampshire beer.”
So that’s the beer Shea is trying to brew. This place is going to be here forever, he promised, only half joking, and it will always be just brewing New Hampshire beer.
“It’s beer for people,” Shea said. “It’s not special. It’s not hard to get. It’s not really, really expensive. It’s going to be in six packs. It’s going to be for everybody. And everyone that wants it is going to be able to sit down and drink it and share it.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter