FORMER New Durham resident and Hobbs Tavern brewer Randy Booth (right) hosted a tasting last week at Johnson's Marketplace. Beers the public sampled included One Arm Farm House Ale, Swift River American IPA, and Lake Life Pale Ale. Also pictured are (l to r), Marketplace co-owner Jaimie Fegan, employee Zach Rockett and general manager Brendan Dolan.
Mark Foynes. (click for larger version)
July 03, 2017NEW DURHAM — A local beermaker's quest to craft the perfect brew involved a personal odyssey that began with a career in journalism, a hasty move to Colorado, and a chance opportunity to return home to accept his dream job.
Randy Booth, who grew up on South Shore Road, hosted a tasting event last Friday evening at Johnson's Marketplace. He was representing Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Co., a West Ossipee brewpub that features a 400-seat dining area. For the past three years, Hobbs has also brewed its own private label beers.
"They always wanted to have a brewing component, and the timing was right a few years ago," Booth said.
According to the company's web site, The tavern is "[a]n idyllic countryside tavern and brewhouse offering warmth, history, classic comfort food, and handcrafted beer at the foot of the N.H, White Mountains."
But for Booth, becoming Hobbs' brewer required a career change and a half-continent roundtrip personal journey.
While writing for the Laconia Citizen, he'd taken up homebrewing as a hobby. He said part of being a newspaper writer is having to endure stretches of time waiting for sources to return phone calls.
"I guess I can say this now, but I filled a lot of that down time by reading up on brewing techniques," he joked of his fascination with the strange alchemy whereby water, hops, and yeast are transformed into a seemingly limitless number of beer varieties.
As a homebrewer, Booth said he was working on a very small scale, making perhaps a keg's worth at a time. But as his interest deepened, he became fascinated by the notion of craft beermaking on a larger scale.
A couple of years ago, that interest reached a tipping point.
"On a whim, I sold 95 percent of my stuff and moved to Colorado," Booth said of his 2015 decision to relocate to a state known for its artisan beer industry.
And it really was on a wing and a prayer that Booth made the commitment to relocate. "I didn't have any job prospects, so I sent my resume out to 40 breweries hoping to find something," he recalled.
His job inquiries were mostly ignored, but he did find a 15-hour-a-week gig at Wiley Roots Brewery in Greeley, Colo.
Over the coming months, Booth experienced a "crash course" in commercial brewing as he assumed greater responsibility while quickly moving up the ranks.
Booth said he was happy at Wiley Roots and was not necessarily looking for a new job. But when he learned of a unique opportunity to become the brewer at Hobbs in West Ossipee "through happenstance," he felt compelled to at least make an inquiry.
"I always knew I wanted to return to New Hampshire one day, but I didn't think it would happen so soon," Booth said of the accelerated timeline.
Now that he's the brewer at Hobbs, Booth now has the chance to craft his own ales, IPAs, and other varieties. "It was something I didn't want to say 'no' to," he added.
"This is definitely a dream job," Booth said in between conversations with Johnson's Marketplace customers about the gustatory qualities of each beer.
The chance to have some of his former neighbors and visitors to his hometown sample his creation fills him with delight. "Coming home is great - it feels good being back," he said.
Johnson's co-owner Jaimie Fegan, who is also co-proprietor of the restaurant and dairy bar next door, came by to visit with Booth.
He said the marketplace arm of the operation endeavors to host a tasting event on a weekly basis, noting that doing so serves two purposes.
"When something's new, people like to try it before they buy it," Fegan explained. He added, "It also stresses our commitment to stocking high-quality, locally-produced products."
Booth said he's delighted to have this kind of outreach opportunity to connect with those who appreciate artisanal beers. He said it also provides a chance to let people know about both aspects of his employer's operation.
"With Hobbs, you either know about the tavern, or know about the brewery, so this gives me a chance to connect the two for people," Booth said.
Fegan described the tasting as a "win-win" that gives local businesses exposure, while also advancing his desire for customers to know about Johnson's commitment to locally-produced artisanal offerings. He added that a 36-tap bar is in the works, as well as a new function room.
Fegan said the bar's taps will be dominated by beers provisioned by New England breweries. To this end, Fegan made an informal invite to Booth to participate in a "tap take over" - an event where several of the beers would be from Hobbs. As the brewer, Booth would help tend bar and describe the various attributes of each of his beers to curious patrons.
"The fact that Randy grew up right here in town just makes it that much more meaningful," said Fegan of the marketplace's event last week.
As for Hobbs' brewing operation, Booth described it as a "seven-barrel facility" that can brew 250 gallons at a time. While this may sound like a lot, Budweiser's Merrimack plant brews 3,000,000 gallons annually - or about 8,550 gallons per day.
"We're small-scale, but this ensures that we can ensure the quality of every can that we ship," Booth explained.
The beers he invited the public to sample included One Arm Farm House Ale, Swift River American IPA, and Lake Life Pale Ale, which Booth described to a Johnson's customer as "hoppy in taste and aroma, but not overwhelming."
Booth expressed pride in the fact that Hobbs Brewery was one of just two New Hampshire beermakers invited to participate in the prestigious Maine Brewers' Guild Festival in late July. He said exhibiting at the event is by invitation only.
"It's a big deal for us as such a young brewery," Booth explained.
Looking back at his transition from newspaper journalism to brewing, Booth said the contrasts are considerable.
"My degree prepared me for a career in journalism," he said. "And I still try to write on the side because I love it."
But, by Booth's estimation, print journalism is in a period of contraction, while the microbrew industry is growing by leaps and bounds, noting that there's been a profusion of brewpubs like Hobbs.
Before this reporter left, he caught up with Bill Dahl of New Durham, who stopped by the marketplace on his way home from work. With considerable persuasion, Dahl was convinced to sample a Lake Life Ale. A few minutes later, Dahl headed to the check out with a six-pack.
He said having the chance to sample a two-ounce cup whetted his appetite for more.
Dahl described the ale as "not too heavy, crisp, and with little aftertaste." He summarized, "It was delicious."
Looking forward, Booth said Hobbs is looking to expand its brewery, but that it will do so with an eye to maintaining the quality of its product.
"It's all about the taste and brewing the best beer possible," he added.