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Tuckerman Brewery, 12 years young and hoppy

A local brew living up to its legendary namesake

Kirsten Neves (left) and Nik Stanciu in the office of Tuckerman Brewery. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
August 04, 2010
Nik Stanciu wasn't sure he wanted to be a scientist. Kirsten Neves was working as a waitress thinking about attending law school. Neither were enthusiastic about their career choices. In 1998, two years out of college and 24 years old, Stanciu and Neves moved to the Mt. Washington Valley and soon figured out what to do: open a brewery and brew locally crafted beer.

They took bold steps to brew a bold beer. During the fall of 1998 they produced their first batch of Tuckerman Pale Ale, named after the majestic ravine and the inspiration behind the beer.

"Nik and I moved to the Valley, worked at Attitash and loved it here. We love Mt. Washington and the Ravine. We thought this [Conway] might be a good area for a brewery," says Neves. The pair was experimenting at home making their own brews. "We sort of fell into this," says Neves, who hails from Milwaukee.

Stanciu and Neves may have fallen into crafting beer, but it took careful planning and sophisticated business plans to gain the respect and acceptance of lenders and town planners back in 1998 when they were only 24 years old.

"When we presented our plan to the town of Conway, the town treasurer and business manager were very helpful. They thought a brewery was a good idea for the town," says Neves. The town granted them a loan through the Conway Revolving Loan Fund.

They also looked to Berlin City Bank, now Northway Bank, for start up. "When we walked into the bank, we got a few raised eyebrows," says Neves. She adds, though, the loan officer was impressed with their knowledge and plan and thought they knew what they were doing. The funds were secured and the original brewery opened on Main Street in Conway in a 4,000-square-foot space. "It was a tough start — we had engineering problems — but once we started brewing the local support was fantastic," she says.

During the first few years, Stanciu and Neves were able to produce two brews per week, which equals 280 cases. In the beginning, it was just Nik and Kirsten and a few friends helping out. The popularity of the pale ale kept growing and with the help of two local distributors Tuckerman made its way to local restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores.

"When we began you couldn't self- distribute in New Hampshire (the law has changed), so we used two distributors: New Hampshire Distributors handles from the Scenic Vista in Intervale and south and White Mountain Distributors handles from the Scenic Vista and north," explains Neves.

Tuckerman is now distributed in Massachusetts and Maine; Neves hopes to be in all of New England soon. They have gone from producing two brews per week to six and have increased their tank capacity. New brews include: Headwall Ale, a German style brown ale and 6288 Stout, a seasonal brew named after the height of Mount Washington, with a portion of proceeds donated to the Mount Washington Observatory. And… they have grown out of their space.

It has been six years since Tuckerman moved to its new space on Hobbs Street. They have gone from half of a loading dock to three loading docks, from a footprint of 4,000 square feet to 10,000 with high ceilings.

They have added an outside salesperson and six staff members. One variable remains the same: the water. The real key is the water. "We are still in Conway and still use the same water," says Neves. She explains that the water is very important for the consistency of flavor for the brews.

There are other important ingredients, too. Neves says that they experiment with hops and barley. The hops come from Washington state, France, England and Germany, while the malt and barley come from Canada.

"Nik comes up with recipes (it is handy that he is a scientist); he tries different hops to see what it takes like. Hopefully it works," she says.

"The art of brewing is both art and science," says Stanciu. "At any given time there are 18 batches going."

There is an exacting chemistry to the brew process. Neves explains how it


• Milling is the first step. The English and Belgian malt is run through a two roller malt mill. The kernels are cracked open to release the flour and create what's called grist.

• Mashing is the next step. Motorized rakes mix the grist with hot water. While the mix steeps, enzymes convert to simple sugars, creating a sweet sticky liquid called wort. Neves says the wort is the basis of the beer.

• Next is lautering. The wort is transferred to a container called a kettle. At the bottom of the kettle there is a layer of screens which lets the brewer separate the wort from the kernels of malted barley. Spent grain is called draft. Neves says local cows like this stuff. The brewery gives the spent grain to Justin Hussey's cows for feed. Not to worry — there is no alcohol present yet.

• Next is boiling. After lautering, 700 gallons of wort are collected. The wort is boiled for one and one half hours. The boiling stabilizes, clarifies and sterilizes the wort. Boiling also contributes to the color of the beer. Four different hops are added to this process.

• Then comes cooling. The hops are now strained out. The wort is passed through a heat exchanger — a series of stainless steel plates — with cold tap water (from Conway) on the other side. This chills the wort. The temperature of the wort drops from 212 degrees to 65 degrees.

• Fermentation is next. After the wort is chilled, it is transferred to primary fermenters. Yeast is added. It takes five to six days to convert the sugars in the wort to alcohol. Co2 is created, too. Yeast settles to the bottom and can be used for future beer batches.

• Secondary Fermentation comes after. The beer now goes to the conditioning tank. It is conditioned at 40 degrees, allowing the flavors of the beer to mature and develop. More hops are added. Secondary fermentation takes five to 10 days.

• Bottling/Racking. The beer is coarsely filtered to remove the yeast, then transferred to a bottling tank called a brite beer tank. Now a small amount of fresh wort is added. This mixture is combined with final filtered beer, then racked into kegs or sent to the bottling line to fill six packs and cases.

• Bottle Conditioning. Krausen-ing, a German process, is the next step. Fresh wort is added to the final beer, creating another fermentation. CO2 is created to form a natural fermentation. This takes 10 days at room temperature. This process gives Tuckerman a character of its own.

• Ready for sales. Three and one half weeks have passed and the beer is ready for distribution and enjoyment. Neves says they constantly monitor the beer; the production continues seven days a week. This entire process takes place in squeaky clean stainless steel tanks and equipment.

"It is all about cleaning. We don't want any bacteria in the beer. Most of what we do is clean," says Stanciu.

Neves invites the public to their open houses each Saturday at 3 p.m. "The public can see the ingredients, get a full tour and of course sample the beers," say Neves.

One local customer who has sampled and quaffs the local brew says: "There are three things that make Tuckerman different from other microbrews; the taste and flavor of the beer, the quality of the pale ale and the association with the Valley and Tuckerman Ravine."

Tuckerman Brewery is located at 64 Hobbs Street in Conway. For more information, visit www.tuckermanbrew ing.com or call 447-5400.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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