A few Fridays ago, I went on an unexpected brewery tour in my gym clothes in the middle of a snow day. This was the beginning of my beer-making education.
My friends Lindsay and Kate are fellow teachers who live up the road from me. We all belong to the same gym, and Lindsay is a Vermont girl who owns an SUV, has snow tires, and automatically becomes a chauffeur every time we have a snow storm. She’s been driving a lot lately. School was cancelled because of the snow, but but midday things weren’t horrible, so we were running errands around town. After the library, and the gym, and the liquor store, we began talking about the brewery tour that we always talk about when the three of us are together. Then someone- maybe Kate?- said “Let’s go now.”
“Right now? Dressed like this?” We were sweaty underneath, with winter clothes layered over. Yum.
“I will if you will.” I laughed kind of nervously. Sometimes I have things rooted in my mind; you must be showered to take a tour of something. But the idea of being spontaneous and crossing something off my list was tempting. I was in.
We piled back in Lindsay’s car and headed a few exits up the highway to Wachusett Brewing Company, which is probably the closest possible brewer. They are a recent company (I think they started professionally brewing in the 80s) and are SO local that a friend of mine mentioned his second grade teacher was the mother of one of the founders. We were taking pictures and sampling beer in the lobby when some men in jeans and work boots came in. They joked about getting in the shot, and we joked saucily back. Our tour guide grinned and moved us into the next room. “That was one of the owners,” she said casually. The only thing I thought was, “I am in my gym clothes.” We moved on.
|Gym Clothes. Tiny Tasting Glass.|
We talked a lot about hops and malts and stuff, and that was interesting to me, but I really loved the stories about the heart of the company. The three owners started brewing on a family property, with a barn and rolling hills and all things picturesque. That property is still featured on the majority of the bottles/six-pack containers; for the Winter beer, it features snow and a sleigh, when it’s time for Octoberfest, you see a little pumpkin patch. So cute, I can barely stand it.
The founders are also thought of as inventors. A lot of their brewing machinery is handmade from other recycled metals. Some fermenting and carbonating was being done in repurposed milk tanks. In the bottling room (where the blaring country music made me wince and smile at the same time) the tour guide told us that shifting the pallets of bottled and wrapped beer was the daily workout for the men who loaded the trucks. It was all very comfortable- much less commercialized then, say, the Ben and Jerry’s tour I’ve taken a few times. The stainless steel equipment did remind me of the ice cream factory, but I’m often thinking of ice cream.
|Ashlie. Kate. Lindsay. Beer.|
The tour finished with a stop at a small gift shop. I bought a pint glass and mentally filed the growler prices. It was a quick tour through a factory space that I might have confused with Dunder Mifflin (it was exactly the same frontage as any office building), but I really enjoyed my first step into understanding the making of one of my favorite drinks. I can’t wait to compare this experience with other brewery.
Have you ever done a brewery tour? What breweries do you suggest I try next? Any homebrewing stories? Let’s talk about beer.