OSSIPEE — Hobbs Tavern and Brewing Company has been making beer in its in-house, seven-barrel system for five years. But the company has an ambitious goal – to make its beer available in every corner of New Hampshire. That will be possible thanks to a 20-barrel facility, currently being developed and expected to be operational by the end of this year.
If the company is going to quadruple its brewing capacity, it is going to need to make its product known to many more beer drinkers, and that’s one of the reasons Hobbs is going to be joining the Taste of the Lakes Region for the first time this year. The 29th Annual celebration of local food and drink will be held Sunday, March 31, from 4-6:30 p.m. at Church Landing in Meredith.
More than just a chance to sample the best flavors being created in central New Hampshire, the Taste of the Lakes Region is the principal fund raiser for Altrusa International of Laconia, a service club that provides scholarships to local students and promotes literacy.
“We figured it would be a great way to help highlight the event, get our name out to our neighbors and contribute to what looks like a really worthwhile event,” said Rob Finneron, one of the owners of Hobbs.
Hobbs brewed just over 1,000 barrels of beer last year, under the guidance of head brewer Randy Booth.
Booth is a local guy. He grew up in New Durham, graduated from Kingswood High School and worked for several years as a sports journalist. While he was working, brewing and beer were his side interests, but those side interests began to muscle their way into the center.
Booth spent one year, 2011, as the sports editor for the now-defunct Laconia Citizen. He recalled how, each evening, he would have his section finished except for the scores of the late games, and as he was waiting, he would be reading homebrewing books. When a new publisher took over, Booth decided it was time for him to leave. He moved, on a whim, to Colorado, and applied to every brewery that he could conceivably work at. Just one called him in for an interview, and Booth got the job.
At first, he was working part-time, pouring pints behind the bar. Within nine months, Booth was full-time, and had worked every job within the business, including the brewery. Then he got a call from Ash Fischbein, whom Booth has known since he was in eighth grade and who was one of the partners behind Hobbs. The brewery’s original brewer was leaving, and Ash offered Booth the job.
Finneron said Booth brings an uncommon ability to the brewery. “What Randy excels at is that he has a palate which can distinguish minute flavors. He can get his recipes true to style,” Finneron said. Some of Hobbs beers are just that: faithful representations of classic European styles like brown ale, pilsner, gose. Last year, Booth’s One Arm Farmhouse Ale, a saison, was awarded a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Only one other New Hampshire brewery won a medal at last year’s festival.
But when Booth wants to stray from tradition, he follows his curiosity. The brewer got his hands on a batch of maple syrup from a sugar shack in Freedom, and he’s added it to a batch of a wee heavy, a malty Scottish beer. Another beer, one which he’s currently pouring in the tavern, is “Rays for Days,” a lager that’s light in body but which punches above its weight in flavor, thanks to dry hopping with citrusy hops from opposite corners of the globe.
Booth, and sales manager Beth Deutsch still haven’t decided which beers they’ll bring to the Taste of the Lakes Region. Hobbs doesn’t have a flagship beer. Instead, it uses its brewery to rotate through different styles.
Deutsch said that she’s found that different styles have resonated in different pockets of the state. At ski areas, a hoppy red ale has done well. Their sour ales consistently sell well in the Seacoast and around Manchester, while a beer store in Milford can’t keep Hobbs’ hazy and brown ales in stock.
“The diversity of accounts is affecting how we’re brewing. Someone always wants lagers, someone always wants sours, someone always wants IPAs,” Deutsch said.
Booth said that next year, Hobbs will be brewing twice as much beer as they did last year, and he will slowly ramp up production from there, with an eye on protecting quality. At some point, one of his beers might emerge as the brewery’s signature offering, but he’s more interested in being known for how good his beer is, rather than its style.
“We touch on everything in terms of beer styles. One of the things I focus on is quality,” Booth said. “What we really want to do is make better beer every day.”
Taste of the Lakes Region tickets are available via www.altrusalaconia.org, in Laconia at Hector’s Fine Food and Spirits, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and at Northway Bank, and in Meredith at Hart’s Turkey Farm.