TILTON — As soon as Kettlehead Brewing opened its doors, the owners had a problem: They were busier than they expected. Brewers Nate Wolfenden and Sam Morrissette prepared as much as their seven-barrel brewery could store before they opened on Nov. 1, 2017, and have had to go full throttle since then to keep up with demand.
Quantity has not hampered variety, though. In the year since they opened, Kettlehead has brewed 50 different beers. Their list of beers features a mix of German and English styles, but what Kettlehead is known for is its beers that qualify as “New England” or “East Coast” IPAs, a fairly new deviation of the India Pale Ale. New England IPAs utilize hop strains that impart fruit juice flavors and scents, and they are typically unfiltered, to make for a hazy appearance and thicker mouth feel.
Their flagship beer, “The Agent,” qualifies as a New England IPA. Kettlehead’s list of beers includes double IPAs and imperial IPAs, which are brewed with more grain, resulting in a higher original gravity — a term used to describe how saturated with sugar from the grain the beer is prior to fermentation. A higher original gravity translates to a higher alcohol percentage, because there’s more sugar for the yeast to consume. The challenge for a brewer is to balance the maltiness and alcohol with sufficient hop flavor.
Morrissette and Wolfenden have been up to the task, as ratings for their beers on third-party sites typically earn four out of five stars.
“Quest,” a double version of “The Agent,” is their hardest beer to keep in stock, said Caily Wolfenden, who ran the kitchen when Kettlehead opened and who currently manages events and marketing for the company.
There’s more to Kettlehead than just the New England IPAs, though. The list includes a Berliner Weiss, stouts, porters and pale ales. Caily, Nate’s wife, said that fruit-flavored sour beers have also proven popular. They recently released a beer brewed with blackberries and lactose, intended to mimic a berry milkshake, and there’s a barrel-conditioned sour currently maturing for later release.
But for their anniversary, Wolfenden and Morrissette had something special up their sleeves.
“This is taking it to the next level,” Caily said, referring to “1.101,” a quadruple IPA with an alcohol content of 12.5 percent, so high that the brewery requires a special dispensation from the Liquor Commission to serve it. Caily said they hoped to be able to serve it during their weekend of anniversary celebrations.
The brewery targeted that specific original gravity to commemorate the date, 11/01, of its anniversary. Nate Wolfenden said that it took 900 pounds of grain — nearly double that of their usual brew — to achieve that gravity.
“We hit it right on the money; there was no fudging the numbers. We were wondering if we could do it — we’ve tried to make beers that big before,” he said. “We were pumped to land right where we wanted to with the original gravity.”
To go with all the grain, he said they added a “boatload” of hops, including all of the varieties of hops they have used throughout the year in their double IPAs.
“It’s pretty dynamite, really; it’s just laced with hops,” Nate said.
But it won’t be around for long. Hop-heavy beers are meant for immediate consumption, not storing, and he said this will probably be a one-and-done recipe.
“Next anniversary, we’ll do something different,” he said.
It’s a beer worthy of the year that it’s toasting.
“It’s been exciting, challenging, to figure it all out,” said Caily. “It was more than we expected. Obviously, we hoped it would be busy.”
The brewpub turned into more than just a place for IPA snobs. Serving upscale pub food and closing at 8 p.m., Kettlehead has cultivated an atmosphere that is more like a restaurant than a bar. Although they have a full liquor license, they choose not to serve liquor or cocktails — except for their once-a-month Sunday brunch, which they just started in September.
Kettlehead also recently upgraded its heating system and added solar panels, and has unveiled a game room with a pool table and a few arcade games. In the spring, they will put out a handful of tables on their patio, in hopes of making their building look more like a brewpub and less like the small grocery store that it was originally.
“The first five or six months were pretty chaotic. It was extremely busy when we first opened,” Nate said.
There was a lot of built-up anticipation before they opened, and there was a “huge party of people coming in all the time,” he said. Things finally settled down and allowed the team to improve its operations. They doubled the number of fermenters and have figured out the staffing. Just this week, they took delivery of a canning machine that can fill 17 cans per minute. Before, they were canning by hand.
It’s a good thing that they put in that work, because over recent months, their normal level of business has grown, and now a normal day sees as many people come into the pub as those “chaotic” days of a year ago. They typically spend Monday, when they’re closed, canning 30 to 40 cases of 16-ounce cans, which will go on sale at the pub on Wednesday or Thursday, and they’ll all sell out by the end of that weekend.
“The product is moving really good, people are liking it, it’s working,” Nate said.
Someday, Kettlehead might look to build a larger brewery off-site, to brew the majority of their product, and will utilize their current facility for specialty or experimental batches. For now, though, it’s all they can do to keep up with their demand.
“I think we’re busier now than we were when we opened,” Nate said. “We’re constantly brewing, trying to keep up with the trends, brew innovative beers and keep people interested.”