There are more than a dozen breweries, wineries and distilleries in the Lakes Region, and probably more than a few that visitors to the area haven't heard of. And, some of those craft beverage producers say, that might be a good thing.
Though it’s less than a decade old, Hermit Woods Winery has established itself as the most high-profile of the Lakes Region’s wineries. The operation started in 2011, in one of the bedrooms of Bob Manley’s Sanbornton home, and within a couple of years it moved to downtown Meredith. Each year, production and sales have increased by at least 20 percent, and Hermit Woods is now on pace to produce about 3,500 cases in a year.
Hermit Woods has made a name for itself by producing wines based on non-grape fruits. Unlike most fruit wines, though, they aren’t dessert-sweet wines. Instead, Ken Hardcastle, the winemaker at Hermit Woods, aims for Old World-style flavors.
The wine world has taken notice, and often selects Hermit Woods’ wines as the winner in tasting competitions. In 2017, Food and Wine magazine included Hermit Woods among its list of the “500 Best Wineries in America.”
Hermit Woods wines are now found in many local restaurants, craft beverage shops and state liquor stores, and the winery just added a pair of 1,500-gallon tanks to help keep up with production. Their rosé and petit blue – the latter of which includes more than a pound of blueberries in each bottle – are consistently their volume leaders.
With their current equipment, Hermit Woods could produce up to 5,000 cases of wine each year And that’s as much as they will ever make, Manley said, because their business is built around a personal connection to their wines and to their customers.
“By building this relationship with our customer base, it’s building a buzz,” Manley said. If they were to push for more than 5,000 cases, he said, the production would start to become “more manufacturing than the crafting of wines,” and he wants to retain the connection that his company has with downtown Meredith.
“We’re not shooting for big distribution – our core is still here,” Manley said. “If you want to experience Hermit Woods, you have to come here.”
Old barns, new brewery
Just a mile away, a new brewery has come to town. Located on Route 3 near the traffic circle, Twin Barns Brewing Company is opening this summer by mid-June, owner Dave Picarillo and head brewer Samuel Clemens said.
With 10 barrels, Twin Barns will be one of the biggest breweries in the Lakes Region. But it doesn’t aim to be one of the biggest in New England. Instead of wondering how much beer they can sell, they want to focus on quality and variety.
“We are going to have a bit of everything,” Clemens said. His early plans include sour ales, low-gravity stouts, an American porter, a New England IPA and a refreshing golden ale he calls his “lawnmower beer.” And he will continue to watch the trends and innovations of the beer industry with an eye for what he can experiment with next in Meredith.
Whatever Clemens comes up with, you’ll need to visit the taproom in Meredith to try it.
“All the beer that we’re brewing will be served on-site,” he said. Twin Barns – so named because it’s actually two barns that were conjoined – will feature 10 taps and also serve food. The emphasis will be on the beer, though.
Why not go for grander ambitions? Because Clemens knows what that looks like. He left the head brewer’s position at Long Trail, which distributes throughout more than a dozen states. With an operation that large, more effort is placed on marketing and packaging, seemingly, than on recipes, and even the act of canning or bottling beer can detrimentally change its flavor.
“It has been a big change,” Clemens said about leaving Long Trail for Twin Barns. “It’s going down to something smaller. In the craft beer industry a smaller operation provides us an opportunity for creativity and to remain relevant to the local people who are who we are trying to serve.”
As creative as Clemens gets, Picarillo said people with more mainstream palates shouldn’t be afraid to come in for a pint.
“Sam’s going to have beer for a diverse set of tastes. There’s always going to be something on the menu for you,” Picarillo said.