‘Iconic’ local brewer and champion of the NH brewing community dead at 53

A memorial gathering will be held at Stark Brewing Co. April 23 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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Longtime New Hampshire brewer Paul Davis will be remembered during a memorial at Stark Brewing on April 23, 2021.

MANCHESTER, NH –The New Hampshire craft brewing community is remembering the life and career of Paul Davis, a member of the “old guard” who helped kickstart the craft brewing scene in the state 25 years ago, mentored dozens of local brewers, helped found the New Hampshire Brewers Association and led the charge to promote Granite State beers.

Davis, 53, died last Friday after ongoing health complications were compounded by a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

The community raised about $9,500 to help his family with medical bills while he was in the hospital for nearly seven weeks. Stark Brewing Company owner Peter Telge said the money will be used to pay for Davis’s funeral expenses and the remainder will be used to start a trust in his 12-year-old daughter’s name.

Telge said they were close friends and had gotten closer in the last five or six years during which Davis worked as head brewer at Stark.

“He was my best friend,” Telge said. “It ’s tough. I felt like he was my other brother.”

Pau Davis
Paul Davis, left, was part of NH’s old guard when it came to brewing.

A memorial service will be held for Davis at Stark Brewing Company in Manchester on April 23 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Davis’s mother will be present with his ashes and folks will be invited to share memories of Davis. A virtual attendance option is available via Zoom, and physical attendees are asked to RSVP via the Stark website’s reservation link.

Telge said he gave Davis a job as head brewer in 2016 even when he already had other brewers, and he said the other brewers were happy to work with and learn from a veteran such as he.

But he knew Davis long before that.

“I started brewing here 27 years ago. I met him shortly after I started,” Telge said.

Davis had visited the brew pub, then known as Milly’s Tavern, to brew a few batches of beer before starting his first professional brewing gig as head brewer of Castle Springs Brewing Company in Moultonborough in 1996, where he made award-winning beers under the Lucknow label. 

Davis took home seven medals for Lucknow IPA, Munich-Style Lager, Porter, Blonde Ale and American Wheat ale from the Great American Beer Festival between 1997 and 2001.

Davis also helped found the first New Hampshire Brewers Association with Telge and others in the early 2000s. When that folded a few years later, he helped found the current iteration about a decade later, according to Telge.

In 2002, he went on to become the brewmaster and director of brewery operations at Thomas Hooker Brewing Company in Bloomfield, CT. In 2007, he branched out on his own to start Prodigal Brewing Company, based in Effingham.

Paul Davis, left, was head brewer at Stark Brewing Co. in Manchester.

He took home a bronze medal for his Reverend Potter’s Baltic Porter in 2010 and, in 2012, he successfully raised over $6,500 on Kickstarter to finance a brewhouse to expand his Prodigal operation.

One of the first places that carried his beer was Cask & Vine in Derry, according to co-owner Andy Day.

“He was unique in that while everyone was working on the next big ‘thing,’ he’d be offering up traditional styles like Bocks and Weissebiers,” Day said. “He was always friendly and always thrilled to talk about beer.”

Prodigal closed around 2015 or 2016 amid changes in Davis’s personal life, and he went to work at Stark in May 2016. 

Bert Bingel, left, and Paul Davis.

Bert Bingel, owner of Bert’s Better Beers in Manchester, said he had known Davis since he was at Lucknow. He said Davis will be remembered for his beers firstly, but also for his generosity and mentorship over the years.

“When his beer started coming out there was only two places in Manchester where you could buy it. That was before craft beer really took off,” Bingel said. “His most famous beer was (Ye) Olde Chucklehead, which was a barleywine style. When it came out, you had to run to the store to get it.”

Paul Davis and his daughter

Bingel said Davis had a thing for German beers, particularly barleywines and lagers, and was brewing those long before most in the craft brewing world got into them. Most craft brewers tended to focus on ales.

In fact, Ye Olde Chucklehead may have been the very first craft barleywine brewed in New Hampshire, according to Davis’s friend Greg Ouellette, who is the head brewer at Martha’s Exchange in Nashua.

“It was one of a kind and it was fantastic. And it has this mystical and mythical status, somehow being able to age up to 20 years years. Some people are still opening bottles and it’s still good,” Ouellete said.

Davis’ creation, Ye Olde Chucklehead, may have been the very first craft barleywine brewed in New Hampshire.

Michael Fairbrother, owner of Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, said he has some Ye Olde Chucklehead in his own cellar still, which he will crack open from time to time.

“It was 23 years ago that I learned of Paul Davis,” Fairbrother said. “I was an active member of Brew Free or Die, and I was a fan.”

Ouellette said he met Davis in the 1990s when he was working at Lucknow. Ouellette was working for a brew-on-site business in Nashua called Incredibrew at the time, and wanted to get into professional brewing, so he bugged Davis for a job on and off for two years.

Davis didn’t have a job to give him, but when he heard about the opening at Martha’s Exchange, he told Ouellette about it. Ouellette has been the head brewer at Martha’s ever since.

Ouellete said Davis encouraged him, translated some of what he already understood about brewing into commercial lingo and boosted his confidence.

“I learned that I knew more than I thought I did because of what he was telling me,” Ouellete said.

When it came to beer, Davis was always happy to chat, teach and give tours.

Ouellete said Davis would attend quarterly Master Brewers Association of the Americas meetings for the New England chapter, sometimes giving a lecture or just bending the ears of a crowd during the meet and greet portion.

“I learned a lot from those, especially listening in on conversations with Paul, who had been doing it a long time,” Ouellette said.

“As a homebrewer, I considered Paul an icon in the industry,” Fairbrother said. “Many years later I had gone pro, and was at an event where Paul was also attending, he was kind and generous with his compliments about my meads, and ciders.”

Bingel said he was always easy-going, quick to smile and had a lot of knowledge.

“You could just talk beer with him for hours,” Bingel said.

Davis encouraged Bingel to become a beer judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program about 20 years ago, which thrust Bingel headlong into the craft brewing world. He ultimately opened his beer store in 2009.

Those who spoke to Manchester Ink Link for this story said Davis had befriended, influenced and mentored dozens of local brewers over the years, including Ouellette; Mark Harrington of Martha’s Exchange; Rik Marley of Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grill in New London; “Uncle” Frank Fermino of Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton; Kristen Neves and Nik Stanciu of Tuckerman Brewing Company in Conway; Phil Jewett, founder of the erstwhile Pennichuck Brewing Company in Milford; Adam Burks at Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery; Brian Link, formerly of Stark, formerly Lord Hobo Brewing Company in Woburn, MA and now head brewer at Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery in Falmouth, MA; and Craig Yergeau, the former head brewer of 1766 Brewing Company in Plymouth and now a centrifuge operator and cellarman at Great North Aleworks in Manchester.

That is likely not an exhaustive list.

Now, Ouellette fears there’s a younger generation of brewers who haven’t heard of Davis, he said.

“It’s up to the old guard to keep his legacy going,” Ouellette said.