Bear with me, dear reader, as I wax philosophical about the meanings that may swirl in a fine brew.
Sometimes life dumps an entire barrel of crap on you, even if you’re the luckiest among us. Family members die. Dear friends get cancer. Institutions promise to care for you and your city then blatantly renege on that promise.
In such times it can be tough to keep going. It helps to have people you can count on. It also helps to return to proven sources of joy.
For myself, I reliably find joy in works of beauty created by people. A building by Antoni Gaudi can approach the divine and always lifts my spirits. As does a sculpture by New Hampshire’s own Vivian Beer. While less organic, the Manchester homes by Frank Lloyd Wright also offer inspiration. (Manchester’s Currier Museum is the only museum in the world to own two Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Tour highly recommended!) True, beauty in the natural world, like a sunset seen from atop Mt. Washington, is also uplifting. But I personally am more moved, buoyed, and cheered by beautiful human achievements. Each of them only emerges from an alchemical mixture of thought & creativity, knowledge & skill, craft & art, labor and time. Sometimes entangled with obsession, possibly even love. Only then do we get sculpture, music, painting, poetry, architecture, food, wine. And, yes, beer.
Am I elevating beer too much here? Possibly. But the best of today’s beers can offer a delightful kaleidoscope of flavors. They are a condensation of the brewer’s art and craft, pulling from history and culture, agricultural availability, and years of each brewer’s lessons learned, all to place a wee bit of human joy in a glass in front of you.
Wow. I feel better just writing that. I hope reading it was good for you.
Now we return to your regularly scheduled column, wherein we again visit beautiful downtown Franklin for a stop at Kettlehead Brewing.
Franklin enjoys a dramatic location at the junction of two rivers. In one section the Winnipesaukee River descends at a rate of 77 feet per mile, steep enough to draw mill builders in the past and white-water kayakers today. The city is betting the white water fun can be a driving factor in a revitalization including all manner of outdoor activities and a possible renaming of the downtown area to Franklin Falls. Already underway is a refurbishment of the long-shuttered J. P. Stevens Mill (erected 1863), an ambitious project to include 157 apartments and 27,000 square feet of retail space, at a cost of $32 million. More on Franklin’s revitalization here.
One of Stevens Mill’s first commercial tenants is Kettlehead Brewing. Note that Kettlehead still retains their previous location in Tilton, and both are currently operating as breweries and taprooms. I chose to visit the Franklin spot partly out of my curiosity about the still-being-remodeled Stevens Mill building. Also because downtown Franklin is just so darn beautiful! One thing to be aware of is that the menus of the two locations do have some differences between them — a few beers may be available at only one of the locations, though most are at either.
I arrived at Kettlehead on a very hot & sunny weekday. There were plenty of available tables out front, nor was it too busy inside. I walked in, and immediately noticed how warm it was inside — high ceilings and running fans were no match for large west-facing windows baking in the sun. One of their brewers later pointed out that being in a historic building imposed limitations on the size of cooling equipment that could be mounted outside or even on the roof.
Kettlehead in Franklin has three seating areas: 1) outdoor tables with umbrellas, 2) inside tables plus seats at the bar, 3) some tables upstairs in an area that overlooks the bar on one side and the brewing area on the other. Each of these areas could accommodate a dozen to twenty people.
Their beer list tends to favor IPAs, which is not my favorite style. I ordered a flight with the help of the bartender, who was happy to quiz me about my tastes and describe their different beers. We settled on a flight of four containing only a single IPA (and a NEIPA at that). The bartender suggested it might be just a bit cooler outside so I took my flight, walked out front and found a chair in the shade of an umbrella. The metallic table top was a bit warm from the sun, even where the umbrella’s shadow fell, nevertheless, I placed my flight there.
As I was sitting at a table out front, just beginning my flight, their head brewer Sean happened by, and I struck up a conversation with him. I commented on how the many large windows and placement of the building meant they would bake in the afternoons of every day, and it must be nicer in there in fall or spring. “Winter’s really the best,” he responded. But he said he’s worked in a number of different breweries, and that temperatures in the brewing areas are rarely set up for the comfort of the people brewing, but instead are the result of tuning the brewing conditions to make the best beer possible. Which means that it’s often pretty hot for people. In other words, he’s used to the heat. Plus there’s that “historic” building limitation.
I mentioned I was from Manchester and he replied that he was good friends with the team at Candia Road Brewing Company. He said he had brewed with them, and that their brewing space gets so hot that they must keep its garage-style door open, even in the depths of winter, merely to be usable.
I asked if he’d been to Spyglass Brewing in Nashua, and he replied that he’s been to their previous location, but not yet to the new space near Exit 1. In fact for a time he had worked for White Birch Brewing (now defunct) which was near Spyglass’s old location. During that time he’d gotten to know the Spyglass team and mentioned how they were very appreciative, even humble, in the face of the success that they were having.
Our conversation reminded me that I am continually impressed by how the many small breweries around our area have formed a tight-knit community.
Franklin location food menu found here: https://kettleheadbrewing.com/stevens-mill-menu.
I chose to try The London Dog, which seemed like good late-afternoon food. And it was quite good, but reviewing the menu now in retrospect, I am wishing I’d had the Banh Mi or the Afternoon Delight. Ah, cruel hindsight! Oh well, Franklin’s not far.
Franklin location list of beers found here: https://kettleheadbrewing.com/stevens-mill-taplist.
I ended up trying five of their beers — four in a flight and a fifth that I’ll explain below. Here is the list with my comments:
The Most Pulpiest Thing In This World – IPA, Imperial – 8.4% ABV
This hazy NEIPA was very flavorful and not as challenging as I often find NEIPAs. (Keep in mind I’m still learning to like NEIPAs.)
Wey Loco – Lager, Mexican – 5.5% ABV
Refreshing with a super-clean mouthfeel. I brought home a four-pack. Delicious cold on a hot day.
Elvis Lives – Stout, Imperial – 11% ABV
This one is out there, baby – but in the best way! It’s like drinking candy or dessert. The sweetness hits the nose first. That same sweetness totally masks the high ABV. From their description: “Brewed with Peanut Butter, Banana, and Milk Sugar.” I feel like I tasted chocolate also, though perhaps my taste buds were being fooled by the dark brown color. I also brought home a four-pack of this.
Ej Bekot – Porter, Baltic – 8.2% ABV
Very similar in color to Elvis Lives, but quite different in flavor. Subtle and complex, I found myself unable to pinpoint the variety of flavors I was tasting – but the process was fun!
Nosh – Southern English Brown Ale – 6% ABV
When I asked for a four-pack of Elvis Lives, the bartender checked their stock and said they only had three cans left, and would I mind taking in the 4th place a can of Nosh? He described it and I said sure, throw it in. After getting home and opening it I was very glad for that little bit of serendipity. Delicious, it was exactly what a brown ale should be. Very dark in color. Mouth feel with a bit of thickness. Mildly bitter and a bit filling. A little nuttiness to the flavor, some combination of walnuts and peanuts. Absolutely would have this again. So when I go back for my Banh Mi maybe they’ll have some more of this.
Kettlehead Brewing is located at…
40 Canal Street,
Franklin, NH, 03235.
Phone number: 603-671-7009
Tue-Sun: noon – 8 pm