Join us as we sit down with co-owner Nicole Carrier of Throwback Brewery in New Hampshire. Learn all about her love of making sausages as well as some of her favorite craft beers.
Why did you start Throwback Brewery?
Annette Lee and I founded Throwback Brewery in 2010. In July of 2011, we started selling beer.
The short version of why we started Throwback Brewery is that we wanted to start a business that combined our love of brewing with supporting local farms and agriculture. In fact, the name Throwback is really a nod to what we are all about – brewing beer from ingredients around us, and serving that beer to our local community. Really, a throwback to how pre-prohibition breweries operated.
In terms of our name, we also like the community aspect of “throwing back” a beer with friends.
The longer version of why we started Throwback Brewery involves a small beer competition and a desire for career changes to a field that we were more passionate about!
Here is a little bit of that story.. One of our friends (Bruce) is an avid home brewer. He’s been brewing beer for 25+ years, and he’s also held a tiny competition for a few decades called Bruce’s Beerfest. It’s nothing serious – about 10-15 homebrewers and 25 or so beers. Lots of smoked meats and other potluck foods, too. One year (~2001) Annette and I decided that we would submit some beers to Bruce’s Beerfest.
The guys all told us ‘don’t expect to win! Everyone thinks they are going to win their first year!’. Even though I am highly competitive, I didn’t expect we would win. That year we took 2 of the 3 blue ribbons, and our winning streak carried on for many years after that.
Annette & I fell in love with brewing for different, but highly complementary reasons. I love to cook. It’s one of my passions. So, I fell in love with dreaming up with new ideas for beers, inspired by my favorite flavor profiles (like chocolate & peanut butter!). Annette is one of the best engineers that I have ever met (and an MIT nerd to boot). Annette fell in love with all the science that goes into making great craft beer.
After we had been home brewing for about 10 years, Annette was looking to change careers (from environment engineering.) She decided to get her certificate in brewing from Siebel and then did an internship at Smuttynose. After that, she convinced me that with her aptitude for brewing & problem solving, and my background in marketing & business and love of spreadsheets that we should open a brewery. It didn’t take too much convincing.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories from your start-up phase (or more recently)?
Lots of stories! It depends on what you were looking for… here a few things I am happy to add more color to, if you want.
Before we moved to our beautiful 12-acre farm, we started in a small warehouse, where we just filled growlers and poured 4 oz beers. We knew at the farm that we wanted to pour full beers, so we needed to sell food in order to do so.
I remember Annette and I sweating over spreadsheets, wondering if we would be able to sell 20 or 30 sandwiches a week here at the farm. Fast forward two years, and it’s so funny to us now that we were worried about if people would eat here, especially since now we sell more food here than beer. It helped that we hired a killer chef!
I’d classify this one under interesting rather than funny.. When we got started, we were the 13th brewery in the state (now there are 65). We would go to beerfests, and 99% of all the questions about our beer and our brewery would be directed to our male friends that we had helping us out.
I guess six years ago, folks didn’t expect a female run brewery! Now that we’ve gotten our name and our story out, the vast majority of people ask us the hard questions.
Congratulations on your recent awards! How has your business changed since winning Yankee Magazine’s Best Brewpub?
Thank you! We’ve won a series of awards right in a row, including being voted Best Brewery (Best of NH awards) and also being named the 2017 Women Owned Business of the Year- New England by the Small Business Association, so it is a bit hard to attribute any increase in business to any one award.
You have quite a delicious and varied food menu at your brewery with an emphasis on local meats and produce. What is it about farm-to-table cooking and brewing that you find important or inspiring?
'Beer and food made from local ingredients tastes fresher and more vibrant.' -Nicole CarrierClick To Tweet
Thank you again! Farm-to-table cooking and brewing is at the heart of everything we do. In fact, my co-founder Annette and I started Throwback Brewery with the vision of making beer by sourcing ingredients within 200 miles of our brewery.
Thanks in large part to local maltsers like Valley Malt, all of our beers contain between 65-99% ingredients from within 200 miles (the % depends upon the beer). With our food, we source as much as we can from local farmers- including our own.
There are many reasons why we think it is important to source locally:
- Taste – we believe that beer and food made from local ingredients tastes fresher and more vibrant.
- Using local supports our local farmers, helps keeps jobs around us, boosting the economy. Also, the more farmers, the more we can protect the local farmland from development.
- Lower transportation costs / lower carbon footprint
- As consumers, Annette and I care about supporting our local farmers, eating organic, and eating local. So it made sense to build ‘our baby’ with the same philosophies as we followed in our personal lives.
- It’s good to know where your beer and food come from and that it isn’t made with products that were grown with pesticides or GMOs
In terms of inspiration, there is nothing quite like talking to farmers at the farmers’ markets or walking through our fields here to get excited to brew with something fresh and unique. This is how some of our most fun and popular beers have been created, like our Beet Wit – an earthy, crisp Belgian white made with locally grown forono beets.
You also seem to be working toward a very green brewery (my husband was really impressed by your rooftop solar panels). Are you working toward any type of certification? Do you have plans to become entirely powered by renewable resources?
Being green is very much part of our company DNA. We added the solar panels over a year ago, which made us the largest solar powered brewer in NH. Our 48kw solar powers approximately 50% of our brewery, offsetting 97 barrels of oil or ~4.7k gallons of gas a year!
We aren’t actively working towards any specific certification. Rather, every day we try and make small improvements, whether it is around water recycling, reuse of spent grain (which is now being used to feed the pigs on our farm!), or other improvements to our brewing and farming operations.
As far as waste reduction goes, we both recycle and compost. We also sell a large number of reusable, flip-top growlers here at the brewery and at our local farmers’ markets. Roughly 2/3rds of the growlers purchased at the Farmers’ Markets are being reused – i.e., customers bring their empty growlers in and swap them for growlers full of beer.
At our brew pub, we get a lot of visitors from out of state that buy growlers, but, even still, we see anywhere from 65-80% of folks coming in with their reusable growlers to be filled.
Our brewery is located on a 12-acre farm, which helps us with our quest to be socially and environmentally responsible. The pigs on our farm do a good job of eating our brewery grain, and our pigs, goats, and chickens eat scraps from our prep kitchen. We have about 4 acres that we actively farm, including hops, berries, and other adjuncts (like coriander and chamomile) which are used in our beer.
On the wish list of things to do, we have talked about getting a windmill – especially since that imagery plays a prominent part of our logo AND because our farm can be quite windy! Hopefully we can do that sometime in the not too distant future.
What’s a typical day on the job like for you?
The typical thing about my job is that there isn’t a typical day! When our restaurant is open, at least part of my day is walking through the pub, talking with customers or helping bartend or fill growlers.
The early part of the week is usually filled with some key operational meetings. For example, meeting with our brew team to go over what beers are coming up, what beers we should brew, etc. Meeting with our marketing team and Chef to go over what events we have coming up in the near future.
In the middle of all of this, I am usually responding to customer emails and phone calls, keeping up our social media presence, planning new events and collaborations with other local businesses, keeping an eye on our numbers, and making sausage (more on that below).
My co-founder Annette heads up our brewing operations, but she has a lot of on her plate now with the restaurant and farm, so our day-to-day brewing is managed by our lead brewer Chris.
What are the biggest challenges facing craft brewers?
Looking at the craft beer scene as a whole, I see a few key challenges:
- With the proliferation of breweries comes the proliferation of SKUS, making it harder to stand out and get noticed and harder to get shelf space.
- I’ve seen (and tasted) some beer from new breweries that isn’t quite up to what a professional beer should be – i.e., not carbonated, infected, or some other off-flavor. Enough ‘bad’ craft beer out there could really hurt the perception of craft beer as a whole.
- Big beer (like AB InBev / SABMiller) is always a threat. Craft breweries face competition from their faux-craft brands like Blue Moon. Perhaps scarier is that these big guys could cut off craft brewers from both supply (like South African hops) and distribution via AB distributors only distributing AB beer.
- The growth of the spirits segment is taking share from beer. If we don’t pay attention, this could turn into a bigger issue for craft beer.
What do you want for the craft beer industry as a whole?
Continued growth and collaboration amongst craft brewers.
What about the more local craft beer industry in New Hampshire?
As a state, I think New Hampshire is often overlooked – especially compared with our neighbors Maine and Vermont. Part of it is a marketing and perception problem. Our maple syrup and mountains and lakes and restaurants are just as beautiful and delicious as our neighbors!
This applies to our beer as well. We have such talented brewers in this state, with such unique stories, making world class beer. I’d like us to be able to tell the story of NH craft beer to more people, and have more people appreciate what our great state has to offer.
What are your favorite beers that you brew?
I am a big seasonal eater and drinker, so all of my favorite beers are seasonal. In the Fall, we come out with a Chai Porter that’s made using a local organic chai tea. The beer is smooth and light-bodied with a super comforting, aromatic bouquet of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, fennel that evokes images of apple picking or leaf peeping on a gorgeous Autumn day! I love to drink one of these while eating an apple pie or a beef stew.
In the winter, my absolute favorite beer we do is called El ChupBrewcabra, and it’s a Mexican chocolate porter. We add cocoa power, some local hot peppers (just a few!), and just the right amount of cinnamon from sticks first used by Flag Hill (Lee, NH) to make their spiced rum. It’s everything I love in a glass- dark chocolate notes, a hint of spice, with a big body and big aroma.
Finally, one day I look forward to all year is in May, when we release Spicy Bohemian – our Jalapeno Pilsener. This beer is crisp, light, and refreshing – with invigorating pepper aroma and a kick of heat. It is my favorite beer to pair with food – pizza, sushi, Mexican food, or even just a plain, fresh white fish!
If you could only make one style of beer for the rest of your days, what would it be?
Wow, that’s a hard question! Well, it would have to be something that I would want to drink all year, which would rule out fruity beers like our Watermelon Blonde, or beers that are too heavy (like our Chocolate Peanut Butter Imperial Stout). I’m going to have to go with our Love Me Long Time, which is a Bohemian Pilsener.
It’s a very crisp and clean beer that can pair well with food. And, at 40 IBU, there is a nice hop kick at the end, making this beer one that I want to keep taking sips of! Finally, it is only 4.8% alcohol, so when I am older and want a few beers without getting too silly, this beer will do the trick!
What’s in your fridge at home? What other breweries do you admire?
Oh, in my fridge is a mix of a bit of everything! This includes beer that my friends and colleagues at other New Hampshire breweries have given to me (such as Stoneface and Out.Haus Ales), beers that we can’t get in New Hampshire, but we can in Maine (like a gose from Off Color brewing in Chicago), and some Big beers I am saving for a raining day (like Great Divide Oak-Aged Yeti and Tributary’s Mott the Lesser).
Two breweries I admire very much would be Dogfish and New Belgium. I admire both for the cultures they have created at their companies. I admire Dogfish for paving the way for craft brewers like myself, and for being very clear about their brand and being so true to that brand throughout the years. I admire the way New Belgium treats their employees, and for the way their employees love working at New Belgium. It is something every brewery should aspire to.
Aside from craft beer, what are your passions in life?
I am not sure how common of a passion this is, but I really love making sausage! About three years ago, I spent a few weeks at a college in Vermont learning how to make charcuterie. I fell in love with it – especially making sausage. I am not sure why – I think it hits in the sweet spot of everything I really love to do. I love to cook, and find it very relaxing.
The creative side of me loves coming up with new recipes. The nerd in me loves documenting the process and recipes in spreadsheets, so that my kitchen team can re-create them time and again.
Aside from cooking and making sausage, I love being outside, mountain biking, water tubing, or reading at the beach.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share (unique about your operation, philosophy, or technique)?
'Beer that displays seasonality is how beer should be.' -Nicole CarrierClick To Tweet
There aren’t any other breweries in New Hampshire with the same philosophy and mission as ours – to source everything from within 200 miles. In order to fulfill our mission, we work with local maltsers like Valley Malt.
Valley Malt works with farmers in New York and New England, trying to bring back the heirloom grains that many of the super large maltsers and big beer companies have discarded into order to homogenous everything. Homogenization is never better for customers and for a craft product like beer.
At Throwback, we want the beer to reflect the terroir of our region. We think beer that displays seasonality – i.e., grains changing because of the weather / growing season that then can change how the beer tastes – is how beer should be. It reminds customers that the craft of making beer is and should be linked to real agriculture, as is wine.