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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Merrimack firm finds it takes a lot to open a brewery, even a nano-brewery

You learn a lot when you open a brewery, including stuff you didn’t necessarily want to learn.

“I know way more about wastewater than I ever anticipated I would,” said Carl Soderberg, one of three Army buddies who will be opening the Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. this month, part of the fast-growing nano-brewery trend in New Hampshire. ...

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You learn a lot when you open a brewery, including stuff you didn’t necessarily want to learn.

“I know way more about wastewater than I ever anticipated I would,” said Carl Soderberg, one of three Army buddies who will be opening the Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. this month, part of the fast-growing nano-brewery trend in New Hampshire.

Ebenezer Brewing came to Merrimack rather than the half-dozen other places the firm scouted because town staff was helpful and efficient, Soderberg said – especially because it had knowledge about the complicated state and federal licensing process for breweries, because of the Anheuser-Busch plant in town.

“Other towns were like, ‘Here’s the book, it’s the size of a Bible, good luck figuring it out.’ Merrimack helped us navigate those systems,” Soderberg said.

But the city’s beer history carried a surprise drawback, he said: Stiffer requirements for dumping brewing waste, created to deal with Anheuser-Busch’s huge output.

“When we dug our trench drain and installed it, we assumed we could just hook it up to the sewer. But they (town inspectors) brought up that we have to batch all of our wastewater, because we are held to the same standard as the other brewer in town,” Soderberg noted.

Rules are rules, even though the Budweiser plant can produce about 1,200 barrels every day and Ebenezer Brewing will be lucky to generate that much in its first year.

“We have to batch it, sample the pH, neutralize it, before we put it down the drain,” Soderberg said.

Despite such surprises, the company is ready for its grand opening from noon-8 p.m. Saturday at their brewery at 31 Columbia Circle. The event, including a “bottle breaking” at 1 p.m., is followed with food, beer sampling, raffle prizes, music and more.

The company’s name is taken from Ebenezer Mudgett, of Weare, who led a 1772 revolt against British requirements that the best pine trees be kept for use by Royal warships. Mudgett led two dozen men, faces blackened with soot, as they drove sheriff’s men out of town – although not before whipping them with tree switches, in what has become known as the Pine Tree Riot.

A key component of Ebenezer Brewing will be its tasting room, modeling after the rooms that have become common at wineries and at cider houses, where people can taste different batches before, hopefully, buying some to take home.

“This is a pre-Prohibition concept. It’s not a brew pub, but a pure tasting room,” Soderberg said. “We’re reintroducing the concept to southern New Hampshire.”

The tasting room may be unique, but the idea of a small, craft brewery is becoming more common, especially since New Hampshire created the new nano-brewery category in 2011 to allow more breweries, partly because they’re a good tourist draw. We were the first state in the country to allow the concept.

The nano-brewery license is cheaper and easier to obtain than existing licenses for manufacturers or brew-pubs. In return, nano-breweries cannot sell more than 2,000 barrels of beer a year (a barrel has 31 gallons) and, just as importantly, cannot use independent distributors. Ebenezer Brewing’s three owners have bought two trucks to carry barrels of the beer to restaurants; Soderberg said their experience as military officers overseeing logistics will come in handy.

The new license seems to be working. As of June, there are 11 active nano-brewery licenses in the state. That’s more than the nine brew pubs licensed in the state, and not far behind the 16 “beverage manufacturer” licenses for bigger breweries – including Anheuser-Busch, large craft brewers like Smuttynose and Tuckerman, and 603 Brewing, which opened in Londonderry in 2012 and has upgraded from its initial nano-brewery license.

As for Ebenezer Brewing, holding a grand opening when the annual Rock’n Ribfest is being held at the Anheuser-Bush plant will prove either wonderful, because of more traffic in town bringing customers, or bad, because of more traffic in town keeping customers away. Either way, it’s a good introduction to life as a tiny brewery in the shadow of those famous Clydesdales.

“We kind of like the idea of opening a small brewery … next to the largest brewer in the world,” Soderberg said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@Granite
Geek).