Wachusett Brewing Company Introduces Craft Beer to Worcester County
Originally Published: 03/95
By: Kerry J. Byrne
Nestled between Route 2 and the New Hampshire border, in the rolling hills of north-central Massachusetts, lies Worcester County's first and only brewery, the Wachusett Brewing Company.
The expansive Wachusett facility, located just a half-mile north off Route 2 in Westminster, is the handiwork of flannel-clad 20-something grunge brewers Ned LaFortune, Peter Quinn and Kevin Buckler.
The three longtime friends - LaFortune is CEO and Quinn head brewer in their as-of-yet loosely constructed hierarchy - developed the idea for the brewery in 1993, although "Ned probably started worrying about it in '92," said Quinn. The group studied brewing under Vermont's Ray McNeill and at the Ipswich Brewing Company. The first kegs and 40-ounce growlers of Wachusett Country Ale rolled off the line December 19, 1994.
Their first creation is a pale ale widely in the English style but dry-hopped with Cascade hops. Nuggett and Tettnanger hops are also used. Four different malts help give the brew medium depth and complexity. It contains 4.5 percent alcohol by volume and is unfiltered and unpasteurized.
"The Country Ale is designed to appease a wide variety of beer drinkers," said LaFortune.
They expect to introduce an IPA in late April.
Quinn summed up his approach to brewing this way: "Everyone thinks brewing is just a recipe, but brewing is a process. You can take two different people and give them the same ingredients to work with and they'll give you two different beers."
Contrary to the experiences of many others, LaFortune said his brewery had the support of the local community since the outset. "The town has just opened their arms. The area's been hit hard by lay-offs and they're excited to see a new business and a new industry try to make a go of it," he said.
A great deal of support comes from the fact that all three come from "solid civic-minded families" that have contributed a great deal to the community, said James Krauss when Quinn, Buckler and LaFortune were out of earshot, "That's why they're doing so well." Krauss himself is testimony to the fact that this has been a civic-minded venture; an out-of-work GE employee, he has volunteered numerous hours to help Wachusett become a viable entity.
The three principals, each of whom are putting in 100-hour work weeks, including some 20-hour days, built their 20-barrel system themselves. Much of the equipment came from the dairy industry and LaFortune spoke proudly of his brewhouse. "We made a system that we think works better than any other out there," he said.
The mash tun is an impressive horizontally-positioned piece in which they had to build a false bottom. Also in the facility were two large 40-year-old white tanks that once held milk but will soon be turned into conditioning tanks. "The purpose of milk and beer tanks are very similar," said LaFortune. He also pointed to a glycol system "designed by Kevin in its entirety. He bought all the parts out of catalogs, including the electronics. It works like a dream." Their project has been aided greatly by the fact that both LaFortune and Buckler have engineering backgrounds.
LaFortune is optimistic about his company's future. He made this clear when he opened a door at what I thought was the back wall of his 4,500-square-foot facility. The door led to a cavernous 6,000-square-foot room which will be used if and when the brewery expands.
The company's largest account is the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, which was going through a brisk 10 kegs per week in February. Wachusett Country Ale can also be found at beer bars such as O'Connor's Restaurant and Bar in Worcester.
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