Throwback Brewery is one of those rare places in New England where history, architecture and cuisine collide to create something wonderful. Look no further than the red-on-white barn doors that frame the industrial-style garage door and the the vintage milk truck that’s often parked next to the retired grain silo. And speaking of trucks (or vans in this case), if Firefly Vans has set you up with a VW van rental, you’ll find plenty of place to park in the Throwback parking lot; directly adjacent to the brewpub. While you’re not allowed to camp in the parking lot, your VW camper will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion with your fellow craft beer drinkers.
A “throwback” to taverns now long gone in New England, everything about this revitalized 12-acre working farm speaks to the importance of a brew pub as both gathering place and purveyor of fresh beer and food. Hints of how this property have been changed to accommodate this purpose are visible with patron-filled patio tables and a busy parking lot. To complete the transformation from one-time barn to active brewpub, the owners, Annette Lee and Nicole Carrier, have infused historical aesthetic with modern function and left no stone–or operational efficiency–unturned. If you find yourself in North Hampton, New Hampshire stop by, walk the grounds and try their food and beer.
Although it might seem like this iconic property was always destined for greatness, success was never a given as much of the original property required significant rehabilitation when Annette and Nicole purchased the Hobbs Farm in 2012. Permits had to be approved, funding has to be secured and infrastructure needed to be built. Along the way, Annette and Nicole have received numerous awards (New England Women Owned Business of the Year, 2017; Best Brewpub from Yankee Magazine, 2017; North Hampton Business of the Year, Best of Taste (2014-2017); and Best of the Seacoast 2017) and demonstrated that good beer is dependent on local ingredients such as hops, wheat, barley, fruit, and spices. Not surprisingly, any ingredients used by Throwback in their food or beer are also pesticide and GMO free. While there are other brewpubs, like the revered Hill Farmstead, that masterfully instantiate this concept of “brewing terroir,” few—if any—allow the consumer to observe up close the interplay between ecology, locale and tradition that allow craft brewers to translate place to flavor. Even a half-a-decade ago, the challenge to source hops, wheat and barley locally would have made this New England venture a non-starter.
Before you enter the brewery’s main building, a quick scan of the property reveals the owners’ commitment to terroir isn’t just talk: hops vines scaling a lattice-shaped scaffold on one side of the property; heirloom chickens and pigs, Nigerian dwarf goats, miniature donkeys wandering in a fenced pen; and a sprawling vegetable garden. With every scan of the 12-acre property, the visitor is reminded that this brewery’s mission is visible for all to see: farm-to-table food, environmental sustainability, and locally-sourced ingredients. It’s all about the linkage between agriculture and beer production: As the availability of ingredients changes based on weather, so does the menu.
Although the concept of terroir carries weight in viticulture, it can often feel a bit high brow and out-of-scope for brewers serving good beer in the back of an industrial warehouse or urban building. But, what the consumer of a good craft beer might miss in the urban context is the urban brewery’s dependence on local food systems to reduce costs, improve product quality and reduce adverse outputs on the environment. Not surprisingly, Throwback’s commitment to locale seems to resonate deeply with consumers who continue to refine their palette and reward breweries who prioritize community needs and sustainable business practices.
Enter the converted barn on your way to a meal, and the attention to the owners’ vision becomes more apparent. The mostly glass-covered garage door seems to collect and scatter light across the long slabs of barn wood that have been laid horizontal and hewn, polished and crafted into period-perfect tables. “We reused everything we could from the farm. The contractors were very excited but also extremely challenged by this project,” Carrier says of their vision to keep as much of the original farm as they could. As pointed out in an earlier interview by Carrier, the long slabs of wood that make up the bar are taken from other parts of the property, the slate from the roof is used for the charcuterie plate, and the bathroom doors are taken from the old sheep farm.
To keep it fun, you’ll be handed a unique bobblehead to keep track of your tab. Customers and staff genuinely look happy here and the thoughtful arrangement of space seems to put guests at ease before a beer even hits the table. Like the surrounding terroir, the beers served here are creative, technical, intentional and consistent with the owners’ mission in terms of the seasonality and locality of ingredients. You’ll find Pale Ales, IPAs, Sour Blonde Ale, Black Ale, Hefeweizen and American Brown. Depending on the time of the year, they also offer an expansive variety of varieties: Spicy Bohemian-Jalapeno Pilsener, Saison, Watermelon Blonde Ale, Salted Blonde Ale, Belgian White, Berry & Lemongrass Ale, Oat IPA, Black Session Ale, Smoked Double Brown, Porter with White Heron Chai, Pumpkin Ale and many more.
This attention to detail in all aspects of the business doesn’t come as a surprise when you learn more about the owners. Nicole is a Dartmouth grad who worked at IBM; even while she managed Throwback for the first four years. Annette is an MIT-educated engineer who is kind enough to speak to our group about the brewery, but admittedly prefers the back-office over the front. If you spend any time with Annette and Nicole, you’ll becomes fans and learn that every aspect of their business is organized around sourcing their ingredients within a 200-mile radius. Thanks in large part to local maltsers like Valley Malt, all of Throwback beers contain about 70% of their ingredients from within 200 miles of the brewery. While food wasn’t a high priority for Throwback Brewery initially, hiring Carrie Dahlgren, former head chef at the Black Trumpet, opened the door for Throwback Brewery to become one the area’s premier restaurants.
As part of the owners’ commitment to sustainability, Throwback composts all of their food waste. In fact, their spent grain is repurposed and baked into the homemade bread, desserts, and rolls. Any of the waste that can’t be used for compost is shipped off to feed local pigs. While they may not be noticed during your first visit, the brewery also relies on numerous solar panels, which power approximately 50% of the brewery.
We are trying to create our own ‘beer-oir’ — yes, this is a term that we made up but a concept (terroir) that has been around for years with wine. Terroir reflects the unique characteristics and flavors imparted on wine as a result of its geography, regional vines, soil, and weather conditions. In striving to create our own beer-oir, we aim to create delicious and interesting beer that reflects its taste of place..