How Did Neighborhood Beer Find its Niche in a Four-Vessel?

neighborhood beer co.

Finding that niche that makes a brewery standout from the start is complicated.

For Joe Berwanger and his co-partners at Neighborhood Beer Co. in Exeter, New Hampshire, giving its twist on classic — and sometimes dead German styles — has been the key since opening in the last quarter of 2015.

Playing into the consumer-driven idea of “new and different is better,” Neighborhood is keep its four-barrel, four-vessel brewhouse cranking.

Already doing two turns per brew shift, Berwanger said the brewery is going to give it a go with a 14-hour, three-turn brew day to completely fill one of its six 15-bbl fermenters in the 4,000-square foot brewhouse as spring, he feels, will be busy. Especially for its year-round Kolsch that has proven to be very popular.

“It’s super super clean and just enough hop on the end that makes people very interested in it,” Berwanger said. “We are filling that like crazy now as it gets warm.”

Berwanger, along with Mike O’Donnell and Tim Diaz were able to convince Horst Dornbusch to join the team while in the process of putting the brewery together.

Dornbusch, who has written multiple books on German beer styles and is a beer history buff, convinced his soon-to-be partners to buy into a four-vessel German system, instead of using a two-vessel English system.

The change has made a difference as Berwanger said now the brewery can be very flexible in what they make while still being very complex.

A water jacketed whirlpool, invented by Dornbusch, has been able to bring late-stage hopping to the beers without dry hopping, giving off a similar aroma profile.

“We can cool from 212 [degrees] to about 190 instantaneously and then wait 20-30 minutes to get it down to 180-185 for isomerization,” Berwanger said. “This allows us to add more aromatic hops and have a stronger effect.”

Although it is a German system, Berwanger said they do hybrid some techniques, including how they lauter before the boil, opting to do the English method instead.

“It’s worked real well and depending on how much volume is in our grist, how much pressure we have to put in and how quickly we can pull it,” Berwanger said, noting that they have done a 24 Plato brew on the system and can get the kettle half full just on gravity alone with an 11 Plato beer.

Working at a brewhouse efficiency around 75 percent, Berwanger says the brewers are still fine tuning techniques to increase that and maximize their output.

Using two brewers on the two-turn brew day is a key.

“One brewer takes one turn and the second brewer does the second turn and we each pay attention to our batch all the way into the tank,” he said. “We’ve done it with one brewer doing two batches, and that’s a lot of juggling, especially if anything goes wrong.”

Although not common, four-vessel systems are used in the United States and Berwanger said they have had conversations with Smuttynose and Allagash about their brewhouses to gain insight into the process. Having Dornbusch in house as brewmaster is also quite helpful.

“To have Horst around to tell us if we are on style or if we are deviating too much has really helped,” Berwanger said.

Along with the Kolsch, Neighborhood has experimented with Schwarzbier, making an imperial version and adding oatmeal and chocolate to “be like a Porter, but nothing like a Porter,” Berwanger said with a laugh.

A popular beer has been “Boss Flamingo,” a revitalized Dampfbier that is a hybrid of a barley base with a Weissbier yeast.

“The original recipe wasn’t good enough for an American palate so we did an imperial version at 7.2 percent and 65 IBUs instead of 20,” Berwanger said. “Banana on the aroma, malty in the middle and hoppy on the finish and without the whirlpool, that beer wouldn’t be what it is. We get the hop aroma without dry hopping.”

neighborhood beer co.

Neighborhood also has an array of light colored beers that Berwanger said is only possible because of the step mashing regimen that a four-vessel system allows.

“They are very light colored and dry and it’s difficult when you can’t do accurate step mashing,” he said. “We have temperature control within a few degrees through the whole mashing process and the entire mash tun.”

The brewers have an impeller and also hand paddle the top just to make sure everything is consistent.

“It’s made a huge different to how lautering goes,” Berwanger said. “We were getting stuck mashes all the time when we started. Once we had accurate temperature control through the mashing process, enzyme control was much much better and efficiency went way up.”

Other beers lined up include a medieval beer in April and using a recipe from the 1500s in May.

Berwanger said he has hopes of producing up to 1,000 bbls in 2016, adding packaging to its nearly 50 draft accounts and, down the road, installing a 15-bbl system to compliment the four-bbl brewhouse. In the initial plans, Berwanger and his partners made sure to save space for such an expansion.

“There are none in this area doing it this way,” he said, “so people are really keeping an eye on us.”

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