Local beer enthusiasts had been asking the question for the last few years: “When will Jack’s Abby be in Rhode Island?” On March 27, we posted the answer: “Jack’s Abby coming to Rhode Island in late April.” And now the wait is over: today, the trucks started rolling and the bottles and kegs will be arriving all over our tiny state.
Some background: The Framingham, MA brewery is helmed by Jack [brewmaster], Eric [financial whiz], and Sam [sales guru] Hendler [the name is a nod to Jack’s wife, Abby and a wink at the European monks’ brewing tradition]. The brewery opened in the summer of 2011 and the brothers immediately distinguished themselves from the craft pack by producing lagers with a unique twist — masterfully combining the time-honored brewing process with the full and glorious range of flavors from the malts and hops that are used in ales. [Their first brew was Red Tape, inspired by the slog through licensing and regulation hurdles.] Lagering has a longer and cooler fermentation process and uses a different yeast strain; the style has a smoothness and crispness that results from the extended tank time, which is typically three times longer than ale-making [one to two weeks]. Most small breweries don’t have enough fermenters to make lagers [and need more product in the pipeline]; only a half-dozen or so are lager-only.
Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager, showcased Jack’s Abby’s brewing alchemy [the style was soon made by Magic Hat, Samuel Adams, Widmer Brothers, and many others; the first instance of IPL that we can find was Shmaltz’s Coney Island Sword Swallower, which was released in 2008]. In the next three years they added to their offerings and reach, distributing in VT, NY, CT, and PA; in December, they announced a major expansion from their current 12,000-square-foot site to a 67,000-square-foot space. In 2014, they brewed 14,000 barrels [barrel = 31 gallons]; they’ll make about 20K this year, will make about 50K at the new place, and could eventually produce 125,000 barrels. They’ll also start canning their world-class lagers and will add a restaurant at the sprawling facility, which they hope to open by year’s end.
To celebrate Jack’s Abby’s arrival in the Ocean State, we asked Jack Hendler a few questions. Here’s the exchange:
What was the brew that opened your eyes — and palate — to how good beer can be? I think I’m probably unusual [compared] to most craft brewers. I had little to no understanding of the brewing process and very little experience drinking craft beer. It took me two years of brewing commercially before I fully enjoyed my first IPA. I’m partial to the beers of Bavaria and got my first exposure in Munich the summer before my first brewing job. The beer culture in Germany really was eye-opening at the time.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about running a brewery? Most misconceptions relate to believing brewing beer is a fun job. I certainly love what I do, but there are few tasks in a small brewery that don’t require earplugs, eye protection, steel toe boots, coveralls, and a steady supply of water to stay hydrated.
You’ll be bringing your newest beer, Excess IPL, to the tap takeovers. Tell us about how you concocted that hop-crazed new brew! We’ve been experimenting with how to create increasingly hoppy beers. We’ve built a new proprietary hop-dosing system and released a number of double- and triple-hopped versions of our current beers. Excess IPL is the culmination of all this R&D and we think it will be an incredible hop experience. [It’s made with Citra, Chinook, Equinox, Calypso, and Simcoe hops.]
What’s the best reaction you’ve ever gotten to a beer? I love watching people drink Fire In the Ham for the first time. Fire In the Ham is our smoked Helles, and for many it’s their first experience with drinking a beer that smells like bacon. [Fire In the Ham is usually released in July.]
What’s been the most satisfying aspect of your overwhelming success in the last four years? The most satisfying aspect has been building an outstanding team that’s a pleasure to work with.
If you haven’t been crossing state lines to savor Jack’s Abby’s lineup, here’s what’s headed our way: the year-round brews — Hoponius Union [6.7% ABV], Smoke & Dagger [black lager, 5.8%], Jabby Brau [a session brew, 4.5%], Mass Rising [double IPL, 8%], and Leisure Time [wheat lager with spice, 4.8%]; and the seasonal Sunny Ridge [pilsner, 5.1%]. Jack said that we will also get most of their specialty beers. The following stores will get deliveries today [4.21]: Bridge Liquors, Campus Fine Wines, Crossroads Liquors, High Spirits, Island Wine & Spirits, Malik’s Liquors, Nikki’s Liquors, Sandy’s, and Town Wine & Spirits.
You can sample Jack’s Abby’s brews — and meet Sam Hendler — at four tap takeovers: on Wednesday [4.22] at Doherty’s Ale House [6-10 pm]; Thursday [4.23] at What Cheer Tavern [5-10 pm]; Friday [4.24] at Track 84 [8-10 pm]; and Saturday [4.25] at English Cellar Ale House [5-10 pm]. Doherty’s and Track 84 will have Nitro Smoke & Dagger, and all locations will have the super-limited Excess IPL.
Jack’s Abby’s slogan is “Drink Local. Drink Lager.” You should drink to that — the wait is over!