Littleton's Schilling Beer Co.
Tradition Meets Modern Science in the White Mountains
Brewer John Lenzini hopes to bring a little bit of funk to Littleton’s Schilling Beer Co. And it’s not music or a cool esthetic he’s talking about — he means beer.
As the brewery, which focuses primarily on Belgian, Czech and German brewing traditions, celebrates its first year of operation, Lenzini is ready to broaden palate horizons.
So how, exactly, do you bring the funk? With something called wild fermentation, which, in this case, isn’t exactly as uncontrolled as it sounds. Traditionally, explains Lenzini, wild fermentation means that you simply leave the lid off the fermenter and allow Mother Nature to take over — whatever wild yeasts are in the air would start the fermenting process. But when it comes to Lenzini’s brews, chance won’t have much to do with it.
He’ll be using a purchased culture called Brettanomyces, or Brett, as it’s called amongst those who know their beer, a cousin to a wild yeast that lives on fruit skins. This will be blended with a house culture they’re currently propagating, meaning the beer is only partially wild fermented. An all-wild product, explains Lenzini, is “a little too off the charts for most people.”
The end result is beer with an enjoyable level of funkiness. “You’ll hear people say that it has a horse-blanket quality,” says Lenzini. (Yes, really.) Other interesting flavors include smokiness, tropical fruit or tobacco. You’re also likely to find sour beers, which they’re developing more of in addition to the ones they already serve.
Though he’s having fun experimenting with new beers, Lenzini, who is inspired by his former residence in central Europe and especially by the better part of a decade he spent in Austria, will always keep to the brewery’s roots — traditional Belgian, Czech and German styles. Though available beers change often, you’re likely to find the Erastus, an abbey-style tripel, or the Foy, a popular Belgian IPA, on tap.
Combined with the brewery’s commitment to these brewing traditions is a sense of place, family and local history. The brewery is located in one of the oldest commercial buildings north of Concord — a converted 18th century gristmill building on the Ammonoosuc River that exudes New Hampshire character.
“Schilling is the culmination of many dreams and hard work,” says Lenzini’s longtime friend and Schilling’s CEO Jeff Cozzens. “John brews truly inspired, world-class continental European-style beers. However, we take equal if not greater pride in the fact that when people taste Schilling, they sample integrity, family and the beauty of North Country ‘community’ in every sip,” he adds.
In addition to Lenzini’s experiments, as they think about the future, says Cozzens, limited distribution is not out of the question. Their current production capabilities only support selective distribution, but growth in that area is potentially on the horizon. “The heart of the question for us is whether we will distribute at all beyond our region,” he says. Maintaining quality over quantity as they expand will always be the priority. “On the spectrum of breweries you’ve got some great, big mass producers in the craft beer world, but then you’ve got very small artisan players, and we definitely tend toward the lesser end of that spectrum and probably always will,” explains Cozzens.
With the combination of Lenzini’s new ideas and “very traditional, technical beers with continental European roots, we have a dualistic approach to brewing; we’re not purely classicists. Belgian traditions are always about experimentation and pushing the envelope anyway,” he says. But it seems that the traditional mixed with the modern is what they’re all about. As Cozzens says, “Schilling is where innovative brewing science meets continental European traditions in the White Mountains.”