Meet the Brewer: Wildbloom Beer’s Devin Bush
Bush discusses the variety of the beer industry, investing in your community and the joy of shotgunning cheap brews while playing Wiffle ball
There’s a lot of breweries in New Hampshire — over 100, actually. That’s a lot! We want the good people of the Granite State to get to know all the brave souls who mash, hop and malt their way to victory at those 100-something breweries. So, we’re doing a monthly “Meet the Brewer” Q&A series, where we let brewers wax poetic on their craft and get to know the humans behind the hops.
For our latest Q&A, meet Devin Bush, owner and head brewer at Wildbloom Beer in Littleton. Wildbloom is a three-barrel brewery located on the second floor of 42 Main St., right across from beloved candy store Chutters. Devin and his wife, Beth, opened the taproom last December after operating as a tenant brewery for the previous two years. While Wildbloom is Bush’s first foray into running his own taproom, he’s no rookie to the beer scene. Growing up in Connecticut and venturing to England for brewing school, Bush discovered a passion for brewing with local produce. After brewing in Australia for a beat and then holding the reigns for six years as head brewer at Henniker Brewing Company, he decided to take a chance and go it on his lonesome. At Wildbloom, Bush utilizes 99-percent locally-grown ingredients and offers beer with specific intended purposes — like their grisette, Chicadee, which was made as the ideal accompaniment for a beloved 15-mile canoe ride. Devin and Beth are also the only taproom workers, making a stop at Wildbloom an instantly intimate experience. Ray Bradbury once said that all arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of the concise declaration; Bush seems to have taken that sentiment to heart at Wildbloom — his precise passion project celebrating the multitudinous fervors of his palate and vision.
I sat down with Devin on a warm spring day in Littleton to discuss the beer industry’s wonderful variety, investing in your community and the joy of shotgunning cheap brews while playing Wiffle ball. The following conversation has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
NHM: What was the motivation for starting your own brewery?
DB: A big motivation was the idea of showcasing the stuff that we grow here. Some of it was also that we, as brewers, have gotten away from the educational component of beer. When I first got into beer back in the mid-2000s, there was a huge educational side of it because not everybody knew what everything was. You didn’t know where flavors were coming from, you didn’t know what all the beer styles were and this and this and this. Beer wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now; it was only a percentage of the market share, like 3 percent market share, where now it’s 12-ish for craft beer. Now everybody knows what an IPA is — even if they don’t drink it, they have an understanding of what craft beer is. Then, nobody knew. And we’ve kind of drifted away from the educational component and making really interesting beers, where I think a lot of stuff has become more ubiquitous. If you go to a brewery, you can have a beer that tastes like a beer you’ve had 55 times before. And that, to me, is less interesting. I wanted to bring back styles and make stuff interesting for my palate again.
NHM: Would you call the New Hampshire craft beer scene tight-knit?
DB: Very. Everyone talks to everybody. It’s funny, I just got a question this morning, “Hey, I just had this beer, what yeast strain are you using?” because they liked a flavor note in there. So I sent them the yeast strain. I don’t care. It’s about what you’re trying to do with it.
NHM: Everyone’s doing their thing; it doesn’t seem to be a competition. There are so many niches that everyone’s doing their style and what they want to do.
DB: One-hundred percent. Having Schilling (Beer Co.) in town here, obviously they’re a big player in the state. They have great national recognition, it’s awesome. But there’s also room for another brewery here. It’s not like they’re the only one. During summer they have a two-and-a-hour wait — okay. And we’re not doing food, so it’s like, there’s people who try to go there just for a beer or two, and it’s hard because they have a huge wait time. There’s a market for people who just want to go hang out and have a few beers and not do food and this or that. If we can make great, world-class beer, they’re making great, world-class beer, so it’s that “rising tide lifts all ships” kind of idea.
NHM: What was it like starting Wildbloom in the heart of COVID, in 2020, as a tenant brewery without a taproom?
DB: It totally changed our plans. Before COVID we wanted to do pop-up events and stuff around the state, and then the pandemic came and everything went to cans. We eventually did farmers markets, though, which were awesome because with us using local ingredients, it’s an automatic connection. We did the Concord farmers market with one of the farms that grows a bunch of our barley, so we could point across and be like, “Sharon and Andy, right over there, they grow the grain that’s in this beer.” And they’ll be like, “Oh, I just bought beef from them.”
NHM: That’s immediate trust.
DB: Very much so. You can see one of their fields off the highway, so you can be like, “As you’re travelling north, that field right there grew the stuff that you’re drinking right now.” And they’re like, “Oh, okay!” Where I feel like, beer for a lot of drinkers became nontangible. They knew that barley was an ingredient, they knew that hops was an ingredient, but they didn’t know where it was being grown. We grow a lot of incredible barley here, so it was like, let’s showcase that.
NHM: That’s a great goal. A lot of older brewers I’ve talked to have said, “When I grew up, beer was something my dad drank that came in a can from the Midwest.” It was very remote, where now it’s so cool how it’s becoming a local thing.
DB: We work with Maine Malt House up in Aroostook County, Maine, and they malt beautiful stuff, they grow beautiful grains, and if it wasn’t for their consistency and quality, we wouldn’t be making good beer. Jake from Maine Malt House and I will go back and forth on, say, a barley. We can work on blends or whatever else and get the exact products I want to make the beers I want. It’s so collaborative, and that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. And I know those guys. He just had his second child. A lot of other places buy grain from all over the world — because those places make beautiful grain, too — but you don’t know them physically. They can come here and I can hang out with them — I just shared a hotel room with him — so it’s like, I’m friends with these people and get to help support their families. It’s very much full-circle, and that matters a lot. It goes back to building the community. Why would I not give the money to someone who lives in our community? That makes way more sense, to me, in how to create longevity out of a thing.
NHM: What kind of styles do you specialize in at Wildbloom?
DB: A lot of yeast-driven things; I like a lot of Belgian stuff, I love a lot of English beers. Bear Camp, the one you’re drinking now, is a pretty classic Polish beer. We have people who will come and be like, “I only drink IPAs.” And I’ll be like, “Well, we don’t have one on tap, so let’s try some other stuff.” And I’ll give them something like this and they fall in love with it, they’re leaving with it, they’re saying things like, “If you had an IPA on tap, I wouldn’t have tried anything else. I would’ve just stuck to that — good, bad or indifferent, that’s the only beer I would’ve drank.” It’s showcasing all the styles and ingredients and processes to people, and that, for me, was so much of why beer started. What was interesting about beer to me was that side of it, so getting back to that.
NHM: Having such an intimate space like this really helps, where you’re working the taproom and can explain things to people and be like, “Try this!”
DB: One of my favorite questions is, “What do you normally drink?” I don’t even care if it’s beer. If you’re telling me you normally drink kombucha, if you drink coffee or this or that or wine, I want to know what kind of wine. Do you go dry white, because I can probably get you more toward a beer you’re going to like. I think I have a pretty high success rate for that and that’s really fun for me. It’d be like, imagine a world where we only ate mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets. That’d get pretty boring pretty quick. Sure it’s delicious, but there’s so many other things out there.
NHM: How often do you mix up the tap list?
DB: It rotates pretty well. Every few weeks one goes off, one goes on. We have a few that will always be on: Gnome Shoes and Pinecone. Gnome Shoes is our 4.2 percent Belgian blonde flagship beer, and then Pinecone is our pale ale, all Maine-grown cascade hopped, showcased for that hop. Those are the two that will always be on tap, and then the others are rotating throughout. It also changes agriculturally.
NHM: What’s your personal favorite beer that you’ve got on tap right now?
DB: Hedgerow. We’re saying it’s an English-style ale. It is a British bitter — but if you call something a British bitter it doesn’t sell because that style means nothing here. So we just say English-style. It’s a beautiful balance of all of the ingredients. It has an awesome ester from the yeast, a lovely little caramel note from the malt and then a little spiciness from the hops. It’s a beautiful beer that I love and that, drinking it, I can’t get enough of.
NHM: What’s your approach to coming up with and creating new beers?
DB: It can either be I have an idea for something, or a local business wants to work with us. We had a farm reach out that grows lavender in Plymouth. So I thought, “What do we want to do with it? How do we want to use this ingredient?” They brought us some samples so we got to know the lavender, we got to try stuff, and then we came up with a plan. That beer came out of nothing. I didn’t have a plan for that beer until she approached us and said, “Would you be interested in using this thing?” “Absolutely.” As the word gets out that we use local ingredients, people are like, “I grow this interesting thing. Would you like it?” So that’s on the schedule. There’s a maple producer here in Littleton that we’re going to do a beer with because it’s sap season now, so it’s all those things coming together.
The other way we come up with beers is most of our beers have a time and place attached. So Chickadee is our grisette. That beer was designed to be the best beer for a specific canoe ride that we take. It’s a 15-mile canoe stretch, and it’s like, “If we were to go out paddling here, this is the perfect beer for that.” So I wrote down a flavor profile, I wrote down how I wanted it to taste, all the things involved, and then I backtracked to figure out what that beer was. What is the perfect sip? I’m going to be doing this, I want a beer to accompany me on this thing. What beer do I want to drink to wind up doing that thing? There’s a couple different ways of coming up with beers, and I want all the beers to have a reason they exist, not just putting it out to put out another style. I want it to be a reason why we’re putting out a beer. I want them all to have a reason for existing.
NHM: What’s your favorite beer style and food combo?
DB: Probably just a pale and a burger. A really classic pale ale, like a Sierra Nevada pale or our Pinecone, and just a pretty classic burger. Either that or a Belgian witbier and some kind of alfredo. Those things just marry together and it’s gorgeous. That’s a great combo. If you wanna go heavier, creamy pasta, alfredo and a wit. Those light estery notes and almost citrus pops just play in, and they’re a little bit more carbed, so the carb lifts on your palate. It’s very niche, very weird.
NHM: What, in your opinion, makes for a good beer?
DB: It was drilled in my head from school that if somebody doesn’t want a second one, you’ve made a bad beer. If you don’t want another one of that, whether you should or not, even if that’s beer’s 10 percent, they should want another one. For me, I want beer that you want to have in your fridge.
NHM: It feels like craft beer is starting to lean into that more — I don’t know if it had a period where it was more uppity or more pretentious, but it’s getting more accessible.
DB: The owner of Dogfish Head years ago said, “There’s always room for well-differentiated breweries,” and that’s something that’s always stuck with me. People will say, “Is the market saturated?” and I’ll be like, “Sure, but there’s always room for well-differentiated.” If you have a model that’s interesting and different and you have an interesting philosophy on beer, then f**k yeah, you do you.
NHM: What was the first beer you tried that made you want to brew?
DB: Magic Hat #9. I was drinking a Magic Hat #9 and I looked at it and said, “Somebody makes this.” So then I looked at beer schools. That was (when I was) 17 or 18. That was a staple in New England for so long, that was the beer. They had a huuuuge tap handle, too, that stuck out from everything else. It had to have been 16 inches tall, it was giant metal, above everything else so you couldn’t miss it. They were great.
NHM: I love asking brewers that, because it’s so interesting to hear what was the thing that sparked the passion, that really made it something you were interacting with.
DB: You start thinking how beer can be more than just a beer, and it’s whatever that is. You find out that it’s more than just a thing you pick up at a grocery store. I think that’s one of the reasons why people love beer — because it’s more than just a liquid. It’s something tangible. It’s easy to fall in love with a small business that cares about the things that you care about. It puts faces and names to the product that you’re consuming. There’s the social side to it, there’s the manufacturing side, there’s the science side. There’s so many different elements that go into beer where you’re not just producing a widget. For anybody interested on the beer side, there’s always more to learn. If you want to learn more about yeast genoming or this or that, you can dive as deep as you want. Or you can figure out how the internals of a freakin’ pump work. That’s also important. Whatever thing you’re interested in, that thing is also in beer. I think that’s why it hits so well with people.
NHM: Do you have a favorite cheap beer?
DB: Genesee Cream Ale. It’s in the dark green can. Genne cream is beautiful. Perfect beer. Second would be (Miller) High Life. I want High Life in that weird-shaped bottle, so it’s always a 12 pack of High Life in the weird-shaped bottles. They’ve perfected the bottle. And I feel like it’s been $8.99 a 12 pack since I was, like, 16. It’s always been the same price. The inflation-resistant beer is High Life.
NHM: So many brewers seem to have a passion for cheap beer, which is lovely.
DB: There’s a time and place for anything. It depends upon how you’re drinking. Randy (Booth, brewer at Twin Barns Brewing Co. in Meredith and North Woodstock) and I do a Wiffle ball tournament every year. It’s a charity Wiffle ball tournament for Type 1 diabetes, really fun, it’s a fundraiser, and you’re gonna be drinking a shitty beer. You’re playing a Wiffle ball game. The time and place is not right for an IPA. That’s not what that should be because you’re shotgunning beers.
NHM: What’s your one-sentence pitch why someone should drop by Wildbloom?
DB: World-class, easy-drinking beer made with local ingredients.