Off the Grid at Belgian Mare Brewery
Nestled away in the mountainous terrain of East Alstead is former fish biologist and owner of Belgian Mare Brewery, Tim Roettiger. I pulled into the gravel driveway just as he was tending to his chickens. Between the chicken coops, the hops garden, the fruit trees, Aggie the actual Belgian mare and the impressive barn, the property has still retained some of its farm-like character despite the actual farm being long gone and replaced by an intrepid brewer.
The new barn houses the brewery and was built right on top of the site for the original. However, the foundation was useless from getting shifted around when the cellar was filled in, says Roettiger. Once the new foundation was in, he set to work with friends and family to erect the barn. “A lot of times we’d have work parties… we’d build as much as we could and then eat pizza," reminisces Roettiger.
The system embodies the very essence of Frankenbrew," a term that refers to brewers who build their system from scratch out of a random assortment of materials and parts. After failing to find any financial backing, Roettiger had to think outside the kettle, “I need something to boil in, I need something to mash in and I need something to ferment in. So I started looking around and I found these tanks and then I found a guy who can make these lids.” And once his kindly neighbor handled the sanitary welding, the Frankenbrewery was good to go.
The other unique part of the brewery is its off-grid aspect. “This building has no power to it,” says Roettiger. “The only automated part is this little chugger pump.” The three-barrel system features four repurposed tanks that serve as a boiler, a mash tun and two fermenters. The boiler is heated by burning wood inside an oven built to house the boiler. As you might suspect, using wood as your main source of heat can sometimes be difficult to manage. Recently his regular supplier stopped selling cheap slabs and now he pays top dollar for scraps and bundles of cordwood. “That’s been the biggest shock this spring – my fuel cost quadrupled.” he says.
However, the cost of fuel is worth the reward. The beer brewed at Belgian Mare is as much the essence of New Hampshire as the White Mountains. The ever popular Hemlock Stout is just one example of the Granite State in a bottle. It’s light-bodied for a stout but very smooth and drinkable with a dominating but delicious hemlock aftertaste and a sweet-piney aroma. But the taste of Belgian Mare beers is not always consistent. “Whatever it is that's in the Hemlock, the essence of it, tends to come and go,” explains Roettiger. “When it first comes out of the fermenter its almost undrinkably strong so that one usually takes two to three months before I can even sell it and then it will be sometimes woody, sometimes piney and sometimes even banana.”
The aging process and natural “taste evolution” of Belgian Mare beers is what makes them truly unique. “Actually, for all of these beers I don’t let them out in under a month,” says Roettiger. “They are bottle conditioned and it takes a while to really get what I feel is the correct flavor.” His hardcore beer-geek fans absolutely love this approach but Tim realizes it can be a turn off for some people. “You get some people who kinda came up on commercial beers and they expect it to taste exactly the same every single time.” What these customers fail to realize however, is that Belgian Mare ale is a living product and that any beers on the shelf in a grocery store have been filtered and pasteurized – yes, even most craft beers. If you want to see what the basics and art of brewing look like, then definitely check out Belgian Mare.