Why Am I Here?

Welcome to "First Draft"

“Why am I here?” you might ask. Not why are you (the reader) here (wherever you are), but why am I (the ranter) here (in NH Magazine). Who am I? That is a fine question, and we may never answer it. I do not have a CV, or any references to previously published work. Most of what I have written has been for my own amusement, and perhaps that of a few passers by. Yet, here I am.

I approach you as a man equal parts huckster, word-player, vaudevillian, and brewing industry know-it-all. I would like to walk you down a serpentine path, through the world of beer and a few of its tangential dimensions. Some of our stops will be bright and familiar, circling around stories of Davids and Goliaths and timeless battles from the myth cycles of modern capitalism. Some of the places we will linger will be more enshadowed, with glimpses of strange happenings being caught from behind trees and the vibrations from distant demolitions being felt from underfoot.

I have been fortunate enough to figuratively grow up with the New Hampshire craft beer scene. I co-founded a beer and brewing podcast called “The Tap Handle Show” with Tim Roberts in late 2013, and we went live in early 2014, just as things were getting really interesting in the Granite State of beer.  An early episode involved interviewing Meagan and Bryant from Slate Roof Films, with them interviewing us immediately afterwards. They spent quite a few years working with Ken Burns, then decided to launch a production company and start filming what became “Brew Hampshire.” This documentary brought the flowering NH brew scene together, and captured some of the formative stories. Through involvement with the film, I interviewed some amazing beer folks early on, from Mitch Steele at Stone Brewing in California to the veterans at Able Ebenezer in Merrimack to the ground-breakers at 603 in Derry. After a while, enough people vaguely recognized me that I was accepted into the behind-the-scenes world of brewers. Not that their behind-the-scenes is any sexier than any other industry. In fact, it is distinctly less sexy than other industries, and mostly involves cleaning everything multiple times, moving literal tons and hectoliters of stuff from here to there, and paying tax to at least five different entities along the way. In rubber boots. Rubber boots are key.

But the backstage of the brewing world is quite interesting. Perhaps more interesting than many industries. It is interesting because it is largely a labor of love. Not many folks are getting rich on craft brew.  Most NH brewery founders I spoke with took a major pay cut to follow their dream, if they even paid themselves at all. This tells me it is fueled by passion. It is also interesting because brewing is a black box to at least 98 percent of the planet, and the brewing industry is even more unknown, and brewers get off on that esotericism. These brewers let me into their clubhouse before I had really earned a right to be there, and I did everything I could to represent their voices and help them be heard. I tried to do the same thing with "MHP Untapped," a radio segment I hosted 2015-2017. I took a cue from the generosity of the industry, and used this show as a platform to allow brewers to share their stories.

When I did join the ranks of commercial brewers in 2015, it was like a kid who moves to a new town, only to find all his old friends were there waiting for him. As a guy who didn’t leave his home town until he was 24, after never really feeling that compelled to stay home, nor feeling that compelled to leave, this was unexpected. As you may learn from future rants, gentle readers, I spent a lot of time at the job buffet. I over-ate at the job buffet. I oversaw quality control at a Silicon Valley clean room assembly line, and nobody discussed their current project when they bumped into a coworker at a smoke break. I cold called from a boiler room selling time-shares, and we wouldn’t let our co-workers hear how we closed the sale. I managed four states for a company who sold eight figures almost exclusively to one box-store, and we never sat down with our peers to discuss how to improve the industry-at-large.

But this brewing industry thing was quite different. The cliche of "a rising tide lifts all boats" actually held true. Folks were honestly as concerned with the perceived value of “New Hampshire craft beer” as they were with the perceived value of their own individual brand. Perhaps more concerned.

An almost universal theme I found in speaking with this first wave of NH nano-brewers was that they came from good jobs that, to some degree, ate their souls. I don’t mean ate their souls in the Clive Barker sense; more a creeping dystopian yuppification, with a slice of Willy Lowman from "Death of a Salesman" on the side. I suppose this is another facet of the "why am I here" question. I had a great job, which I mostly still enjoyed, but I saw a shadow of Willy in the mirror. I walked away from all of that in order to answer the eternal “What if?”, and found myself surrounded by ways to chase my dream. Part of that involved rediscovering the catharsis of the pen.

So here we are, me writing and you reading, and it all feels pretty normal. We seem to have addressed the "why,’" so how about "what" and "where."  The "what" is clearly beer. Perhaps it is murkily beer. Opaquely beer? But not exclusively beer. Just mostly beer. Mostly. The "where" is New Hampshire, because Mumbai Magazine still won’t return my calls. For the sake of the story, this sense of place may spill over into other time-space continuums, such as Australia or Vermont. But the stories will always spend most of their time in the Granite state.

All that remains to be answered is "how." How will I take you on this journey? Generally speaking, with reckless abandon. With enough insider knowledge to blanch the surface off of the mainstream story, and enough irreverence to make you laugh a little as we dig. Future topics might include beer traders, legislation and so, you wanna open a brewery?

Remember, this is just my First Draft.

Michael Hauptly-Pierce is the co-founder of Lithermans Limited in Concord, NH and co-host of "The Tap Handle Show".

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