Winter Hill Brewing Co. – Somerville, MA
Brewery Profile of Winter Hill Brewing Co. by Malcolm Purinton
This brewery profile was originally published in Yankee Brew News June/July 2017
Jeff Rowe was already looking around for a place to open a small brewery when he stumbled upon an empty building right around the corner from his and his wife’s place in the Winter Hill neighborhood of Somerville, MA. When he looked inside he saw two guys talking who came out to see what he wanted. They turned out to be the owner and broker of the property and liked his idea for a small neighborhood brewery. Within a month he had a lease. “I don’t consider myself a lucky person, but I lucked out!” says Jeff, one of three co-founders and head brewer of Winter Hill Brewing Co. that opened just over a year ago on April 1, 2016.
Punk Rocker to Head Brewer
Jeff grew up with a crew of friends in Gloucester, MA working odd jobs like construction and as a frozen foods buyer for Whole Foods while playing in a punk band called Boxingwater. After only a couple months of home brewing, however, he had found his true passion and gained a packaging job at the Harpoon Brewery where he would spend the next seven years off-and-on doing a variety of different jobs. Why off and on? Well, soon after starting his work at Harpoon a record label asked if he wanted to do solo touring for a couple months a year “forever.” Harpoon allowed him to go and tour as Jeff Rowe, singer/songwriter, and return to Boston with a job at Harpoon. “I’d come back as a brewer, as a filter person, as a maintenance guy.” Jeff’s says its “kind of ironic now” with the smaller size of Winter Hill Brewing but he “became enamored with the capacity of it all – Harpoon with those huge tanks and how do we mass produce this beer and then all the little components.” But he knew eventually he wanted his own place of a more constrained size where he could play a bit more with his own styles of beer.
Being more Hands On
After working for Harpoon for seven years Jeff had a stint as head brewer for Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis, MA before setting out on his own with Winter Hill Brewing that he started with two friends, including Bert Holdredge – a carpenter by trade and award-winning home brewer in his own right. Why did Jeff want to scale down? “There was a – not in a negative way – plasticity to that level of brewing [at Harpoon] when you’re just churning it out.” The quality was pretty much taking care of itself with a high-class quality-control lab and Jeff “loved it! But I wanted to be more hands on.” For him “always, the goal was to be able to do something more hands on…which was about getting small.”
Have you tried the Allendorfer?
Jeff’s inspiration for a small neighborhood brewery came while on tour in Germany a few years ago. Jeff played some shows in the rural town of Allendorf in the upper Eder Valley that had its own local brewery that produced one beer: the Allendorfer, a light and crisp beer similar to a Kölsch according to Jeff. “Everybody in town was drinking this beer! I went to play a show and the only beer on tap was the Allendorfer.” The next day, Jeff went “literally the next town over” where they had another local brewery to play another show the following night. “I was surprised that they didn’t have the Allendorf beer on tap because it was so close by so I asked the people ‘do you guys have the Allendorf beer? I was having it last night and it was great!’ And they looked a me like ‘well why would we do that, we have our own beer, we would never drink their beer.” Jeff was inspired. “I know its not possible here in America but I like that idea of starting a small brewery in a neighborhood just for here. And success here in Winter Hill is our barometer. There are a lot of great brewers around here!”
What about the Beer
Winter Hill doesn’t distribute aside from only three accounts at Row 34, the Publick House, and Brewers’ Fork and that is only when it may have enough to send out from its 5-barrel brewing capacity. The brewery doubles as a local café from 7am until about 1pm when they switch over to serving beer and it hosts a full kitchen for its 80-person indoor capacity and 40-person outdoor patio. While most of the six taps are regularly rotating Jeff makes sure that the floral and dank Darling IPA (6.5% ABV) and the House Ale – a cream ale made with vanguard hops – are always on. Some of the favorites that Jeff has produced have been Shrub (11.3%), a Belgian strong ale brewed with wildflower honey, rose hips, and juniper, the Russian Ending (9.3%) imperial stout, and Three Threads (6.2%) robust porter. Crowlers of fresh beer are available daily in the brewery’s cooler and instead of small flights Winter Hill offers the Winter Hill 5k that you are required to share with a friend and includes 10oz pours of all the beers on tap.
Success isn’t measured in size
Having worked at large breweries, Jeff is very happy where he is. “Breweries can be small and be successful…its just depends on what you clarify as success.” When asked about what he considers as success, Jeff Rowe responds that he’s “fairly easy to please when it comes to that, I have no grand illusions that there will suddenly be millions of dollars in my bank account because I’ve started Winter Hill Brewing Company. But it’s really nice to love your job and have staff and treat them like family.”
Winter Hill Brewing Company
328 Broadway, Somerville, MA