Foodstuffs: In Canterbury, There's a Brewery in the Woods

Feb 12, 2016

You can only buy Canterbury Aleworks beer in one place – at the brewery in the woods.

"I like the little saying, a little out of the way, a lot out of the ordinary. But you could swap those off one way or the other. Some people say, 'Oh it’s a lot out of the way.'"

That’s Steve Allman, brewer and owner of Canterbury Aleworks. He’s behind the bar in his taproom. And he doesn’t look like a bartender – no crisp white shirt and pressed black pants. He looks like a carpenter. Which he is.

"So there’s eight on tap at any given time, if I’m keeping my management crew to task."

Allman is the management crew. His wife does the books and he does everything else. And this story isn’t about the beer he brews, although it’s good: pale ales down to porters, each has a really creative flavor. It’s more about the experience of this brewery – that’s really what Allman is selling out in the woods.

Steve Allman is the brewer and owner of Canterbury Aleworks.
Credit Jack Rodolico for nHPR

First, the building. Allman built this enormous, three-story structure as a carpentry shop in the 90's. Then he converted one room inside to a brewery in 2008. The building is wood, and every inch is covered in these really fine details.

"There’s a little bit of Norwegian, a little bit of Swiss, German, some Japanese, a little Shaker thrown in. I designed and built this from scratch. My neighbor at the time was a timber framer and I have a lot of woodworking friends. So I made new friends and lost some old ones in the process."

That sound of rushing water in the background is a water wheel Allman built to generate the electricity. A stream runs right under the building.

Credit Jack Rodolico for nHPR

  "I feel compelled to do everything myself."

Are you just the kind of person that’s like, I want to do something new and I want to kind of do it in the most complicated, challenging way possible?

"Well, yeah, well that – that’s kind of a nutshell, I guess."

Case in point: how Allman brews. Once barrel a week in this complicated, gravity-fed system. The top barrel holds hot water, which flows down to the second barrel which has grain and sugar, then down to the third barrel where it’s all boiled. That last barrel one made of wood and lined with metal, and it sits on top of a brick foundation. He boils the beer by lighting a fire inside that brick stove.  

"I didn’t know how to build a rocket stove when I started this either. So I’m just sort of playing it by ear."

Jack Rodolico: "Is that a word you’re making up, rocket stove? Or is that a thing?"
 

"Well it is a thing. Originally the concept was conceived for third-world countries that don’t have a lot of biomass."

A rocket stove gives off lots of concentrated heat from small amounts of fuel.

Allman’s work ethic – his need to just problem solve complicated projects – drives him to create really interesting and beautiful things. Not only is the beer good, but you drink it at a perfect mahogany bar. The tap handles are custom made. The eaves in the ceiling have incredible detail. And you can only come out here on weekends. It’s all those details that keep customers like Alex Colby from Pittsfield coming back.

Credit Jack Rodolico for nHPR

"I love this place. It’s definitely one of the hidden gems in New Hampshire, as far as craft beer goes. I’ve got three growlers with me. I’m going to be filling those before I go, probably picking up with a couple more."

Colby left with a couple gallons of beer in growlers. And those growlers will keep him coming back too. Filing one is only seven bucks. But each bottle has a six-dollar deposit – redeemable here, out in the woods.