Thomas Neel suggests that his homebrewing customers read The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, which he called the “quintessential homebrewing book for beginners.”
“That’s how I learned to do it,” he said, adding that brewing beer done using a simple a four-step process. “If you can make soup, you can make beer,” he said.
Neel now oversees brewing at Candia Road Brewing Co. and Nepenthe Ale House, a homebrew supply shop and nanobrewery in Manchester.
The shop sold only brewing supplies when it first opened, while staffers went through the eight-month licensing process. Brown paper bags each filled with 50 pounds of malts line a wall-length metal rack at Candia Road Brewing Co. next to a refrigerator filled with many varieties of hops and yeast. The shop also sells malt extracts (concentrated maltose) for homebrewers not wanting to mash their own malts, pre-packaged kits that include all the necessary ingredients and books on the art of brewing.
For those looking to create something at home other than beer, the shop offers wine concentrate and fruit mash for home winemaking and home soda-making kits.
“Now it’s grown into a full-scale homebrew shop and full-scale brewery in one little house,” Neel said, of the space where Nepenthe Ale is brewed in a two-barrel system.
The first of the brewery’s six beers made was the Shire Stout, a recipe concocted by Neel and his girlfriend. “It’s the best accident ever made,” Neel said. “[My girlfriend] and I were here one day and said, ‘Let’s just wing it.’ … [The stout] has received some of the best responses.”
Rounding out the rest of the brews are the East Coast Pale Ale (a house-style standard American Pale Ale), Nut Brown (an American take on an English-style brown ale) and the ale house’s two newest releases, Solo-Springer, a hoppy and citrusy American golden ale that Neel called an “easy-drinking lawn mower beer,” and the Whimsical Wheat, an American take on an old Bavarian or German-style beer, made with 70 percent wheat and 30 percent Munich malt. The Solo-Springer is a seasonal offering that will likely be produced only through the end of August.
The Nepenthe Hop-ful IPA has been “under construction” since the get-go. The ale, Neel said, is very bitter and rugged and boasts earthy flavors. “I’m still not satisfied with it, but some people are,” he said, adding that he is unsure whether to completely replace the original recipe or offer a second, tweaked, edition of the brew.
Neel said to expect a Nepenthe Harvest Ale in the fall, likely made with cone hops from Gilsum. He hopes to create a milk stout — a sweeter, less hoppy version of the Shire Stout, for the winter.
“We’re just really having fun,” Neel said. “We’re just kind of overwhelmed with the response … trying to keep up and not outgrow ourselves too quickly.”
Brewing is done at the shop up to four times a week; it’s been done consistently four times a week over the last two months to meet demand.
“People are tearing through [our beer inventory],” Neel said. “We have such a small system that it’s tough to keep everything in stock.”
Nepenthe Ales are sold at 43 stores in the Granite State, and the brews will soon be available in Massachusetts and Vermont.
As Nepenthe Ale is bottle-conditioned, the beer must sit for up to three weeks (depending on the style) before it can be consumed, so it can reach its proper level of natural carbonation.
“We’re trying to work on consistency — with such a small system that’s the hardest part,” Neel said.
Nepenthe, an ancient Greek term, directly translates to “no grief” and was first used in Homer’s Odyssey in reference to a potion capable of ridding one of memories and sorrows. “We kind of wanted the name to transcend time rather than name it after a road in Manchester,” Neel said.