LOWELL BREWERY TAPS INTO THE ART OF CRAFT BEER
Ben Howe is making noise in the beer world with his original recipes. Photos & video by Tory Germann.
By Rita Savard
Ben Howe is an artist.
His canvas is a steel barrel. His brush — a variety of malts and hops.
Ben makes beer. And it’s not your average PBR. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
His South Lowell brewery, aptly named Enlightenment Ales, is revolutionizing the art of beer drinking, one small and tasty batch at a time.
Even smaller than a microbrewery, Enlightenment Ales is a nanobrewery that operates out of a garage bay on Meadowcroft Street. Welcome to commercial beer making in its most compact form, producing fewer than 2,000 barrels a year.
Independent brewers like Ben are cropping up like crazy, according to the national Brewer’s Association, the trade group for small breweries.
Thirsty consumers bee-lining for craft beer (specialty brews made in small batches), along with more flexible laws allowing self-distribution and direct sales to customers, are fueling the growth of nanobreweries nationwide.
Running a small-scale operation also gives brewers like Ben plenty of room to flex their creative muscle and experiment with flavor.
Nearing its one-year anniversary in March, Enlightenment Ales is fast becoming known among beer lovers. Ben’s Illumination Farmhouse IPA was named one of the best new craft beers of 2012 by Drink Craft Beer, an online community of craft beer lovers and independent brewers.
And his popular Enlightenment Brut proves even beer can be worthy of a New Year’s toast.
On a recent Thursday, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” thundered through Ben’s brewery, a harbinger of delicious things to come.
Methodically stirring in a hand-picked selection of malts, he cooks up his latest opus. A honey saison he’s naming after Stravinsky’s orchestral masterpiece. Enlightenment Ales’ Rite of Spring will debut in March.
The brew mash is equal parts art and equal parts science.
Ben experiments with his recipes, but temperature and timing must be exact.
He rolls up his sleeves before sunrise and spends up to 18 hours a day on the job. Enough time to brew enough beer for around 30 cases.
The brew mash, says Ben, is equal parts art and science.
It’s a labor of love for the Somerville resident, who got his start in the beer business at Cambridge Brewing Company.
There, his boss and mentor, Will Meyers, introduced him to “Bière de champagne.”
Now Ben’s signature dry, sparkling ale has become the flagship beer of his own business.
Enlightenment Ales is one among only a handful — and quite possibly the smallest — in the U.S. crafting spirits using a traditional method that straddles the line between champagne and beer.
“It’s the most labor intensive of all the beers I make,” Ben says. “But the response has been great. We completely sold out of Enlightenment for New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t ask for a better compliment.”
Like champagne, Ben’s Bière Brut undergoes a lengthy re-fermentation in the bottle.
After the liquid is bottled, a month-long process known as riddling requires Ben to rotate each bottle by hand every day. That helps coax the yeast into the bottleneck.
When the beer is prime for drinking, the bottleneck becomes flash-frozen and an ice cube of yeast settlement rockets out of the bottle.
The beer is then corked and distributed to a select number of liquor stores, taverns and restaurants around Greater Boston (click here for locations).
Taste Enlightenment Ales at Ward Eight, 280 Central St.
In Lowell, Elightenment Ales can be sampled exclusively at Ward Eight Pub, 280 Central St.
The best part of a job making beer? For Ben, it’s being able to combine two different art forms.
The labels on all Enlightenment Ales’ craft beers are designed by Boston artist Elizabeth Jacobs, and are inspired by the flavor personality of each brew.
“I’m making something I’m very proud of as an artist — this beer I’ve labored over, thought about, brewed and put out there— and Liz, who is a brillant painter, gets to create a unique piece of art and the two are combined,” Ben says.
“So we’re basically putting on an art show that’s on a shelf. It’s just awesome.”
We’ll raise our glasses to that.
On Saturday, Jan. 26, a keg of Ben’s Illumination Farmhouse IPA will be on tap for Howl’s Full Moon Madness party at Ward Eight, beginning at 7 p.m. Also try Ben’s Cosmos, an imperial stout aged in port barrels (a limited number of bottles will be available).
Visit Enlightenment Ales online here, or Like them on Facebook. To purchase beer from the Lowell brewery, arrange an appointment by contacting Ben via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to learn more about artist Elizabeth Jacobs.