Enlightenment Ales Founder Ben Howe Is Exploring ‘The Wonder of the Unknown’ as a Head Brewer in Denmark
When you’re stocking up on beer for the weekend, keep an eye out for Enlightenment Ales Beyond the Infinite. If the mesmerizing label art catches your eye, or the style “dark farmhouse ale” intrigues you, consider picking it up. It may be your last chance for quite a while to try a beer by Ben Howe, the head brewer whose talents earned his artisan project and Idle Hands Craft Ales a Top 10 spot on our list of New England’s best breweries.
“I hope you enjoy our liquid and visual tribute to three years of learning, growing, and creative expression,” Howe shared on Facebook last week. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon. This is just too much fun…”
Where is Howe going? Idle Hands and the funky, urban farmhouse-style Enlightenment Ales were displaced this summer from the Everett facility they shared, but it seemed Howe would wait out the interim and move along with the partner brand when it found a new brewery. But in Idle Hands’ announcement last month about signing a lease in Malden, there was no word on the future of Enlightenment Ales.
We reached out to Howe for more information, and he responded—from Denmark. It turns out, he took the head brewer position at Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri, a farm brewery in the rural western part of that country.
“With [Idle Hands] moving locations, there was and will continue to be a big gap in brewing production. Faced with possibly contract brewing, renting space, or waiting tables during the indefinite downtime, which was to my mind unacceptable, I decided to put Enlightenment on hiatus and find work in Europe,” he explained. “I couldn’t be happier for [Idle Hands owners] Chris [Tkach], Grace [Tkach], [assistant brewer] Brett [Bauer] and the gang. That said, I am no longer an employee of Idle Hands, although Chris is still selling the remainder of the Enlightenment Ales beers, of which ‘Beyond the Infinite’ is the last. Get it while you can and all that.”
Around the same time that he decided to explore Europe, Howe received an email from an old friend Anders Kissmeyer, proprietor of Danish brewery Kissmeyer Beer & Brewing. While Howe was assistant brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company, he met Kissmeyer when the latter invited Cambridge’s head brewer to join him on a project called Nordic Saison Goes Global.
“[Kissmeyer is] one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, honestly. Anyways, the day I found out there would be a big gap in my production, I got an email from him asking if I knew anyone looking to work in DK. A month or two later I more or less had the job,” Howe wrote in an email. “I’m running the production and brewing most of the beer, working to streamline some operations, and develop new recipes. Brett saisons are coming to rural DK!”
The learning curve has been steep, he said. He’s getting to know different lager styles, including darks, bocks, and Danish pils. There are different tastes, as well as cultural attitudes, that he’s getting acquainted with first-hand.
Howe plans to be in Denmark for the next year and a half, getting a chance to travel as well as develop his chops as a brewer.
“Maybe I’ll even be able to pull off a collaboration somewhere! After that, in the words of Joe Strummer, the future is unwritten. I love Enlightenment, it’s my baby. But I also want to get back into pub brewing. I really miss that environment, the experience of breaking bread and drinking beers with your customers on the other side of the bar. So, after my time in Denmark and some Euro traveling, I plan on returning to Massachusetts, picking up the pieces, and moving on. Maybe it’s back to producing Enlightenment Ales in the same format… but I doubt it. I’m actively investigating some other exciting possibilities. Either way, I’ll be back, and so will the beers, in one form or another.”
Beyond the Infinite, with a swirling label design by Howe’s friend and consistent collaborator Liz Jacobs, brings the Enlightenment Ales project full-circle. The “saison noir,” as Howe defined it, is a dry-hopped, dark beer brewed with oats and dark malts, “fermented as the last turn in our Funky Town tank,” which has a few strains of Brettanomyces; Enlightenment’s house saison blend; “and some bugs in primary.” It pours deep brown with a thick, cream head, and it is bright, dry, and fruity in aroma and on first sip. But it finishes with a nutty sweetness.
“The goal is something that really plays with and messes with your senses,” Howe said. He was inspired by the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without too many spoilers for those who haven’t seen the classic film, “Instead of being darkness and nothingness, it’s blinding light, life and energy. That’s a bit of what I wanted to convey with this beer. The wonder of the unknown.”
Unknown, for sure, but not completely unprepared. Chris Tkach updated fans about Howe’s adventure in a statement yesterday, and he said there are “several hundred cases of funky Brett saisons and Enlightenment Brut” to be distributed locally “for the foreseeable future,” but in limited quantities, “so if you happen to find one on a shelf, grab it!”
Tkach added that Idle Hands will run with the flavor profiles Howe helped develop: “We will begin brewing beers that share some of the characteristics of those farmhouse and hoppy beers you’ve come to love but under the Idle Hands brand. You’ve already seen some of this happening with Snake Eyes, the farmhouse IPA we brewed late this Summer/early Fall, and Silk, our 4th anniversary red IPA. We’ll continue to brew our classic Belgian and German-style beers, but watch for more of these ‘Enlightenment-inspired’ beers once we’re up and running in Malden.”
Idle Hands Craft Ales, coming to 89 Commercial St., Malden in spring 2016; idlehandscraftales.com.