Russ Heissner was a pioneer when he joined Harpoon Brewery as its first brewmaster in 1986. Now, he’s poised to put the South Shore on the area’s growing craft beer map with Barrel House Z, a collaborative brewery slated to open in Weymouth in mid-2016.
Barrel House Z announced today that it has signed a lease for a 16,000-square foot production facility on Woodrock Road.
“We’re doing something a little different. We’re not going to have a flagship beer. We’ll have a series of collaborations we’ll constantly rotate throughout the the year,” Heissner said.
That includes with amateur and other up-and-coming brewers, but the standing relationship is with Heissner’s former employers and Bully Boy Distillers. Both companies have minority shares in the fledgling brewery.
First up is RR #23, a riff on the Harpoon 100-Barrel Series Old Rusty’s Red Rye Ale, which Heissner brewed for Harpoon nearly 20 years after he left the industry. The resurrected brew will be aged in Bully Boy whiskey barrels. This summer, BHZ will release a “ginned pils.” A pilsner base from a Harpoon brewer will get herbaceous notes from Bully Boy (inspired by their forthcoming gin), and the beer will rest in barrels seasoned by Bully Boy rum and a to-be-named cider collaborator. Heissner is planning a third Harpoon collaboration, alongside chief brewing officer Al Marzi, for the fall: Rage Against the Hop Machine, characterized as an “extra special brown sugar ale”—or “an anti-IPA beer.” RATH, as it’s affectionately called, debuted in the Harpoon Beer Hall last fall.
The final offering next year remains to be brewed: Heissner is working with Homebrew Emporium in Weymouth and Craft Beer Cellar in Braintree to organize a contest for amateur brewers on the South Shore. “We’re going to provide them with a style framework we’re looking for. They’ll select a single brewer to work with Barrel House Z and do a short production run, launched next fall,” Heissner said.
The U.C. Davis brewery sciences alum left the industry for biotech in 1992, after he helped create Harpoon’s first release, its namesake ale. “I always joke that the beer got better and they started making money after I left,” he told the Boston Globe‘s Gary Dzen earlier this fall.
He left the corporate world earlier this year and has a fairly small-scale vision for BHZ. The 10-barrel system could make up to 4,000 barrels a year, but “I’m hoping to do about 2,000 barrels [a year]. We’ll set out to do 200-250 barrels in the production run for each release.”
Each beer will land on local draft lines, and get packaged—in one-month, three-month, and six-month aged varieties. “If I’m getting back into [brewing], we better have some fun with it,” Heissner said.
At a debut event at the Harpoon Beer Hall in June, BHZ also shared the unoaked version. Heissner may release the “naked” brews during their future production runs, as well, though he hasn’t quite decided. For the barreled brews, the youngest will come in 12-ounce four-packs; the three-month version will come packaged in 22-ounce bottles; and the six-month variety will be corked and caged in 750-mL bottles.
The Weymouth brewery, formerly an industrial space that has sat vacant for at least a year, “needs a lot of love,” Heissner said. But construction will begin early next year, and beers should hit the market by the second quarter. “We’ll be set up for tours immediately, and we’ll build out a tasting room in 2016.”
“I’ve always wanted to open a brewery on the South Shore. I’m actually quite surprised no one has done it before this,” the 20-year Hingham resident continued, though he knows firsthand real estate is a barrier. “I had money in escrow by July, and we finally just found a lease,” he said.
The space has ample parking, and logistically, it works. “The future of craft beer in the Boston area is going to be more in the suburbs.”
Update, 9:30 p.m.: The descriptions of future Barrel House Z beers were clarified.
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