A New Hampshire Photographer Is Crowdfunding ‘Behind the Beer’ Book

Michael Penney has been making portraits of New England brewers for two years.

From 'Behind the Beer,' (L to R) Megan Parisi, Head brewer at Samuel Adams; JC Tetreault, owner of Trillium Brewing Co.

From ‘Behind the Beer,’ (L to R) Megan Parisi, Head brewer at Samuel Adams; JC Tetreault, owner of Trillium Brewing Co. / Photos by Michael Penney

When you’re sitting around your living room with a few friends and local, craft six-pack, do you ever wonder who made the beer that’s brought you all together? Michael Penney did, so he grabbed his Canon digital camera and embarked on a mission to find out. The result is hundreds of images of brewers from southern Connecticut to northern Maine, to be collected in an artful tome called Behind the Beer: Portraits of New England’s Craft Beer Makers.

Penney is a professional photographer of more than 30 years. He typically shoots architecture, and portraits of people for editorial and commercial uses. He was doing a personal project—making images of people with tattoos—when he photographed Matt Tarpey, then a brewer at the Portsmouth Brewery.

In 2014, the craft beer scene was exploding, and I thought, ‘This could be a really cool project,'” Penney says. “I’ve been working on it ever since.”

Now, he has more than enough images to fill a 192-page coffee table book. Yesterday, Penney launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to help fund the book’s production, and he’s hoping the craft beer community will rally to help get Behind the Beer on shelves this October. Penney’s asking for $45,000, which needs to be fully donated by June 8 in order for him to meet that deadline.

“If we don’t reach the goal it will be back to the drawing board,” Penney says.

In his crowdfunding plea, he acknowledges it’s a big ask. “The costs of this self-funded project have been immense,” he writes. “I chose not to cut corners and sacrifice quality because the brewers I’ve photographed would never do that with the beer they make! It would be like choosing to drink a beer from the corporate big guys versus enjoying a Heady Topper.”

(L to R) Cover of 'Behind the Beer,' featuring Seth Reidy Head brewer at Tuckerman Brewing Co.; Matt Tarpey, then at Portsmouth Brewing Co.

(L to R) Cover of ‘Behind the Beer,’ featuring Seth Reidy, Head brewer at Tuckerman Brewing Co.; Penney’s first brewer photo, Matt Tarpey, then at Portsmouth Brewery. / Photos by Michael Penney

The hardcover, 9×11 art book is a locally-sourced product, too. Penney is working with Matt Ralph, a designer at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, firm Plainspoke, to lay out Behind the Beer, and it will be printed at Penmor Lithographers in Lewiston, Maine. Peter Egelston, owner of New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewing Co., wrote the forward, and Penney has penned an introduction himself.

“This project is a labor of love for me,” says Penney, who doesn’t plan to pay himself with the Kickstarter funds. “The money we raise will go into the design, layout and printing of the book,” he says.

Penney has traveled to more than 80 breweries so far, and he’s still making trips. In the Boston area, he has stopped at Night Shift, Harpoon, Cambridge Brewing Co., Lord Hobo, Blue Hills Brewery, Idle Hands’ former Everett location, Mystic Brewing, and more. “By documenting the people behind the scenes, the ones who are brewing the beer and advancing the craft during this period of unprecedented explosive growth, we are helping to preserve a special time in the history of New England brewing,” Penney writes in his Kickstarter campaign.

If funded, Behind the Beer will be available to Kickstarter backers this fall. Other prizes include a framed portrait of Tod Mott, a legendary brewer who created Harpoon IPA, and later founded Tributary, signed by the brewer and Penney; custom-made coasters, posters, and a T-shirt designed by Dan Blakeslee, the Somerville artist that created the iconic Heady Topper label.

Penney also hopes to have Behind the Beer for sale ($75) at taprooms around the region. The photographer has also matted and framed the portraits, and he’s interested in connecting with galleries, breweries, and other venues that are interested in displaying them.

Behind the Beer is Penney’s first book project, but he doesn’t think it will be his last. “There are a lot of breweries in New England,” he says. “Unfortunately, I can’t put all the breweries in one book so I’m hopeful that this will be volume 1.”

Behind the Beer: Portraits of New England’s Craft Beer Makers, Facebookmichaelpenneyphotography.com.