For the first tasting of the new year, Eli Cannon's Tap Room in Middletown whet the crowd's thirst with the most recent offerings (and some classics) from Harpoon Brewery. On draught this past Tuesday, I found their Leviathan Uber Bock, Winter Warmer, IPA, 100 Barrel Docesna Hop Harvest Ale, and Harpoon Cider waiting for me, the perfect antidote to the whipping winter winds outside.
Roger Wilson was the man on hand to pour the beer, and he gladly filled me in on the history, mission, and mindset of Harpoon Brewery. Wilson was born in Munich and so right from a young age he has had a certain appreciation for good beer! He started out in the finance department of Harpoon, but "The work was good, but I was more eager to get out of the office and talk to people," he explained to me laughing. After that he moved to where he is now: the account manager for Connecticut. Wilson has been working for Harpoon for two years.
Harpoon Brewery was opened in Boston back in 1986 by Dan Kenary and Rich Doyle. There is now a sister brewery in Vermont as well, which just took over the old Catamount Brewery building when the latter went out of business. Harpoon was started with an original vision for beer that would be good and organic (green, way before it was popular), tasted great, and could be enjoyed by lots of people. The idea for Kenary and Doyle to open Harpoon came about when, after traveling the world and experiencing a vast array of beers, they were sitting at a bar in Boston. They looked at the tap handles and realized that all of the beer in America (by far and large) tasted exactly the same!
The guys' original plan (which is still pretty much followed today) was to offer a solid staple of beer while also offering variety for their customer. They applied for and got the first brewery license in the Boston area and then continued to produce good beer at a staggering rate. This gave rise to the inception of the brewery and their now iconic Harpoon Ale. The rest is history: Long Trail has become as much a Boston institution as Samuel Adams is, and not to mention their firm standing in the Vermont beer scene as well.
Wilson said that the biggest reason for Harpoon's success and longevity was that they could read their customers' wants. In the '80s when many breweries inundated the market with beers that few people could approach or appreciate, Harpoon made sure to tailor their beer to the drinker, and slowly weened their way into higher end "artsy-fartsy" beer.
Their infamous IPA (a great example of a staple beer), which is now a flagship beer for them, was originally an extremely well-received seasonal. When they ran out of it, they recieved so many angry letters demanding the beer back, that they dutifully reinstated the IPA as a main line beer: a prestige that it still holds to this day.
Harpoon is special, as Wilson explains it, because they foster a very positive company culture. It is the type of brewery where, on any given day, the owner may be hanging out with the line workers at the plant and anyone could go right up and have a chat with them! Harpoon is focused on solid growth: they want to build a respected brand that is recognized for its quality product. Wilson said that Harpoon really wants to be known by quality, and not necessarily size. Harpoon also wants to be known as a company that gives back regularly.
The idea of giving back was punctuated by the most interesting program that Wilson told me about: "Harpoon Helps." This is the community service arm of the company; they help out multitudes of projects such as animal shelters, food drives, and many other local charitable organizations that Harpoon regularly searches for. Wilson describes this a program to negate any bad images that may come to mind when people mention breweries.
The company really rallies behind charitable work and considers it one of the main purposes of the brewery at this point. The seriousness of Harpoon Helps is even reflected on Harpoon's website. Right on the top bar, along with other main information of the brand is a direct link to the Harpoon Helps site where all of their recent endeavors are documented!
Harpoon is a great example of a brewery that was formed around a community and, as they grew, they never forgot about the importance of serving the people around them. I have enjoyed Harpoon's beer as long as I can remember and it was great talking with Wilson during this past tasting. I knew that Harpoon was in touch with different races and charity rides, but I had no idea that they had an entire arm of the corporation that did nothing but philanthropic interests. If anything this makes me enjoy Harpoon all the more. I would highly suggest you to swing by the Harpoon Helps website and check out the full extent of their outreach
For more information on the beers present, please follow the link to my blog: Malted Musings.