Love Beer. Love Life.
Harpoon’s motto, first coined when the brewery opened in 1986, embodies their pride in brewing great beer and enjoying the experiences paired with it.
Independent and employee-owned Harpoon is the second largest brewery in Massachusetts, behind Boston Beer Company.
Now 32 years young, it’s also Massachusetts’ oldest, continually operating brewery. Ranked 16th largest craft brewer in the U.S. last year, the staying power of this brewery is impressive.
With returning holiday favorites like Harpoon Winter Warmer and UFO Winter Blonde, as well as new collaboration beers like the highly anticipated Dunkin’ Coffee Porter, Harpoon has plenty of innovation on the docket to carry the portfolio into 2019 and beyond.
Draught Lines spoke with the brewery’s CEO and co-founder Dan Kenary to talk collaborations, holiday beers & traditions and what we can look forward to from Harpoon in 2019.
Draught Lines (D.L.) Your flagship IPA has been around since 1993. How do you continue to make Harpoon IPA stand out amongst the many IPAs available today?
Dan Kenary (D.K.) In some ways, it’s actually getting easier! We laugh about it sometimes because if you open a brewery in 2018, there’s no way you’re launching a crystal clear, balanced IPA as your flagship. Our IPA is the same as it ever was – and that’s part of what makes it unique. It has a heritage now that we treasure and respect. We’ll introduce other takes on the style, but we may never look at another beer in the same way we look at Harpoon IPA.
D.L. Who is Harpoon’s Brewmaster? What makes him so darn good?
D.K. Al Marzi is our Chief Brewing Officer. He’s been with us since 1991. What he brings to the table is a pretty special combination of institutional knowledge, brewing expertise, and not just respect for, but an appreciation of, innovation. In the past, our primary focus was on things like quality and consistency – how do we make Harpoon IPA taste the same every single time? Now we need to be consistent, while innovating. Al has found a way to do it all and step into it with a sense of humor. Maybe not always a smile, but certainly as sense of humor.
D.L. Although Harpoon IPA is technically a New England IPA (it’s balanced – West Coast IPAs are hop bombs), it’s not the hazy, juicy type that beer drinkers are going crazy for. However, this year you did brew three hazy IPAs – Juicer 1, 2 and 3, but they are only available in New England. Do you think you’ll ever make these more widely available?
D.K. We love the style. But the reality is, these beers are hard to make, and they are a challenge to distribute. More than other styles, freshness is key. We’d love to see these available everywhere, but if we can’t guarantee freshness, we just won’t do it.
D.L. As the craft beer landscape becomes more and more crowded, how do you stay relevant?
D.K. I get asked this question a lot. We don’t worry as much about staying relevant as we do about staying true to what we do well. There are so many breweries making so many styles that we don’t have to. Our founding vision was to ‘make great beer fun’, so we’ll continue to not only brew beers we love, but also provide great beer-drinking experiences for beer lovers. We can only hope it keeps us relevant, and we think it will. But time will tell.
D.L. Harpoon is an independent, employee-owned craft brewery. Can you tell us what that means and why it’s beneficial to both you and your employees?
D.K. When we first became employee-owned, we told people that it changed everything, and nothing, at the same time. What we meant was that we already had the right mindset for employee ownership – we were focused on working together to grow a company that would outlast any of us. But when we added ownership to that, it changed the dynamic entirely. For the employees, it’s a real financial incentive to succeed. Very real.
D.L. Does social media play a big part in building your brand?
D.K. Absolutely. When we first opened, our goal was to get as many people as possible to visit our brewery on the waterfront. But not everyone in Philly is going to be able to make it to Boston or Vermont. It’s really important for us to be able to keep in touch with our consumers, and meet them where they are, which is on social media. Yes, we share new products, but we also get really valuable feedback – and I can tell you that we are actively implementing that feedback in 2019. There is a very vocal group in our social audience who has been begging us to bring a product back, and we’re planning on it.
D.L. Harpoon has been involved in several collaboration projects. How do you choose your collaborators?
D.K. We’ve been doing it for years, in different capacities. It first started as a result of our annual beer trips. Every employee who works at Harpoon for five years gets to travel to Europe for a week. We find breweries we love and almost inevitably, we’ll end up talking about brewing a beer together. More recently, though, we’ve started to expand beyond beer – and the common thread is that we find folks who share our values and have a passion for their business. From Polar to Dunkin’ to Zildjian to Jameson, we’ve had a chance to partner with people all across the industry and beyond.
D.L. People went crazy over your Dunkin’ collaboration. Can you tell us about that beer and how the partnership came about?
D.K. We went crazy too! We had crossed paths with folks on the Dunkin’ team over the years and found we had a lot in common. We had worked together on some small projects over the years – a pilot batch for our Beer Hall, for example – but over time we started to think bigger. We couldn’t be more excited about this beer.
D.L. You acquired Clown Shoes Beer this year, as well as all of their employees. Why did you make the decision to purchase the brand? Do you have plans to purchase other breweries moving forward?
D.K. We weren’t looking for another brand to add – but we’re really happy we did. When we met the team, we found out that we shared more values than anyone would have expected. And we had fun! So, it started making more sense, and from a brand perspective, Clown Shoes is complementary to Harpoon and UFO. It’s a brand that adds to our portfolio – and a team that has helped us grow immensely.
D.L. Drinking local is important to many craft beer drinkers. How do you overcome that in markets outside of Massachusetts & Vermont?
D.K. Local is definitely important – and where local used to be defined by city, it’s almost defined by zip code these days, if not by block! It’s great for the American craft scene. But local is also just one of the things that consumers consider – quality, innovation, style, portfolio, etc. are also really important. So, where we’re not local, we need to work a little harder to communicate the other attributes we bring to the table.
D.L. Last year you guys made a Super Bowl bet with Philly’s own, Yards Brewing Co. You lost and had to serve their beer on tap at your brewery. If the Patriots make it to Super Bowl LIII in February, will you be making another bet?
D.K. Do you mean when the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl? In all seriousness, the Eagles won that game outright. They deserved to win, and we appreciate and respect how much it meant to their fans. That said, if the Patriots make it in again, we’d love to make a bet. We got into this business because there was a need for better beer in Boston. We stayed in it because we get to have fun. Those kinds of bets are great – we look forward to more of them.
D.L. What charitable things will Harpoon be doing in Philadelphia this holiday season?
D.K. Being a good neighbor has been part of our DNA since our founding, but it wasn’t until 2003 that we decided to organize it under the umbrella of Harpoon Helps. I’m happy to report that for the 10th year in a row, we will be decorating the Women of Change House in Philly for Harpoon Helps Spread Holiday Cheer. Women of Change is a safe haven residence for women and is part of the Project Home organization, where residents are offered personal recovery services, healthcare, education, social enterprise and employment opportunities.
In October, Harpoon was the beer sponsor for the “Be Our Guest” fundraising dinner for Broad Street Ministry for the third year in a row. Broad Street Ministry is an amazing organization that provides a mailing address for over 3,000 homeless people in Philadelphia. It also provides sit down, table service lunches, Monday through Friday, as well as, medical and mental help, dental screenings, music, poetry and art workshops, benefits counseling and bible study.
We are continually overwhelmed by the people who turn out for these events, and Philly has been particularly responsive. So, thank you!
D.L. Which holiday seasonals did you release this year?
D.K. Winter Warmer is back for its 30th year. It was the first craft seasonal on the East Coast and is still one of our best sellers. At this point, it’s something bigger than us – I can’t see a year when we don’t brew it. Combine that with the Dunkin’ Coffee Porter, UFO Winter Blonde and our variety packs, and it’s shaping up to be a pretty fun time for beer!
D.L. What are some of your personal holiday traditions?
D.K. I split my time between Boston and Vermont, where I am lucky enough – depending on how good my tires are – to live at the top of a hill overlooking open fields and an untouched tree line. Just over the tree line is a picnic table, and every year my family and I take our snowshoes and a cooler up over the hill for a beer. On the snowy afternoons leading up to and after the holidays, there is honestly no better reminder of winter in New England.
D.L. Do you have a favorite holiday food and beer pairing?
D.K. This one changes every year. I love a strong stout or porter, and I still have a few bottles of the first Baltic Porter Harpoon ever made. Sometimes during the holiday season, I will pull one of those from my beer fridge. This year, we are planning to bottle a very small amount of a barrel-aged version of Catamount Porter. I’m really looking forward to that with some ice cream and pie.
D.L. If you could only drink one Harpoon beer for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
D.K. Harpoon IPA, without question. It has all the flavor and complexity I love about beer, but is balanced enough to be sessionable.