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A whiff of age-old brew in Westminster

Email|Print| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / May 9, 2004

WESTMINSTER -- The smell of malt hits home even before walking through the backdoor entrance onto the concrete floor. Stainless steel tanks abound. The malt silo, mash tank, and fermentation tanks hold the various brews. Wachusett Brewing Co. is a working, jazzed-up garage that produces ales sold only in Massachusetts.

The organization has its roots in the late 1980s, when the founders discovered they all appreciated beer. Ned LaFortune, Kevin Buckler, and Peter Quinn, then students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, developed a brewery business plan. Being the tinkering type, the trio eventually designed and built the equipment needed for a brewing company and this year, Wachusett marks its 10-year anniversary.

Forget a huge operation with deep cavernous halls and the constant clang of the bottling line. This brewery shares space in an office building. There's no self-promoting movie, not even a tasting room, though plans call for one. This is a down-home look behind the scenes complete with a brewer walking by and tunes playing in the background.

Two employees, Ed LaFortune and Wayne Ronn, give the tours; today, it's LaFortune, Ned's dad.

''He's a pretty good boss," says LaFortune senior with a smile.

Five beers are on tap and LaFortune starts the half-hour tour offering a taste to those of legal drinking age. Sacks of malt are on the floor. He holds up a photo of the three founders and a dog -- aptly named Molson Golden -- and details the company's history. He takes a tray with cups of grains and hops for a tactile and olfactory sampling. He moves through the plant, stopping by the tanks, explaining their function in producing the nine ales. Charts hang from the tanks, like those by a patient's hospital bed, detailing what's inside, the date the process started, and the sugar level.

The bottling line is silent this day; it goes twice a week. Bottles are cleaned, filled, capped, and labeled on equipment the founders bought at auction and retooled. They produced about 130,000 cases of ale last year. (Six-packs are $6.99-$7.99; 12-packs, $11.99-$12.99.)

The tour ends with yet another taste and perhaps a cheer for good use of a college education.

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