CONWAY, N.H. -- The annual pilgrimage to New England's spring skiing mecca, Tuckerman Ravine, usually starts from frosty Pinkham Notch, boards strapped to a backpack, with a 3-mile hike to the bottom of Mount Washington's famous snow-choked bowl. But it's possible to get a taste of Tuckerman year-round by venturing only a few steps from your car -- at Tuckerman Brewing Co.
Located on a side street here, behind a plumbing and heating business, the microbrewery offers free tours on Saturday afternoons. There are no black-and-white portraits of dour patriarchs or shiny, muscled Clydesdales on these walls. The brewery is a simple, cement-floored warehouse where grain meets water and about 25 days later, beer is born.
This is a grass-roots effort, led by owners Kirsten Neves and Nik Stanciu, both 34, who started the business in 1998 and moved it to its present location in 2004. About a year ago, they started the tours. ''We don't have a pub or anything, so this is a good way to get to know our customers," Stanciu said.
The brewers took the name of the glacial cirque for their enterprise because they were enamored with the history of Tuck, as it is known, with its maverick ski racing competitions in the 1930s and its status today as a rite of passage for skiers and snowboarders.
A classic black-and-white photo of ski racers in the bowl adorns the label of their American-style TuckermanPale Ale, while the German-style Headwall Alt brown ale features skiers on the ravine steeps.
Neves, Stanciu, and two employees take turns conducting the 30-minute tours. ''We get people who are familiar with our beer and some who haven't tried it," Neves said. ''A lot of people on vacation are looking for something to do and take the tour."
The upstairs gift shop, the tour's starting and ending point, is also the tasting room where visitors 21 and over are poured five-ounce samples. They also get to touch and smell the grains used in producing the beer. From there it's down the stairs for a look up at the malt mill, where malted barley kernels are cracked into grist. On the floor are huge stainless steel tanks and vats. In one, motorized rakes mash the grist with hot water. Visitors can peer into the tank.
The tour is like a mini science class, with your guide dispensing information about the process. The tour continues into the 40-degree storage room before heading over to the line where the bottles are filled, capped, and labeled. Nearby are mountains of boxes awaiting the finished product.
Back in the gift shop, Tuckerman Ravine memorabilia is well represented, with everything from snapshots of a keg being hiked up to a White Mountain hut to framed photographs. On the wall is a huge poster of the label.
This is a place where handling Tuckerman is easy.
Marty Basch can be reached at email@example.com.