When the temperature rises, so does people’s desire for a beer. The cold, refreshing liquid pairs well with hot, steamy days. Just ask craft brewer Chris Tkach, MBA’06, owner of Idle Hands Craft Ales in Everett, Mass. “Oh yeah—we sell more beer in the summer,” he says without hesitation.
Idle Hands offers two summer brews, which come to market around June and disappear near the end of September. “People tend to want lighter, citrusy flavors that are associated with warmer weather,” says Tkach. “That typically means pale ales, wheat-based beers, sometimes highly hopped beers. Lighter-bodied beers. There are a lot of categories of beer styles that fall within those boundaries.”
One of Idle Hands offerings is Blanche de Grace, a Belgian wit, which is a pale ale. Tkach always has loved Belgian beers, although he’s not quite sure why. “Being that promiscuous craft-beer drinker, I like drinking brews I’ve never heard of and never tried before,” he says. “I just sort of stumbled upon Belgians.”
He started working on the recipe for Blanche de Grace years ago when he was a home brewer. It’s brewed with a lot of wheat, which is unmalted, notes Tkach, making the beer “bready” but not heavy. Among other spices, he uses orange peel and coriander. “It’s a light, wispy beer,” he says. “It took me a long time to dial in the spices to the point where they’re there, but you don’t know they’re there.”
Tkach’s other summer offering is a hopfenweizen, which is German for hoppy wheat. “This is the first time we’re brewing it,” he says. The recipe uses malted wheat for a lighter, general wheat flavor. It also uses Pilsner malt and a little bit of honey malt, which adds an interesting sweetness. (“When you open the bag of honey malt, you just want to eat it—it smells so good,” says Tkach.) Traditional hefeweizen yeast contributes banana and spice characteristics. Then Tkach loads it up with hops.
For months, Tkach struggled with naming the beer. “I find naming beers is the hardest part,” he says. “Usually I come up with something when I need to order labels.” The beer is part of a German line that Idle Hands started brewing this winter after buying new fermenting equipment. Tkach used German women’s names—Brunhilda, Klara, Adelais—for those beers. He thought about going the same route for this brew but wanted something whimsical that recalls summer, so he finally decided on Riding Shotgun. “It reminds me of summer road trips when calling ‘shotgun’ for the passenger seat was always a fun thing to do,” says Tkach, “and the hops are a true companion to the hefeweizen yeast characteristics of the beer.”
An outdoors guy, Tkach used to enjoy hiking with his wife in the summertime, but thanks to the growing popularity of his brewery, finding free days has become exceedingly difficult. Idle Hands recently partnered with fellow craft brewer Enlightenment Ales, and Tkach is focused on growing both businesses. The February birth of his first child makes hiking that much more unlikely. So Tkach and his wife brought their baby boy to a Red Sox game recently. “There is nothing better than sitting at the ballpark eating a Fenway Frank and drinking a local craft beer,” he says. “Unfortunately, there is no Idle Hands available at Fenway—yet!”—Donna Coco