Ask Chris Tkach about the previous brewing headquarters for Idle Hands Craft Ales in Everett, and he won’t mince words: run down, grimy, insert expletive here. He ran his brewery for years out of that facility before he was forced to move, and he hopes to leave most memories from that time right in the past, “where they belong.”
“If you read through some of the old Yelp reviews, it’s funny to see people like, ‘thought I was going to get murdered on my way in,’” Tkach jokes. “The Malden site answers, and fixes, all of the problems we had there.”
Maybe that’s why, despite Idle Hand’s six years in business, the jump to Malden feels like a complete rebirth of brand and brewery. Tkach wanted a taproom that could really be a communal centerpiece for its neighborhood, and he found it last July. With seating for around 50 inside, a new fenced-in patio area, and simply more space everywhere, the brewery’s Malden site was a welcome switch.
“We wanted to create a taproom experience that made you feel like you were still in a brewery,” Tkach says. “A lot of taprooms that I’ve been into are so disconnected from the actual brewing side of things, you might as well be in another bar. We really strived to create that open feel: You can see right into the brewery. To some degree, you’re part of the production environment.”
It’s there that drinkers can experience Idle Hands’ vision in the environment it was meant to be savored in. Fresh German lagers and Belgian-inspired ales line the taps, pouring anything from bières de miel to zwickelbiers. Although the brewery normally revolves around these European styles, the addition of a proper taproom called for a bit more variety. So, Tkach and head brewer Brett Bauer answered the call of the thirsty patrons — they would start brewing IPAs.
“We brought those [American] styles forward, and into our catalog, because of the taproom,” Tkach says. “I don’t want somebody walking in there and saying, ‘oh, they don’t have an IPA,’ and either not staying or not coming back. While we are heavily influenced by Belgian and German brewing traditions, we need to have those beers available for those situations.”
Ironically, Idle Hands’ flagship IPA, Four Seam, is now the brewery’s best seller. Tkach also launched a rotating IPA series called Change Up, which plays with different hop combinations and recipes every batch. To keep the baseball theme rolling, the brewery also introduced a porter called 34, in honor of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
With the addition of monthly canning runs, Idle Hands has been able to push those beers out of the taproom and into stores. Four Seam is canned every packaging day, Tkach says, but a second beer is always canned alongside it. That beer has been a bit of a wildcard, ranging from Heide, a Helles-style lager, to the upcoming Six Seam double IPA. (Tkach is aware that’s not actually a type of pitch.)
The new taproom will also continue to usher in new developments for Idle Hands. On top of adding more tanks to the brewhouse, Tkach plans to continue growing his Funky Town sour program. So far, he’s pushed six beers through the same microbe-ridden tank filled with cultures and wild yeasts as part of the series. For his seventh release, however, Tkach decided to deep clean his Funky Town tank and re-inoculate it with a new group of yeasts and bacteria. He expects the first beer exposed to that mix to debut later in October.
For those a little less gung-ho about sour and funk, the brewery plans to churn out some festive sippers for the fall. First up is Iron, an American strong ale brewed 100 percent with local hops and malts. The beer christens Idle Hands’ sixth anniversary, but it wasn’t quite ready to go when that date came around.
Also making a return this month is Rosemary for Remembrance, a savory Thanksgiving beer brewed with sweet potatoes, smoked malts, and herbs. Tkach used to make the spiced beer for the holidays in Everett and felt that his new space offered the perfect excuse to resurrect it.
In a way, the beer is a fitting metaphor for Idle Hands. Malden is not only a new facility and taproom but a chance to start fresh, almost like it encouraged the brewery’s own little comeback. And, given another chance, the team is going to do everything they can to knock it out of the park.
“We’re at the point now where we’re starting to develop a regular clientele,” Tkach says. “We just continue to grow, and the taproom just gets busier and busier.”
This story is part of Beer & Mortar, a series in which Eater Boston contributor Alex Wilking explores the beer scene in Boston and beyond. Stay tuned for new installments twice a month, featuring a mix of old classics and brand new additions.