The producer’s producer steers away from hoppy IPAs
There are restaurants where chefs go to eat when they get off of work, bars where bartenders go to drink, and in the case of Idle Hands Craft Ales, located just steps outside of Malden Center and extremely close to the Orange Line for safe transport, there’s a spot where beermakers head for suds after shifts in other breweries.
That says quite a lot about their beers and regulars. And when you have a maestro like Idle Hands Founder and Head Brewer Christopher Tkach leading the way, you’re bound to wind up outside of the trend zone.
“When people come to Idle Hands taproom, they typically go for IPAs, because that’s what’s selling in the market,” Tkach says of newcomers. “But we design our taproom menu specifically so there aren’t many IPAs to try. With one of our samplers, the idea is they’ll maybe have a [Four Seam IPA] and one of the other IPAs that we have, and then they have two other slots and we have a variety of other beers.”
Tkach, who runs Idle Hands with his wife Grace, the marketing brain of the operation, has deep roots in beer culture. The New Hampshire native is certified through the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and before going bigger with his passion took home several regional and national homebrew awards. Through it all, he has remained committed to the Belgian brewing tradition, and everything that comes with that 500-plus year history. Touring us around his workshop, Tkach is proud of all of his creations, but especially their Gretl, a German Pilsner packing “100% noble hops and a simple grain bill,” as well as options like the Farmhouse Pale, an American ale with “notes of stone fruit, tropical fruit, and bubblegum with a dry peppery finish.”
While Idle Hands is craft incarnate and Tkach a super-archetypal maker-connoisseur —traditional-minded, wary of all trends—this is no backwater brewery. It’s a growing op that’s cranking out four-packs that please hipster masses as well as unique varieties, and they’re doing it at a significant level, with distribution through the esteemed Craft Collective, plus by using every square inch of their Malden facility (“We’re busting at the seams,” Tkach says.) Responding to the increase in demand for cans during COVID, Idle Hands even brought in its own canning line for the first time. And in addition to the aforementioned ales and pilsners, it stayed on top of its hops game.
“We make IPAs because that’s what the market dictates and it keeps the lights on in this place, but in the end it’s not really our passion,” Tkach says. “Our passion is the other. Everybody on the staff is in love with the German lagers.”
For visitors, there’s an education to be had, an experience that you won’t get shopping at the packie and selecting by can color.
“That transaction is 30 seconds, even if there is a tasting at the store,” Tkach says. “People have already made up their mind.”
He continues: “We started in 2013, so we were a little bit ahead of the lager craze. We made a concerted effort to not compromise on what we were making. We used all imported hops and all imported grains, and we took the time. You see a lot of breweries that don’t want to dedicate that tank time, and it shows.
“At the taproom, you get the beer as fresh as it can be and you get the knowledge of our staff. You can look right through to the back, and that’s where all the beer is made.
“Hopefully, when people walk out of here they have a better relationship with non-IPA beers.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.