Protein in beer. The Devil’s ingredient.
At least, that’s how most brewers view the stuff. It tends to look and taste bad in beer, and if you speak to 99 out of 100 brewers, they’ll tell you typically a brewer will do anything in their power to ensure protein is eliminated from any given batch of delicious beer.
However, the one brewer left over in this example would be Mighty Squirrel, the Boston-based craft brewing operation helmed by Henry Manice and Naveen Pawar. The two have just recently made a full tilt push into the marketplace with their novel protein-fueled suds, and if the last month or so of sales is any indication, they’re on the right track with their target audience of “health-conscious” beer drinkers. One month after officially launching out of a small office in the WeWork shared workspace in the Leather District across from the South Station Bus Terminal, they’ve basically sold through three months’ worth of stock of their flagship Vienna and light style lagers.
“The numbers are beyond our expectations, and it’s a good problem to have, but at the same time it’s not good from a business perspective,” laughs Pawar, who says the pair will be whipping up more product, and that he and Manice head up to the Von Trapp Brewery where they brew Mighty Squirrel every two or three weeks to get another small batch into the works. How did they pair up with the famous family brewery? Turns out it was a collision of the stars aligning—and marriage. Manice’s wife’s family are friends with the Von Trapps (they even got married at the Von Trapp lodge last month).
And it was that connection that helped get Manice and Pawar a brewing internship there last October for some hands-on brewing experience and mentorship beyond what they had been doing up until then (which began with a Kmart-bought homebrew kit in Manice’s living room). The two brewed thousands of beers over a few years, working out the research and experimentation needed to create a clear protein-rich beer, and after a year and a half of getting their current recipe down, they quit their jobs and moved to Boston in August of 2013 to get Mighty Squirrel off the ground.
As the first beer designed to house more protein (they use a hydrolyzed whey), their beer averages about five grams of protein (most beers have about one gram). And that’s not the extent of the innovation factor: Out of the 65 locations worldwide, Mighty Squirrel is the only brewery in the WeWork houses. And that remote aspect is in line with Manice and Pawar’s philosophy of managing preconceived expectations of a protein beer, as well as certain levels of trade secrecy.
“For the first few years, besides our parents nobody knew what we were doing,” says Pawar. “People knew we were brewing something but kept it under wraps.”
“We get the most surprise from brewers, they’re the most surprised with what we’ve done,” says Pawar. “[Some] just think, ‘Oh great, a beer with more protein,’ but people don’t realize that it’s almost impossible to make that beer.”
And yet the response from brewers, from local craft brewers Aeronaut Brewing all the way up to the likes of Sam Adams overlord Jim Koch, has been positive. “He was [the] first person in ‘big brewing’ we spoke to, and he was very impressed with our idea of bringing a totally new concept in beer to the market.”
Overall Manice says the local beer community has been great to them. They’ve locked their launch recipes, and Pawar says they’ve established their unique process that can be applied to any beer style, but for now they’re sticking to their first two releases, as well as their goal from the start: Making a flavorful and approachable protein beer.
“When you reduce the calories, you feel the lower flavor and water, so our goal was to make [the] most flavorful light beer that’s crisp and clean,” says Pawar. Manice adds with a grin: “And it’s still one calorie less than a Bud Light.”
MIGHTY SQUIRREL BEER. 745 ATLANTIC AVE., BOSTON. FOR MORE INFORMATION AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, VISIT MIGHTYSQUIRREL.COM