“Before we get started, you wanna have a look at the place?”
Dick Varano didn’t grow up with eyes on opening a brewery. The Braintree native comes from an Italian family, and he’s been a restaurateur for thirty years. Owning a winery in Italy? Sure. Opening a successful brewery in Wells, Maine? Well, OK!
Varano opened Hidden Cove in 2013 out of the old pizza place he owned, just across the street from Varano’s, his Italian restaurant on Mile road near the beach in Wells. Hidden Cove is still currently using the old dining room for barrel storage. But all that will soon change. Varano showed me around their impressive new buildout connected to the back of the current building. They’re set to move production in there soon, along with picking up a new canning line, and a climate controlled attic cellar for those barrels. I sat at the bar with Dick enjoying a Jali, consistently one of my favorite beers in Maine (Herradura barrel aged wheat/pilsner base with charred jalapenos, apricots and agave, left for four months in the barrel with lacto and brett). We talked shop on the expansion, and his values as a brewery owner and chef.
How's the summer been treating you? You must see a big spike in the taproom thanks to tourists.
We’ve definitely seen an uptick. With the expansion the idea is to have the taproom open a little bit later, so that people that are staying on the beach, you’re in college, you’ve got friends up in town, you have dinner with your parents, and then it’s “alright we’re gonna go hit a brewery, we’ll see you guys later!”
From early on barrel aging and wilds have been a focus for you, tell me about your process.
I have a lot of friends that own wineries in Italy, so they’ve been sending me used wine barrels. The importers bring them over for me because I’m already buying so much Italian wine for my restaurant. I’m not a brewer, but I am a chef and I understand flavors. Kevin Glessing -- our head brewer -- and his team brew all of the beers. But what I do is design some of the barrel aged beers. So Kevin will brew me a base beer and I’ll write a recipe in my mind. That’s how Jali was designed, to be a beer version of a jalapeno margarita. Being a chef I put my own spin on it. When you taste that beer you’re getting the sweet notes from the apricot and the agave, but then you sort of get that twang from the brett and the lacto, then you get that intense green jalapeno fruit flavor. It’s all balanced.
Once this expansion is in place, do you think you’ll be happy with the scale? Or could you see going even bigger eventually?
I always try to think about long term growth. I’m obviously not in production anymore, my job is big picture. When we sat down and designed this expansion it gave us triple capacity with the ability to go to seven times capacity, all plumbed and ready to go, so it’d be quick to bring a couple more tanks in, couple hours to hook them up, we’re moving. We kept one eye to “what if”, you know? I would be stupid not to at least keep some of that in the back of my mind. That’s why we designed it the way we did, so that if, God willing, the moon and the stars align we have a plan B.