Nicole Carrier ’94, T’00 is keeping things “delicious and interesting.” This is how the Dartmouth and Tuck alumna describes her craft beer, but it’s an apt description of the life she’s led since her days in Hanover.
As co-owner of Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, NH, Carrier spends her days doing whatever the business requires – marketing a new product, managing the front of house, or even making sausage and charcuterie.
It’s a different life than she envisioned after completing an economics degree as an undergraduate. Carrier, who played rugby for four years and managed the Dartmouth women’s hockey team, worked in IT consulting for several years after graduation. She returned to Hanover to study at Tuck and ultimately settled into a successful technology career with IBM in Portsmouth, NH.
Her friend group in Portsmouth included hobbyist homebrewers, one of whom held a yearly casual competition called “Bruce’s Brewfest.” On a whim, Carrier and her partner Annette Lee decided to enter.
“That was back when there weren’t a lot of craft breweries around, and we loved trying different brews at Bruce’s event,” Carrier explains. “We ended up winning that year, which was a surprise, and getting totally hooked.”
Carrier had long been a fan of craft beer, and notes that her interest began at Dartmouth. “I remember pretty vividly trying a porter brewed by Catamount Brewery, which was located near Dartmouth at the time. The contrast between that and the beer I was used to blew my mind.”
After a decade of home brewing, Lee decided to change course from engineering, taking brewing classes from the Siebel Institute in Chicago and completing an internship at Smuttynose. “Annette came to me and said ‘let’s start a brewery,’” Carrier recalls.
Carrier and Lee proved a powerful combination, and their backgrounds combined the necessary art and science for creating a good craft beer business. “Annette’s an MIT engineer, so she’s really involved in the chemistry and the science,” says Carrier. “I love to cook, so I fell in love with making new recipes.”
The pair started Throwback Brewing in July 2011 as one of the first nanobreweries in New Hampshire. Nanobreweries, which make less than 500 barrels a year, were gaining in popularity at a time when the craft beer scene was exploding.
“I worked my butt off, working every weekend in the tap room and doing blog posts and social media at night,” says Carrier, who worked full-time at IBM as their fledging business got off the ground. “I did that for the first four years.”
Throwback Brewery quickly gained recognition in the beer world, receiving positive press that included mentions in Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, and Draft Magazine. In addition to the quality of their beer, the industry took note of Throwback’s unique mission.
Inspired by the local food movement, Carrier and Lee wanted to keep their beer local as well by growing much of the necessary ingredients. The business found its current home on a 12-acre 19th century farm across the street from their humble beginnings in a warehouse. After extensive work on the property, Throwback moved in and opened a full brewpub in July 2015.
“There are only a few 100 percent women-owned breweries in the world, so we’re unique in that regard,” Carrier notes. “But I really like to focus on the fact that we’re trying to get all of our ingredients from within 200 miles of the property.”
“It wasn’t until we moved into this larger facility that it became something that was of a scale where it needed my full attention,” she explains. “I like to give things my all, and it came to a point where I had to choose one or the other. It was a choice between stability and passion.”
Software to Sausage
Carrier left the stability of IBM for the passion of Throwback. The daily challenges of running a brewpub and sales operation may not seem much like working in software on the surface, but Carrier says that there are more similarities than you’d expect.
“At IBM I was the primary evangelist who would get up on stage and talk about our software products. I did a lot of messaging and articulation of value points. At the brewery it’s been amazing to use those skills. I find myself leveraging corporate communications skills I used at Tuck, as well as strategic thinking and big picture thinking. I used to market software, now I market a product I love a lot more.”
Even with those similarities, Carrier admits that her working life holds a bit more variety now that she’s left the office.
“There’s not really a typical day. I love making sausage and charcuterie, so at least once a week I’m in the kitchen making something that ends up on the menu. I work with the chefs on different ideas for recipes, and work with the brewery team to schedule beers and figure out what accounts to go after. I do a lot of writing for our blog posts, email blasts, and anything that involves running the business. I also spend a fair amount of time working in the pub to maintain that one-on-one connection with our customers.”
For Carrier, those personal connections bring a kind of joy that was harder to come by in software sales. “People don’t come into a brewery unhappy – they come in with their friends and want to have a good time, so there’s a lot of happiness and community.”
Recipe for Success
Today Throwback greets visitors with 16 revolving taps and an extensive menu featuring local ingredients – including those grown on its farm, in its hop yard and orchard.
“We have chickens roaming around outside, so people can sit in the beer garden having a beer, enjoying the farm, and watching the chickens go by,” Carrier says. “We’re also going to start packaging things from our kitchen for sale because our chef is so talented.”
With a recently acquired canning line and plans to start distributing canned beer over the next few months, Throwback is sure to become a more recognizable name, and Carrier is ready for the journey to come.
“Brewing was at first an interest, and it developed into a passion and then a business. It may sound cliché, but it’s a dream come true to have something that you’re passionate about become your career.”
All photos courtesy of Nicole Carrier '94 T'00