Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#6 - Massachusetts, "The Bay State"

First things first; I haven’t been to all of the breweries that I talk about here or in other posts. Nor have I sampled the fruits of all of these brewers’ labor. Recently a few people have asked me if I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, and truthfully, that’s the idea I have in my head; to eventually travel and check out breweries all over the country. But as of now, I haven’t visited most of them. I have sampled beer from plenty, but definitely not all. So far, the only state I’ve talked about that I haven’t physically spent time in is Georgia. It was the first but won’t be the last. Unless I hit the road. Which does sound good.

When I think of Massachusetts, I think of Boston. And when I think of Boston I immediately think of the Red Sox and the accent. There are three accents in the U.S. that I think every person would be able to recognize almost immediately. NYC is the first. Southern is the second. (And yes, I know that people from the South would say that there are different Southern accents. But honestly, no one else can tell the difference between Mississippi Southern and Texas Southern, so I’m gonna lump them all together.) I feel like the Boston accent is right up there with those two, and it’s pretty surprising because Boston isn’t that big of a city. Certainly not as as big as NYC or the entirety of the South. 
Two thirds of the state’s population lives around Boston, and as far as I know the rest of Massachusetts has the same accent. I am probably wrong, but let’s just suspend our disbelief and say the entire state talks that way. There are at least 34 breweries and 20 or so brewpubs in Massachusetts that are either operating or being opened soon. So, that’s 54 breweries with guys running around saying stuff like “Hey Mahk, get that, ah, bag of hawps, and, ah, taws it in the brew pawt. Hah baht them Sawx?” That’s a very widespread disregard of the letters o and r.
Beer Stats:
Cities with populations over 100,000: Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Cambridge. 
Population: 6.5 million
# of Breweries: 34 (7 are in the planning phases)
# of Brewpubs: 18 or so
Micro-brewery density: 191,000 people per brewery. Not bad. Considering that 1/3 of those people are most likely under age, 1/3 are too old to drive to the beer store, and 2/3 of that final 1/3 probably just drink junk beer; that’s approximately 21,222 people per brewery that have to find ways to split their time between work and drinking craft beer. 

If you look at Massachusetts on a map, it looks like a sideways beer stein, overflowing with a frothy head. Think of Cape Cod as the lid and you’ll see what I mean. I think it’s an appropriate image given the sheer quantity of buildings in Massachusetts where hops, barley, yeast, and water go in and beer comes out.

Here are some of the notable brewpubs in MA:
Boston Beer Works is a brewpub right behind Fenway. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I went to Boston a couple weeks after we graduated from college. The main reason behind the trip was to go to a Red Sox game and before the game we went to the Beer Works. They also have 4 other locations around the Boston area, and each have 12-16 beers on tap. I'd been toiling in the beer minors at college, drinking $10 cases of Natty, and this was my call up to the big leagues of $6 beers. I don't remember how good it was, but I remember being unprepared, like coming up and facing Roy Halladay in your first at bat.
Barrington, Great Barrington: Solar powered brewing
Deadwood Cafe, Boston: Inside a 24 hour bowling alley. Talk about humble beginnings for whoever the brewmaster is there.
Gardner Ale House, Gardner: They have a double IPA called "Face Off." I hope it has nothing to do with hockey, and everything to do with drinking your face off.
The People's Pint, Greenfield: Don't take credit cards, don't use any disposable plastics, compost their leftovers, and are probably huge commies. I like the name of their IPA; the pied pIPA - "You'll follow this IPA anywhere." I'm taking a stab in the dark, but they probably play such pretentious hipster indie rock there that the Decemberists have never heard of it, making it right up my alley. I can say that because I liked the Decemberists before "The King is Dead."

That last paragraph is confusing, so lets clear up what I am ok with;
The King is Dead - Yes. Awesome album.
Environmentally friendly brewers - Yes
Pretentious hipsters - No
The music that pretentious hipsters listen to - Yes
Communism - No
Commies - Kind of. The American version seem to make pretty good pretentious hipster music and beer.

I'm just going to do a bunch of quick hits for the breweries since there are so many.
Berkshire, South Deerfield: Started in 1994, became a regional brewery (over 15,000 barrels a year) in 2008. Distributed in CT, RI, MA, NH, and VT. Slogan is "Things are Looking Up."
Blue Hills Brewery, Canton: 7 beers, only available in MA. 20 barrel batches, so they are a small shop. I like their "Black Hops" label.
Boston Beer Company, Boston: Everyone knows this one. Sam Adams. I still love a Boston Lager at any time. I haven't been impressed with some of their new stuff, like the Noble Pils. 
Cody Brewing, Danvers: 1200 barrels a year. 9 beers. Only available at bars in MA. I like the name and idea of their Gee Man's Lemon Honey Hypnotic Tonic. They use 1 lb of honey per gallon.
Harpoon Brewery, Boston: The other major national player in MA besides Sam Adams. Started in 1986, distribute to 26 states and D.C. They like throwing festivals. They have 5 a year, 3 in Boston, and 2 at their Vermont brewery.
Mercury Brewery, Ipswich: Brewers of Ipswich Ale and Stone Cat beers. Pretty common offerings in the two brands; 8 Ipswich beers, 9 Stone Cat beers. Distributed in MA, CT, RI, NJ, and NH. The one really cool thing is that they have three "tapmobiles" which are two old vans and one old truck that you can rent to have at events. each of the vans has 8 taps and the truck has 3, so you get to pick whatever Ipswich beer you want in each of the taps. 
Just Beer, Westport: Not very much information on their site, but they have at least 3 beers, which are sold in stores and bars (I assume only in Massachusetts.) They use 100% American grown ingredients.
Opa Opa Brewing, Williamsburg: They make 9 beers, distribute 3 to MA, CT, and somehow FL. They also make a Watermelon beer. I have yet to find a Watermelon beer that I like, so I have to try theirs.
Rapscallion, Bedford: "Reducing our dependance on foreign ale one pint at a time." Good slogan. They are really dedicated to the idea of buying everything locally, which they think might help bring a sense of community back to America. I agree with them. Their three ideals are "Principles before profit. Values before wealth. Community before everything." They make 4 beers; Honey, Premium, Lager, and Blessing. I doubt that they will start distributing beyond Massachusetts, so I will have to rent a hybrid and go up there to check them out. 
Wachusett, Westminster: Started in 1993. They have 16 beers, and I've had their Blueberry. I thought it was great because it tasted like blueberry muffins. Sometimes a fruity beer can be too fruity, but I remember this one being on the money. They distribute to MA, NJ, NY, and RI, but most likely to PA as well, because I got it in my beer club.
Wormtown Brewery, Worcester: Wormtown was the nickname given to Worcester in the late 70's due to it's punk rock scene, but now it is a widely accepted nickname that symbolizes the do-it-yourself attitude of the town. They opened on St. Patty's Day 2010. They make 5 year rounds, 19 seasonals/limited releases and are distributed in Massachusetts
High and Mighty, Belchertown: "We're not just brewers - we're beer-evangelists. We're the Clergy of Zymurgy, the Priests of Yeasts, the Joyful Congregation of High Fermentation, The Colossus of Clout, The Colossus of Clout." Ok, I added the last one for any Sandlot fans. They make 5 lower ABV beers, with religious names, distribute to MA, PA, ME, and FL, and seem not to take themselves too seriously. 
Endurance, Boston: "Explore. Challenge. Drink Great Beer." Started in 2004 in order to bring awareness to Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance Expedition. I was thinking the same thing you are; I'm sick of hearing about Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance Expedition. Did we really need a brewery to remind us about it? They only list one beer, they distribute to MA, CT, RI, and NY, and the picture on their website looks like it belongs on a retirement community's website. Weird all around.
Paper City Brewing, Holyoke: Holyoke once had 25 paper mills, hence the name. They were founded in 1995, they make 20 beers, and are sold in MA. Two beer names that jump out; 1 Eared Monkey (which is their golden lager, with peach added), and the Denogginator (Their golden lager.)
Sherwood Forest Brewers, Marlborough: They have a severe Robin Hood addiction.
50 Back Brewing, Pepperell: They only make one beer (an American Lager) but for every beer bought, 50% of the proceeds go directly to 5 charities that support veterans and active duty servicemen and their families. Great idea. Support these guys if you are in Massachusetts. 
Cisco Brewers, Nantucket: I really like their names and labels. Whale's Tale Pale Ale. Baggywrinkle Barleywine. They make 9 regular beers and 5 that are aged in oak wine barrels. They started as a brewery in their backyard in 1992, and in the process of moving to a real brewery, their beer was unavailable for a few months, leading to their slogan "Nice beer, if you can get it." I love the attitude of this group. They make beer, wine, and vodka and their main reason for making vodka was "if you could make vodka on Nantucket, wouldn't you?" They have a pretty large distribution; MA, CT, RI, VT, NJ, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, DC, SC, and FL.
Clown Shoes Brewery , Lexington: They got their name by losing a contest. Clown Shoes was their submission to a Beer Advocate contest to name a beer, and they didn't win. So, like any red blooded young narcissistic American male would do, they decided that they would change their profession out of spite. They started making their own Clown Shoes beer, and it has taken off. They now make 7 beers, with names like Tramp Stamp, and Eagle Claw Fist. Their labels are really well done and I think they all include clown shoes. I'd like to try their Pecan Pie Porter. They distribute to MA and RI, and soon VA, IL, ME, and NY. 
Mayflower Brewing, Plymouth: Founded by a descendant of a beer barrel cooper who came over on the Mayflower. They are trying to celebrate the legacy of the Pilgrims, which they say included lots of beer. They say that men, women, and children drank beer daily on the Mayflower and that the sailors received a 1 gallon/day ration of beer (Pound of Honey optional.) They make 4 year rounds and 5 seasonals, and can be found in New England. 
Pretty Things, Cambridge: They refer to themselves as a "gypsy" brewery, meaning that they do not have a physical location, but rather rent out time in established breweries in order to brew their beer. They are not a contract brewery, because they take their own recipes and then also physically make the beer. They just use someone else's equipment. I love the passion and sense of creativity that they seem to have. They draw inspiration from many things in life; poetry, towns in England, and rabbits, and their website lists some pretty good stories behind the conception of their beers. Also they have a theme song. They are distributed in MA, PA, NY, and RI, and I just found them on the menu at Flat Rock right near my house. Although renting equipment must be pricey, as the only offering on the menu was $11.50 for a 12 oz. bottle. I'll try it next time.
Element, Millers Falls: They are into the chemistry of beer, and are dedicated to combining art and science to make beer. So they do hybrid styles and their beer bottles are more like wine bottles and look like they are wrapped in an elaborate paper. They make a Black IPA, a style that I have been enjoying lately, 3 other year rounds, and 3 seasonals. They only distribute in MA.

Planned Breweries:
Trillium, Brookline: They are working out recipes right now and you can follow their very scientific blog to see when they will be up and running. 
Idle Hands, Everett: Belgian inspired nano-brewery. Founded in 2010, beers should be available soon.
Veteran, Harvard: No website.
Wandering Star, Pittsfield: "Never Settle."
Nowhere Brewing, Salem: Planning on releasing a new style each month.
Slumerville, Somerville: Nano-brewery, but they will make 16 beers. 
Beer Belly Brewers, Waltham.
Mystic, Chelsea: Run by a married couple, who got their inspiration from their Belgian honeymoon. They are an "artisan" brewery that wants to make new beers using old fashioned methods. I really like one quote from an interview they did. They were speaking about the American craft brewing community as a whole. "We see our efforts as part of the evolution of craft brewing. First we rebelled against a near total lack of choice in the marketplace. Then we found we could not only make great beer but we could also push the boundaries of what Americans see as beer. Today we can finally return to the kinds of beer that were beloved and even thought to be sacred for millenia." Both have extensive scientific backgrounds; One in fermentation and the other in biochemical reactions that cause aroma and flavor in plants. Seems like a good combination to make well crafted beers. They are definitely smart, so let's hope they don't over think it.

The Rest:
Lefty's Brewing, Bernardstown.
New Century, Boston.
Pioneer, Fiskdale.
Cape Ann Brewing, Gloucester.
Cape Cod Beer, Hyannis.
Haverhill Brewery, Haverhill.

In addition to all of the breweries, Massachusetts is the first place that I've seen this genius idea: Brew-On-Premise. There are two that I found and the gist is that you come up with a recipe for a beer, and then they help you brew a batch. They have all of the equipment (and I'm pretty sure ingredients are included) that you would need and they make sure you are doing everything correctly. But you essentially use their facility for small batch brewing. They store it while it is fermenting and they help you bottle it as well. I can imagine a lot of people using this as an intermediate testing step between home-brewing and opening a brewpub or brewery. Pretty cool. 

I would think that with the BOP's available, more and more people are going to be scaling their homebrewing up and opening more breweries/brew-pubs. I also think Massachusetts has got to be close to reaching a saturation point on breweries, so I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them close over the next few years. No matter how much love you put into brewing beer, people need to buy it in order for you to make it on the brewery scale. Then again, maybe the collective shift towards local craft brews that seems to really be catching on is bigger than I think it is. We'll see.

After doing research for this post, it's clear that Massachusetts is a leading state in craft brewing, and I think there is really strong evidence that the American beer culture has changed dramatically in the past 15 or even 5 years. Brewing is back to being a craft and an art that people devote their lives to. And I honestly think that it's a major aspect of our national culture that we can be proud of. Our creativity hasn't been stamped out by decades of suburban life, it was being subdued but now is back and better than ever. 

Trailies (check out the brewery sites to see pictures):
Best Beer Name: Eagle Claw Fist, Clown Shoes. Sounds like a beer Mac and Charlie from Always Sunny would enjoy. 
Best Label: Jack D'or, Pretty Things Brewery. A mustache on a grain of malted barley will get me every time. Black Hops, Blue Hills Brewery was a very close second because everyone knows that hops are well trained killers.
Best Concept: Gee Man's Lemon Honey Hypnotic Tonic, Cody Brewing. With 1lb of honey per gallon, it has to be sweet, and probably isn't good, but at least they are stepping out and taking a chance.
Best place to get a beer while helping your grandmother knit a pair of cargo shorts that you will then have to wear on your next visit to see her: Endurance
Most Vengeful Brewery: Clown Shoes
Most Verbose: Me. Landslide. Sorry.
Road Trips:
As I said above, in 2007, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I drove up from Virginia to Boston to spend a couple of the 20 or so days I had till my first job started. Sidebar for those who haven't graduated yet; take some time after you graduate to go travel or. Working sucks. It’s cool to have a little money right away, but you’ll have years to earn it and you’ll probably blow your first couple paychecks anyway.
Anyway. We went to Harvard, a Sox game, and walked around all the historical areas of the city. We also made it to the Sam Adams brewery and did the tour. The whole trip was well worth the long drive.  With so many breweries within the city and surrounding areas, you couldn't realistically visit all in a weekend or even a week, nor would you want to with all the other things there are to do in Boston. You'll just have to make multiple trips.
There are also breweries on Cape Cod and on Nantucket, so if you are more of a beach bum, drive down there from Boston and spend the weekend drinking craft beers on the beach. The tip of Cape Cod (Provincetown) is only a 2 hour drive from Boston, and you can take a ferry to Nantucket. 
One of the first bands that I really got into in high school was Dispatch, who from the Boston area. They split up in 2003 but they are doing a month of reunion shows this summer, concluding with 3 in Boston. Sounds like a great weekend. Sox game, Dispatch concert, 3 or 4 brewery tours. If you are around my age, I'm sure you've heard them, but go back and revisit "Who are We Living For." It doesn't have a lot of their more well known stuff, but is still a great album. 

Next month will be shorter. Promise.
Massachusetts Brewery Map