Anatomy of a Brewery Count
Happy Mass. Beer Week! No, we’re not drunk – okay, we probably are. It’s just that it’s always Mass. Beer Week for us. Regardless of what the calendar says we hope you’ve been celebrating with plenty of Mass. produced beer as well. Given the multitude of local choices these days, it shouldn’t be too difficult. So just how many craft brewers are there in the Commonwealth these days? That’s actually a tricky question. Admittedly, we’re not entirely sure ourselves sometimes. One thing we do know for sure: when your home state has more breweries than you can keep track of, life is good.
After a recent review, the number we’ve currently settled on is a whopping 140, and that doesn’t even include more than a dozen pending breweries who plan to open by year’s end. But admittedly, it all depends on how you define a “Massachusetts brewery.” For us, it’s any licensed beer maker that has its own brewery here, is contract brewed here, or originated here and maintains strong roots in the Bay State. It’s somewhat of a liberal definition, but one we feel comfortable with. Here’s a breakdown of where different breweries fit in.
The first category, brands with their own brick and mortar space, represent the lion’s share. All the rest have their beer contract brewed somewhere else. Of the brick & mortars, 104 of the 121, are visitable: meaning you can walk in, taste and buy beer to go, or even enjoy a pint on the premises. An astonishing 88 breweries now serve full pours at their brewpubs or taprooms, and that’s a number that will continue to grow.
You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Drink Here
You can find any one of those visitable breweries by referencing our regional map pages. The breakdown is as follows: Western Mass. currently has 23 visitable breweries, Central Mass. has 24, there are 18 in Metro Boston, another 15 in the Northeast, and 24 in the fast-growing Southeast. Note that Blue Hills Brewery and Fort Hill Brewery are both currently closed for renovations. Check their Facebook pages for updates before dropping in. Another visitable brewery of note is newbie Vanished Valley in Ludlow. Technically, they’re probably a production brewery, as they don’t actually have a taproom, nor do they provide samples. You will find their beer on tap right next door, though, at their sister restaurant, Europa. Additionally, cans and growlers of their fast-selling beers are available from a tent in their parking lot on Wednesdays.
A few breweries we don’t list on our maps include Brewmaster’s Brewing Services, a production contract brewery that doesn’t have its own brand. They do occasionally pour pints during special events, and sell cans of their contract brands at a pop-up beer garden on Thursday nights in the summer. Another, Merrimac Brewing, a tiny nano that produces just one commercial beer, Epic IPA., has a small tasting room that can be visited if you make arrangements ahead of time. Then there’s Outlook Farm Brewery in Westhampton. Their nano operation is behind the scenes, but once a month they host a festival and pour their beers for thirsty patrons partaking of their pig roast. You can buy bottles to go from the farm store anytime.
You won’t find Springdale Beer or Moon Hill Brewing on our maps either, nor are they included in our total brewery count. Though Springdale has its own location, and many of its beers are aged there, it’s produced by parent brewery Jack’s Abby and therefore is more like a brand. Likewise, Moon Hill is also a brand, one through which the Gardner Ale House distributes its beers to other restaurants and bars.
Then there’s the emergence of the “guest brewer,” a scenario not unlike what gypsy brewer Pretty Things used to do when it rented another brewery’s space to brew its own beer. The guest brewer relationship has a wrinkle, though: instead of schlepping their beer out to bars and packies after brewing it, they sell it right there at the host brewery. One of the first will be Harper Lane Brewery, currently awaiting licensure, who hopes to be brewing later this year at Independent Fermentations in Plymouth. Three others, well-known home brewer Kayfabe, and upstarts Article Fifteen and Pitkin Point are slated to be in the mix at Percival Brewing when it opens in Norwood later this month (more on that story in our next blog post). Unlike a contract brewer, guest brewers are unable to sell their beer to go, you can only enjoy it at the host brewery.
There are also a number of production-only breweries, generally not open to the public. Some are lesser known nanos like Cochicuate Brewing in Wayland or Still River in Ayer. There’s also Spencer Brewery, the only Trappist beer producer in the U.S., which welcomes visitors just once a year at a special open house event each June. Another, Berkley Beer, recently found a property in Taunton and plans to open a taproom there in 2018. A few others are small pilot breweries, like Old Planters in Beverly, Bay State Beer in Leiceister, or Zelus in Medfield, where recipes are perfected so that bigger batches can be contract brewed elsewhere.
Speaking of contract brewing, Massachusetts has its fair share of brands that utilize that business model too. Most produce their beer at other larger breweries such as Mercury Brewing (the contract arm of Ipswich Ale Brewery), Dorchester Brewing Co., or Brewmaster’s Brewing Services in Williamsburg. Clown Shoes, Brewmaster Jack, and Entitled are three you’ve probably heard of. Several others, including Backlash, Down the Road, Naukabout, and Percival, are working toward opening their own brick & mortar facilities this year. There are even a few local brands that don’t actually brew their beer here in Massachusetts. Wash Ashore, Farmer Willie’s, Brazo Fuerte and Mighty Squirrel all contract brew in another state, but each originated here and continues to maintain strong ties. The latter two are even planning to open their own breweries here and are currently searching for locations.
It Just Keeps Flowing . . . and Flowing . . . and Flowing
To give you an idea of just how fast things are moving in the current craft beer environment, here’s a list of the breweries that have already opened in 2017: Battle Road*, Zelus, Bear and Bramble, Shovel Town, Skyroc, Craft Roots*, Moby Dick, Henry & Fran, Arcpoint, Vanished Valley, Oak & Iron, Turtle Swamp, 7th Wave, River Styx, Two Weeks Notice, Charlton Beer, Shire Breu-Hous, Plymouth Beer Company, and the new Tree House brewery in Charlton. The two with asterisks were previously contract brewers but opened their own brick & mortar spaces.
Likely to open before the end of the year are Down The Road*, Barnstable Brewing, Percival*, Widowmaker, Cheeky Monkey, Second Wind, Naukabout*, a second Slumbrew brewpub, Barewolf, Brewery Silvaticus, True North, Purgatory, Lookout Farm, Backlash*, Armory’s Tomb, Floodwater, Tin Bridge and Drunken Rabbit. When all’s said and done, 2017 could see 37 brewery openings! Even if you discount breweries from the 8 brands that are already exist, it would still be a record-breaking year for new brewers.
Check out our Brewers by Category page for a detailed description of all the breweries that don’t allow for a visit. You can also reference the Brewers A to Z page for an alphabetical list of all current and pending breweries. And for a list of when each and every Massachusetts commercial beer maker started brewing, check out the Current Bay State Brewers blog post we wrote a while back (we update it every month). The Bay State craft beer scene is expanding at a blistering pace, and we’re doing our best to keep up, Have a question? Know of a new brewery in planning not yet on our site? Hit us up in the comments section below, or message us on any of our social media accounts. Stay thirsty craft beer friends, and cheers.