Before long, Massachusetts will have more than 100 brewery taprooms* where you can hang out and enjoy a full pint, brewed fresh on the premises. Currently it stands at 96, with newbies Barnstable Brewing in Hyannis, Widowmaker in Braintree, and Percival in Norwood the most recent to open. Two more, Westfield’s Tin Bridge and Scituate’s Untold Brewing will debut later this week. That’s not all: we anticipate that close to a dozen more will be open for business before year’s end, not to mention the existing breweries that will switch from pouring samples to pouring pints, like Lefty’s in Greenfield, RiverWalk in Newburyport, and Merrimack Ales in Lowell. And thanks to a recent tweak in the alcohol manufacturing license law, regional brewers Wachusett and Berkshire are both planning to open taprooms this winter.
For the current generation 100 brewery taprooms may not seem like that big of a deal, especially considering there are close to 150 commercial breweries now operating state wide, but for those of us old enough to remember when there were less than half that many, it’s pretty amazing. Even more so when you consider that none of them were even allowed to sell beer directly to the consumer until 2013. For a full list of breweries with taprooms check our Brewers A to Z page. To find one in your neck of the woods hit up any of our Regional Maps.
The brewery taproom trend isn’t limited to beer-crazy Massachusetts. Good Beer Hunting recently did a story on it, which grabbed our attention when we read the quote below from friend and local beer aficionado Zack Rothman.
After reading the story we thought it might be worthwhile to highlight some of the Commonwealth’s standouts, so we reached out to some of our well traveled craft beer friends to see what their favorite brewery taprooms were, and what they liked about them. Check out what they think are some of the best places in the state to truly drink local.
Practically everyone we asked said that Night Shift’s spacious taproom was among their favorites, despite the frequent queue to get in. One of our contributors even described it as his “happy place.” It’s easy to see why: “It’s such a big, welcoming space, and they always have such a wide variety of styles,” says Barry Fradkin, a beer connoisseur who dabbles in beer trading. “I also like that they have the small pour option for when you just want a taste of something. The outdoor space and rotating lineup of food trucks is nice too.”
Blind ultra runner Kyle Robidoux is a fan of relative newcomer Dorchester Brewing, largely for its 20 taplines featuring a variety of house brews and offerings from their many contract partners. “They’re a great addition to the neighborhood, and family friendly,” he says. “The communal seating, board games, food trucks, and impressive array of beers – there’s something for everyone.” The current draft list features local contract brewers Entitled Brewing and Backlash Beer, the latter of which will open a brewery and taproom just down the street later this year.
Not so new, Cambridge Brewing Company is a favorite of Jocelyn Bartlett, a craft beer convert who gave up cheap, mass-produced lagers more than a decade ago. “CBC doesn’t get as much hype as some of the new breweries,” she asserts, “but they’ve been putting out consistently top notch beers longer than any of them.” She’s also a fan of their “awesome food,” and appreciates many of their annual events, like the Barleywine or Sour Days, or the upcoming Great Pumpkin Festival featuring dozens of fall seasonal beers from all over the U.S..
Beer writer Greg Desrosiers lists Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport among his favorites, “especially in the summer time,” he told us. Located on 150 acres of pristine farmland, and just a stone’s throw from Horseneck Beach, it’s the ultimate outdoor drinking spot for craft beer drinkers in Southeastern Mass.. It’s even more beautiful this time a year, and if you make the trip you’ll probably see Desrosiers there, he’s been a regular for years: “food trucks, cornhole, live music and tons of other fun make it a fantastic hangout spot” he says. .
While responding to our inquiry about his favorite taprooms, blogger Ryan Brawn admitted that he’s overdue for a trip to Norton’s Bog Iron Brewing. Us too. “Their taproom isn’t huge or fancy,” he explained, “but it’s the perfect neighborhood brewery.” We couldn’t agree more, and we understand they’re on the hunt for a bigger and better space. “The guys who run it are passionate about beer and extremely friendly to both their regular customers and first time visitors,” Brawn observes. “And the beer is as good as any you’ll find in the state, with options that will please any palate.” No argument here, beer appetíte!
“One of the taprooms I always find myself going back to is Barrel House Z in Weymouth,” says Matt Paris, better known as Captain Asshat on Instagram, and a regular at many of the brewery taprooms in the Southeast. “The atmosphere is the key to a really great taproom,” he explained. “The staff is knowledgeable and fun, and the beer is always interesting because of the barrel aging they do.” He added that it’s a good place to unwind after a hard day at work, which having recently done ourselves, we can attest to.
Our Twitter friend Maynard Brewer told us he’s a fan of the days when patrons went to a bar to socialize. It’s also why he’s a big fan of Medusa Brewing in Hudson. “There’s no TV, and no Wi-Fi in their taproom, so people actually talk to each other while drinking,” he extolled. “It’s a warm, inviting atmosphere with great beer.” He also had high praise for the constantly changing beer menu, which he claims has all sorts of offerings so can cater to just about any type of beer drinker.
Brandon Carder, another friend we met while geeking out about beer on Twitter, is a home brewer and barbecuer from Central Mass.. His top pick was Stone Cow Brewery in Barre. Part of a working farm that supplies many of the ingredients, their taproom is located in a humungous barn. “The beer is great and the service top notch,” says Carder. “Nothing beats fresh, farm-brewed beer, especially when there’s a stunning view to enjoy while drinking it.”
At last, the new Tree House brewery in Charlton, which craft beer taproom aficionado Mike St. Jean describes as “Disneyland for beer lovers,” allows adoring fans the chance to enjoy a pint of the highly sought beer on site. “The taproom is gorgeous, and overlooks the brewhouse,” gushes St. Jean. “There’s also an outdoor pavilion with live bands. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy world class beer and talk with fellow craft beer lovers.” For now, they’re only pouring pints on Saturdays, but it’s something they hope to do more of in the future.
Home brewer and occasional blogger Jason Chalifour loves the taproom and biergarten at Notch, maker of session beers and formerly a contract brand. “I’m old enough to remember when downtown Salem was practically abandoned,” he admitted. “Now you can enjoy a brew alongside the South River.” Tasty pretzels, great music, and the skeeball make it a favorite spot for beer writer Norm Miller as well. He loves the beer and the atmosphere. “It’s the kind of place where you can relax for hours,” he says, “and what could be better for that than low ABV session beers.”
Sarah Wetherbee, also known as Beeisforbeer on Twitter, loves the local flavor of Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester, especially how they pay homage to the city’s history as the oldest fishing port in the United States. “Their logo is from the famous Fisherman’s Memorial found right down the street,” she points out. “Even its beers, Fisherman’s Brew, Fisherman’s Stout, Fisherman’s IPA, are a nod to the industry that’s been the lifeblood of the community for so long.” Even if you don’t live on the North Shore, the harborside seating and community oriented atmosphere make it worth the trip.
“I’m a fan of Abandoned Building’s taproom, it’s got a great vibe” says Kristen Sykes, founder of the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES), and also an avid biker. A regular for their Food Truck Fridays, she loves their beer, and that you can get there on the bike path. She’ll sometimes even pedal over to nearby Fort Hill Brewery, along the same path and also in Easthampton. They’re currently renovating their taproom, which she can’t wait to visit again. “They’ve got great beer and outdoor seating with views of the Mount Holyoke Range.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the town of Orange (yes, it’s a real place), then it’s time you do, if for no other reason than Honest Weight Artisan Beer. “It rules” according to Andrew Bentley, a beer connoisseur from Greenfield, who loves the fact that you can often chat with the brewers because they’re often the ones pouring the beer. He also appreciates being able to order eats from a food truck on the weekends, or strike up a conversation with some of the colorful locals. “That’s a crowd-pleasing formula that virtually can’t fail,” he says.
More Than Honorable Mentions
Try as they might, many of our contributors had trouble choosing just one brewery taproom worthy of praise. Scott Staiti, who goes by Boston Beer Hunter on Instagram, told us that Hog Island Beer is exactly what he wants in a Cape Cod brewery, reminded us about the foosball game and brewery-exclusive offerings that make Newburyport Brewing so fun, and opined over Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, which he considers a hidden gem.
A mile or two away is Idle Hands Craft Ales in Malden, a favorite of Bethany Baker, also known as Lipstick N Lager on Twitter. “I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more comfortable hanging out in a brewery taproom,” she explained. “And now that they have a patio, it’s even more appealing.” She also mentioned Lamplighter Brewing in Cambridge, and how she loves that “if I hit it right, I can hang out and have a coffee before switching over to beer.”
Two other selections from Sarah Wetherbee were newbie River Styx in Fitchburg, whose underworld themed art and décor are as “otherworldly” as the beer, and Rapscallion in Sturbridge, located on a working orchard and complete with a disc golf course. The former’s interior “is illuminated by flickering lanterns suspended from the ceiling,” and the latter has “family-style wooden benches and a collection of games.” making them both “a more intimate and relaxed experience than some other taprooms.”
Another craft beer enthusiast, Bill Castle, lives just a short walk from newly opened Turtle Swamp in Jamaica Plain. He appreciates their friendly vibe and affordable prices. A hiccup with the city has put their patio service on hold, so just samples and takeaway beer for now, but he looks forward to seeing how their taproom space evolves.
Several people had Jack’s Abby on their short list, great beer and food were the reasons most cited. Norm Miller is partial to their Springdale Barrel Room, which he referred to as “an adult wonderland.” Finally, recent visits to Oak & Iron in Andover and Wormtown in Worcester made us wish we lived closer to both establishments. The list could go on and on, and yes we left out some really cool brewery taprooms, possibly even your favorite. Rather than hate mail, consider sharing your favorite spot with us in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and cheers.
*Though no official definition seems to exist currently, we delineate a taproom (which serves pints and/or flights) from a tasting room (free samples and beer to go, but no on-premises consumption of full pours).