If Traveling New England, These Cities Offer Superb Craft Beer Scenes
There’s no shortage of amazing craft breweries in New England. One website even rates Hill Farmstead (Vermont), Tree House (Massachusetts), and Maine Beer Company in the first three spots on it’s America’s Top Rated Breweries list. All three are worthy of the day-long pilgrimage you’ll need to visit them, but dozens of others are too. Fortunately, a number are clustered together in some of the region’s most popular cities, and just begging for an all-day brewery crawl. So we teamed up with New York travel company AllTheRooms to highlight six that are worth planning a weekend around. We also created a brewery map for each one, just click on any of the city titles for a link. Hoppy trails.
Known for its maritime history and rocky coastline, any New Englander will tell you that Maine also has an amazing craft brewery scene. How good? So good that last year the Maine Brewers Guild commissioned a custom-built, refrigerated shipping container with 78 beer taps (one for each of its breweries) to send to eagerly awaiting locations around the world. This September, it’s headed to a festival in Leeds, England.
Less adventurous travelers should plan a trip to Portland, the state’s unofficial beer capital with some 18 visitable breweries inside its city limits. Featuring two of the nation’s biggest craft breweries, several of the top rated, and everything in between, its amazing beer scene can be overwhelming says Don Littlefield, general manager of the Maine Brew Bus, a tour company whose motto is driving you to drink local. He suggests planning your afternoon or evening around one of the city’s four major districts, each offering multiple breweries, wineries, or distilleries.
Hard core hopheads should plan to make IPA specialist Bissell Brothers their first stop, especially if they have a limited release, which can draw long lines of fervent followers. That’s often on Saturdays, when they open an hour early (11:00) for can-only sales. Located in the same building are both Cellardoor Winery and Stroudwater Distillery, each with tasting rooms, and just over a mile away is Bunker Brewing, a nice change of pace with an array of European-influenced Lagers and Ales you can enjoy in their taproom or on their outdoor patio.
For an all-day affair, head to the cluster of breweries along Industrial Way, which includes Foundation, whose classic styles push conventional boundaries, Battery Steele and its wide variety of styles and innovations, Austin Street, who uses brettanomyces in more than half a dozen of its funky recipes, Definitive Brewing, the newest addition to the neighborhood, and Allagash, whose been brewing some of the best Belgian-inspired beers (including its own spontaneously fermented coolship series) in the world for more than two decades. And of course you’ll want to take the ten-minute walk over to Geary’s, one of New England’s craft pioneers and Maine’s first micro brewery.
Hopefully you’ve got another day or two, and a hotel room in the downtown Old Port neighborhood, where another group of breweries is bunched together. Consider starting at Oxbow Blending & Bottling, the outpost and tasting room for its farmhouse brewery in Newcastle. From there, it’s walking distance to Shipyard Brewing, Sebago Brewing, Gritty McDuff’s, and Liquid Riot, the last three of which are brewpubs. Go the opposite direction from Oxbow and head to the East Bayside neighborhood if you want to visit Rising Tide, IPAcentric Lone Pine Brewing, Goodfire Brewing, and Urban Farm Fermentory, who features 22 rotating taps and serves kombucha, jun, cider, mead, and Gruit style beers.
Another brewery worth making time for is Mast Landing, though it’s in neighboring Westbrook so you’ll need some wheels to get there from any of the aforementioned districts. In additions to a number of their own tasty beers, they’ve usually got a collaboration brew on tap as well. Two others in Portland proper that you should try to squeeze in include Fore River Brewing, who currently has two sours on its tap list, and Foulmouthed Brewing, a brewpub that pairs seasonal food and cocktails with a unique beer list which right now includes a Coconut Cream Nitro Stout and a Brett beer aged on red dragon fruit that boasts a sensational neon magenta color.
Though Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, or any number of others are worthy destinations on their own, Burlington is deserving of a full beercacation on its own, or at least a long weekend. Home to the iconic Vermont Pub & Brewery and Switchback Brewing, two of New England’s pioneer breweries, it’s got the second-most breweries per-capita in the country. Include the local cidery, as well as a handful of neighboring breweries, and you’re looking at more than a dozen taprooms to chose from, all within a 7-mile radius.
“Start with a stroll down Pine Street, or as the locals like to say, Pint Street,” says Bethany Baker, Lipstick N Lager on Twitter, and a Burlington native who moved to Massachusetts a couple of years ago. Start at the southern end and experience classic ales from Queen City, the diverse styles of Zero Gravity, and a change of pace and palate at Citizen Cider, all within walking distance from each other. You’ll also pass by House of Fermentology, a small but revered beer blendery that specializes in wild ales, but unfortunately they’re not open to the public (see more on that below).
From there, rent some wheels from Greenride Bikeshare and pedal over to a couple of Baker’s absolutely-do-not-miss spots: The Archives, an arcade bar that’s great for late nite drinks and has a killer draft list, and Foam Brewers, makers of many styles and masters of hazy, juicy IPAs. They are also the exclusive sellers of the limited-release offerings from aforementioned House of Ferm, whose bottle releases usually sell out in just a day. Draft pours are also available and typically last longer. Their next release, Yellow Dot, a Golden Wild Ale aged in bourbon barrels with Vermont wildflower honey and lavender/elderflower/chamomile, will be available on August 27th.
Experienced bikers could also set course further north to Three Needs, which also has a pool hall, and Simple Roots, who brews classic, accessible beers that anyone can enjoy. From there, take the four-wheeled version of a ride share for four more breweries just outside city limits: the iconic Magic Hat, Farnham Ale and Lager, and Halyard Brewing, makers of a line of alcoholic ginger beers, all in South Burlington. There’s also Four Quarters Brewing in neighboring Winooski, who specializes in sours, stouts, and hoppy beers or Burlington Beer Company in Williston, with a wide variety of popular styles. On your way back to the hotel, make a detour to the Beverage Warehouse, stocked with a huge range of local favorites to take home and share with friends.
Long known for being home to craft beer pioneers Sam Adams and Harpoon (but for several decades not much else), Boston has quickly become a must-visit for serious craft beer travelers. Local beer aficionado Zack Rothman, better known as Raising the Barstool on social media, traces the city’s resurgence back to 2013 when Trillium opened its first location in the Fort Point neighborhood, an event he calls a momentous occasion. “The first new brewery to open within the city limits in decades, they showed it was possible for someone else to successfully make and sell beer here, especially a high-quality New England IPA. They also opened the first beer garden. Others have followed their lead, and the beer scene in Boston is all the better for it.”
The recent proliferation of new breweries has lifted Beantown’s brewery total to 11, with four more expected to open by the end of the year. Visiting Harpoon’s cavernous beer hall, grabbing a brew next to Fenway Park at the original Beer Works, or taking a tour at the Sam Adams pilot brewery, which finally has a taproom, are all good ways to start a day of touring.
From Harpoon’s waterfront brewery you can hoof it over to Trillium’s humble beginnings, now a pilot brewery and retail shop (to-go beer only). If you want to taste something, keep going until you reach their seasonal Beer Garden on the Greenway at the corner of Atlantic Ave and High Street. Along the way you might want to stop for a drink at Row 34, whose heralded Bookshelf Beer program is “stocked with rare, vintage special-release beers from around the globe,” and was recently highlighted by Hops & Branding. Before or after you get to Trillium’s beer garden grab a bite an another brew at either Hopster’s, a custom brewery and restaurant right there in the Seaport, or the city’s newest and first worker-owned brewery, Democracy Brewing, a short walk away in Downtown Crossing.
Another good option is to start with a tour at Sam Adams before checking out the nearby Turtle Swamp Brewing, a neighborhood brewery also in Jamaica Plain. From there, grab a ride share to Dorchester Brewing, whose spacious taproom serves its own house brews as well as those of its many partners brewers, including fellow Massachusetts brands Entitled Beer and Barrel House Z, New York’s Decadent Ales, and renowned international brewers Evil Twin and Omnipollo. Another partner, former contract brand Backlash Beer, will be just a mile away in neighboring Roxbury when it opens its new brewery (which should be any day now).
If you plan to take in a Red Sox game, or just want to check out the Fenway neighborhood, start at Beer Works, which opened back in the nineties and has since expanded to six locations. At the other end of Landsdowne Street you’ll find another brewpub, Cheeky Monkey, which features a large game room with billiards, ping pong and shuffleboard, and offers a handful of its own house brews using a Smartbrew System. If you’re game for hopping on a Blue Bike, cruise over to the Charles River and enjoy the view from the Owl’s Nest, Night Shift’s seasonal pop-up beer garden on the Esplanade. From there, its just a 10-minute ride across the river to Cambridge Brewing Company, which you really shouldn’t miss. The area’s oldest brewpub, its brewmaster Will Meyers has been churning out award-winning brews for a couple of decades, and last year received the Brewers Association’s prestigious Innovation Award.
Admittedly a little slow to join the second craft brewery boom that started around 2010, Connecticut now boasts more than 75 breweries according to the Connecticut Brewers Guild. The state has certainly made up for lost time. Areas like Greater Hartford and Fairfield County have quickly become favorite destinations for local beer lovers, but we chose Greater New Haven for its amazing variety and undeniable charm. Unlike some of the other cities on our list, this trip is a bit more sprawling and requires a car. Because of the extra driving, it’s probably wise to plan for at least two days of touring. The ten distinct breweries that await you are worth it.
Get the party started by heading to edgy BAD SONS Beer in Derby, whose logo and can design artwork are spectacular. Their taproom is open every day and features a massive bar with a full view of the brewery, which frequently churns out New England style IPAs. They also feature an outdoor beer yard with live music and food trucks on weekends. From there, cruise east along Route 34 to Woodbridge and highly heralded New England Brewing (NEBCO). Grab a pint of their Fuzzy Baby Ducks NE IPA or Imperial Stout Trooper, two of their best sellers, or do some sampling. Their many styles range from Berliner Weiss and Saison to Kolsch and Pilsner.
If you’re looking for brick oven pizza, freshly brewed beer, and dancing, and who isn’t, head to downtown New Haven and BAR, a 21-plus hangout that’s part brewery, part pizzeria, and part dance club (nights from Thursday through Saturday). Also in New Haven, though not open just yet, is East Rock Brewing, poised to become the first brewery to open in the city for more than a decade says Michael Walsh, a writer for the Hartford Courant and author of the popular @Connecticut Beer Twitter account. Named for the neighborhood they reside in, their focus will be on German-inspired beers.
Venture north for a visit to Hamden and two more breweries you won’t want to miss. The first, Counterweight Brewing, founded by former NEBCO brewer Matt Westfall, boasts some of the best IPAs in the state according to Walsh. From there, head over to No Worries Brewing, to sit back, relax, and enjoy a pint of their tart summer seasonal, “Can You Feel the Lime Tonight,” a collaboration with Black Hog Brewing.
Jump back on Route 34 to Overshores Brewing in East Haven, the state’s first and only brewery dedicated to Belgian style beers. Home to its own brewery, they also recently opened a coop/incubator called The Beeracks, where brewers and craft beer drinkers come together to celebrate handmade, small-batch beer from a variety of brands including Armada, Hoax, Hulls, Soundview, Nighthawk, Erector, Front Porch, and others.
Still further east, toward the shore line, is Stony Creek Brewery in Branford. Their stunning taproom, including an enormous outdoor space with waterfront views, is worthy of a day-long sampling of their “aggressively laid-back beer,” which they describe as West Coast flavors combined with East Coast balance and drinkability. They’ve also got a brewpub at Foxwoods. Also in Branford are DuVig Brewing, who produces easy-drinking, flavorful session beers (typically 5% ABV or lower) “brewed to style so they don’t keep you guessing,” and Thimble Island Brewery, the largest self-distributing micro brewery in the state, whose taproom is open seven days a week and offers 16 rotating lines as well as specialty casks.
Any city serious enough to sponsor its own annual beer week (this one actually lasts 10 days) is worth visiting in our book. Ideal for a daytrip or a weekend, Portsmouth has seven breweries in all, five of which are located downtown and within walking distance of each other. Allo Gilinsky, who formerly ran a brewery tour company in the area, suggests starting at Earth Eagle Brewings, which specializes in the obscure Gruit style of beers which are made with herbs instead of hops and often with other rare or foraged ingredients. “It’s cozy, and has a funky atmosphere,” he says. Right around the corner you’ll find The Portsmouth Brewery, one of the oldest brewpubs in New England, who usually has a dozen or so brews on tap as well as a mouthwatering locally focused food menu.
Head down Islington Street for two more stops, including Great Rhythm, obsessed with brewing flavorfully hoppy beers for every occasion, and Liar’s Bench, whose offerings are “rooted in tradition.” Your final opportunity to “think Portsmouth and drink Portsmouth,” without getting into a car at least, is Loaded Question Brewing, started by a former brewer at Earth Eagle and the newest of the bunch. They brew a variety of brews and dig experimentation.
From here, you’re best hopping into a car. A short drive will bring you to either Craft Brew Alliance, the seventh largest brewing company in the U.S. and whose brands include Red Hook, Kona, and Nantucket based Cisco Brewers (who recently took over management of the taproom and beer garden), or to Beara Irish Brewing, which uses genuine imported Irish barley malt to brew small batch, one-of-a-kind beers. Their Stouts, including a Java one infused with Oreos, are to die for. Founder and brewer Michael Potorti also does a podcast called Craft Beer Storm that features stories about the New England beer scene.
Whichever you end up at, consider an additional stop on your way home. If headed south, there’s Throwback Brewery for farm-fresh beer and food, or well known Smuttynose Brewing where you can tour its state-of-the-art facility. Northwest toward New Hampshire is Stoneface, where you can “live free and drink craft.” Follow 95 North into Kittery, Maine and Tributary Brewing with legendary brewer Todd Mott, whose Imperial Stout was previously rated best beer in America for two years running, beckons you. Decisions, decisions.
With a flourish of brewery openings in recent years, the nation’s smallest state has developed a big thirst for craft beer. The city that’s been quenching that thirst more than any other is Pawtucket, now home to the state’s two largest breweries. Best known as home to the Red Sox minor league team (for now), Foolproof Brewing put Pawtucket on the craft beer map back in 2010, and now distributes its beers all over New England. In 2015, craft cooperative Isle Brewers Guild teamed up with the state’s largest and oldest brewer, Narragansett, whose opening dates back to before Prohibition, to build a state-of-the-art production facility.
“What makes the Guild special is that in addition to brewing Narragansett’s beer, they also partner with a number of other brands,” explains Greg Desrosiers, author of the Bearded and Brewed blog. ” On a visit to their expansive taproom you can enjoy full pours from all 8 of their brewing partners, including New Hampshire’s Great North Aleworks and Massachusetts stalwarts Devil’s Purse and Night Shift.” Before leaving town make sure to stop at the culinary-inspired Crooked Current Brewery to try their Chocolate Habenero Stout, Mango Pale Ale, Hawaiian Robust Porter, and other “wicked tasty brews.”
A great way to see all three breweries, especially if you’re a baseball fan, is aboard the Rhode Island Brew Bus, which runs a Pints and Pawsox Tour before every Friday night home game. A fourth brewery may soon be in the mix when local brewing veteran Rob DaRosa opens Smug Brewing in the former Bucket Brewing space downtown.
Consider extending your Rhode Island trip with a stop at Tilted Barn Brewery, just half an hour south of Providence in Exeter, which was recently named one of the 32 Hottest Breweries in America Right Now by Thrillist.
Three more breweries await you in the heart of downtown Providence, and another in North Providence, just a short drive away. The oldest is Trinity Brewhouse, the state’s first brewpub, and has been serving up a variety of styles to theatre and concert goers, sports fans, tourists and business people alike for more than two decades. Not far away in the former train depot is Union Station Brewery, a brewpub that’s part of the John Harvard’s Ale House chain. They typically have at least 8 beers on tap.
A more recent opening is Long Live Beerworks, who Desrosiers says offers a solid lineup of IPAs and Sours, as well as a killer Coffee Stout called Nitro Cart, a collaboration with a local coffee shop by the same name. Check them out on one of their Firkin Fridays, that’s when they debut a new cask-conditioned beer of the week. Even newer is Providence Brewing Company, who debuted their brewery taproom and deck earlier this summer in downtown North Providence. In addition to focussing on small-batch beers, they also have the Urbn Brewdega, a home brew shop that offers supplies and advice.
Co-author Sage Fitzpatrick is a travel blogger currently living in London. She can be found drinking tea, reading and traveling the world. When she’s not traveling she spends her time blogging about her travels over at A Virtual Postcard.
Photo credits (in order of appearance): Maine Brew Bus, Ales for Tails, City Brew Tours, Trillium Brewing, The 16oz. Canvas, Portsmouth Beer Week, and Tilted Barn Brewery.
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We know there are other great craft beer cities in New England that didn’t make our list. If you’d like to set us straight on who you think belongs in this class, feel free to share your thoughts in the “submit a comment” section below.