It’s going to be an absolutely insane year for craft beer in Massachusetts. Farmer brewers should be able to sell their beer at farmers markets all over the state, the Mass. Brewer’s Guild and new president Rob Burns has its act together, and there could be as many as 150 commercial beer makers operating in the Commonwealth by year’s end. It get’s better: between the dozens of pending new breweries and the established brewers like Backlash, Lord Hobo, Mayflower, Tree House, and Wachusett who are planning expansions, there could be nearly 100 taprooms serving full pours by this time next year. Rumor has it that even Sam Adams is getting in on the trend, and may break ground on a new space in Jamaica Plain soon. With so many brews and so little time, what’s a Bay State craft beer drinker to do? Mass. Brew Bros to the rescue. Behold, the first installment of our new quarterly publication, The Bay State Craft Beer Drinker’s Guide to 2017.
January: Your Brew Year’s Resolution – Drink More Massachusetts Beer
Keeping this resolution should be a snap, especially with half a dozen new breweries hoping to open their doors in early 2017. The southeastern region will welcome a pair of breweries, both with taprooms, when Skyroc Brewery in Attleboro and Shovel Town in Easton start pouring later this month. Central Mass. will also add two new breweries to its fast-growing scene when Craft Roots opens its enormous taproom in Milford and Battle Road debuts its long awaited brewpub in Maynard. A third, River Styx Brewing in Fitchburg, has already celebrated its first commercial keg release and hopes to have takeaway beer for sale before springtime. Somerville based home brewer Kayfabe also released its first commercial offering recently, a prototype of its popular Jobber IPA. No worries if you missed it, the next batch in its ongoing collaboration with Aeronaut should be available in a few weeks. Out west, Vanished Valley will open its brewery in Ludlow and have beer available for growler sales and at Europa Restaurant. They will also be canning a limited number of their offerings. Finally, there’s also a new contract brewery planning to debut this month, Zelus Beer, whose production pilot brewery is in Medfield.
While waiting for all the newbies to open, you could trek out to one of the three new taprooms that recently opened. Artisan Beverage Coop., makers of Ginger Libation, opened a taproom in Greenfield, Greasy Luck debuted its brewpub and is now brewing in New Bedford, and Jack’s Abby unveiled its Springdale Barrel Room in Framingham, the largest barrel-aging facility in New England.
Amateur beer makers should note that registration for Barrel House Z‘s 2nd Annual Home Brewer Contest opens on January 6th. The winner gets to brew and distribute its beer in collaboration with BHZ and will attend the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
If you’re lucky enough to have the Martin Luther King holiday off (January 16), you might take advantage of the first 3-day weekend of the year by planning a trip to one of the Commonwealth’s many beer destinations. If you haven’t ventured out west much, consider hitting up the Hamptons: six breweries (Abandoned Building, New City, Fort Hill, Northampton Brewery, Building 8, and Brew Practitioners) all within six miles of each other, the latter of which has upped its taproom offerings from 6 to 11 and now sells a “Monstah Flight” so you can try them all.
Harpoon’s X-Nights are back. Sometimes a test-beer being considered for release, other times just a creative experiment, be the first to taste one of these unique batches brewed on their 10-barrel pilot system. The first of these monthly “professional beer taster” events (you get to learn about the beer from its creator and then provide feedback) is January 17, tickets go fast.
Sam Adams will celebrate the release of its Rebel Juiced IPA (a bold IPA with a tropical twist of mango and citrusy hops) with a January After Hours: Rebel Juiced and Jerk Chicken event at the brewery on the19th. Tickets for most of their events go fast, so don’t wait too long.
If you plan on attending Beer Advocate’s Microbrew Invitational, a celebration of old-school, small-batch brewing, you should order your tickets now. This popular festival isn’t held until June, but will sell out well in advance. BA will also host one of its throwdown events on Friday the 20th at Bone Up Brewing in Everett. It’ll be a busy month for the fledgling nano brewery, who plans to increase production by 50% in the first quarter of 2017, and is in talks with its landlord about expanding the taproom and outdoor space. The 20th also happens to be Inauguration Day, which sounds like a good excuse to visit Blue Hills Brewery in Canton for its Friday Night at the Brewery unlimited tasting from 3:00 to 7:00. They’ve even got a brewery-only exclusive Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout to help you drown your sorrows or celebrate a new era. If you’re already booked that night, consider attending their 8th Anniversary party on the 28th: music, games, and maybe even a special beer.
The 24th is Beer Can Appreciation Day, in remembrance of the first canned beer in the U.S. which debuted in 1935. One way to celebrate is to pick up a 4-pack of Medford Brewing Company’s newly released IPA in tallboy cans, or something from Brewmaster Jack, who just celebrated his 5th anniversary and recently started canning all of his IPAs. Also new to cans is Wormtown’s popular Bottle Rocket Pale Ale, as well as Abandoned Building’s Hyrdra Pale Ale, the first of their mainstays that are transitioning from 22-ounce bottles to 16-ounce cans.
Cap the month off by expanding your palate on January 28, when Cambridge Brewing Company (CBC) celebrates an under appreciated beer style with its annual Barleywine Fest. While you’re in the area, check out nearby Winter Hill, scheduled to release the first in its new line of sour beers.
February: The Shortest Month of the Year isn’t Short on Beer
The first day of the month is International Gruit Day (yes, there is such a thing). A beer brewed with botanicals instead of hops, Gruit Ales are rare, exotic, and a real treat in the heart of winter. CBC regularly brews a couple (what beer style don’t they brew), their Weekapaug Gruit and an award-wining Heather Ale. They plan to have several collaborations, including one with Earth Eagle, for #GruitDay. Two other taprooms where you can definitely get one are Mystic Brewery, who brews one with dandelion and coriander and another with mugwort and chamomile, and Navigation, who boasts a smoky version made with cherrywood and a variety of herbs including bog myrtle. While you’re there, check out their new 8-barrel system, and note the expanded taproom hours that now include every Saturday. Two breweries in Western Mass. that may have a gruit on tap (confirm with them before going) are The People’s Pint, celebrating their 20th anniversary, and Stoneman, who may brew a collaboration batch with one of its neighbors. The latter will soon be announcing an expansion to a 10-barrel system and a new location for 2017.
February 2nd is Groundhog Day, drink a Punxsutawney Pils from Wormtown and pay no attention to the groundhog. You’re going to be drinking beer all month long regardless.
Extreme Beer Fest goes down on the 3rd and 4th in Boston. Amherst Brewing, one of just seven Bay State breweries at the fest, received its first invite and is stoked. You should be too, the beers they’re bringing sound amazing: a coffee stout brewed with maple syrup and pork belly then smoked over hickory wood, their flagship IPA, Jess, double dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic, a blend of three barrel-aged sours called Fruit Salad, and a pale ale conditioned on toasted pistachio and vanilla beans. Bent Water and Element are two other first-time attendees, so be sure to stop by their pouring booths if you go. Didn’t get tickets in time? One alternative fest you might check out on Saturday, the 4th is Springfield on Tap at the Eastern States Exposition. Featured brewers include Abandoned Building, New City and Fort Hill from Easthampton, Ludlow’s Iron Duke, Spencer Trappist Brewery, and Westfield River. At just $35 a ticket, it won’t blow your beer budget for the rest of the month. Another option is Rapscallion Brewery’s Winterfest, an annual event featuring the release of their Winterfest Ale along with food and live music.
Big Elm will try to brighten up the cold days of winter with its Cabin Fever party on the 11th. The event will take place in their recently expanded taproom and feature food, live music, and a number of special beers, including a sour and a new barrel-aged brew.
Three days later is Valentine’s Day, an occasion that calls for chocolate beer if ever there was one. Grab your sweetheart and head to the to the nearest Beer Works. Admittedly not the most romantic choice, make up for it by ordering a couple pints of LoveFest, a robust chocolate strawberry stout. If you live in the southeast region then head over to Bog Iron in Norton for their deliciously decadent Swiss Mistress, or to Black Hat Brew Works in Bridgewater for some of their Cherry Chocolate Stout.
Another option, though all-together different, is a new release called My Better Half from Slumbrew in Somerville, who will likely announce exciting plans about their Assembly Row beer garden sometime this winter. An Imperial Cream Ale, My Better Half is a unique blend of half ale and half lager.
Monday, February 20th is President’s Day, an obscure federal holiday usually associated with special sales at car dealerships. We suggest you skip the Auto Mile and use the three-day weekend to explore a few of the new taprooms slated to open in the burgeoning southeast. That new car smell can’t compare with the aroma of fresh brewed beer. One option is Mayflower Brewing in Plymouth. Their expansion should be complete so you can enjoy an oatmeal stout from the new taproom. A little further north in Whitman, nano brewery Old Colony is moving to a 6-barrel system, expanding its taproom hours, introducing a mug club, and adding three new beers to its lineup: a black IPA, a chocolate stout, and a double IPA. Last stop is 10th District in Abington, where if all goes well, they should have their pouring license in time for their popular milk stout release.
Their new beer hall won’t be anywhere near ready, but Lord Hobo may have its pouring license toward the end of the month, stop by an grab a pint of their new Galaxy pale ale, Glorious.
Aspiring nano brewery Arcpoint Brewing, founded by two Air Force veterans, will launch a kick starter campaign on February 23rd at The Foundry in Northampton. Already licensed, they will debut their first three beers at the party. The hope is to raise enough money to upgrade to a 1.5 barrel system that will allow them to produce enough beer out of their Belchertown shed to supply local liquor stores and select restaurants and bars.
Round out the month by doing a little beer shopping. Cape Ann Brewing, who recently joined the New England style IPA movement with their Reel Easy IPA, will release their Eclipse Black Lager. Lefty’s, who celebrates its 7th anniversary in March, will have most of its offerings in cans for the first time this winter. RiverWalk will release Red, Right, Return, an amped Red Ale (additionally, their Storm Door Porter is now available in the Legends section at TD Garden). Castle Island has a new release, Mo’ Pils, a Mosaic Pilsner. And if you’re lucky, you might be able to get your hands on a few bottles of some small batch brews from Honest Weight Artisan Beer, who has recently started bottling.
March: Comes in Like A Lion, Goes Out the Same Way
By this point in 2017, Night Shift should be shipping its brews all over the state, and they will probably have added a few breweries to their distribution portfolio (we twisted Rob Burns’ arm, but he wouldn’t give us any names). They describe it as the dawning of a new day for craft beer distribution in Massachusetts: a cold-chain beer life cycle for all cans and kegs, no lifetime contracts, an oath not to partake in pay-to-play, and fair and equal treatment of every brand they represent.
The Mass. Brewer’s Guild should have launched an updated website by this time, and you should look forward to not one but two festivals this year (one in Eastern Mass. and one in Western Mass., more on that in part 2 of The Guide). They also have a number of special events in store, including a roundtable tasting on March 4th. Meet The Brewers: Freshman Class will feature newbies like Exhibit ‘A’, Lamplighter, Start Line, Stone Cow, and Castle Island (who will host the event) serving up and talking about their latest beers. Only 70 tickets are available, so snag yours before they’re gone.
Procrastinators can head to Beverly, where another first-year brewery, Gentile, will be celebrating its birthday that day. Check their website or Facebook page for details as the date approaches. True West Brewing celebrates its first anniversary just two days later on March 6. The brewery and farm-to-table restaurant plan to celebrate by debuting their first bourbon barrel-aged beer, as well as an imperial version of their popular Brown Bess.
Class it up and get your charcuterie game on at Boston Beer and Cheese Fest at the Cyclorama in Boston on March 10th & 11th. Idle Hands and Trillium (quite selective about its festival appearances) are among the Bay State breweries attending the palate-pleasing event, which sold out two months in advance last year.
St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, that should make for a pretty crazy night of drinking (okay, day and night of drinking). One option is to head to Southie and tip a few pints of Boston Irish Stout, on nitro of course, at the Harpoon Beer Hall. For an exciting party in Central Mass., check out Wormtown’s 7th Anniversary bash and its special beer release – not even the Mass. Brew Bros know what the secret batch is this year. If your hangover isn’t still lingering, head to Holyoke on Sunday for their famous St. Paddy’s Day Parade. The route is just steps from Paper City Brewery, where you can enjoy some of their Dry Irish Stout.
March 20 is the Spring Equinox. With spring having sprung, several breweries are likely to have new beer releases in store. Gypsy brewer Portico has promised to announce one, along with the next batch of its Escher series, an exploration of the subtle differences in hop varieties. New beers, like a juicy IPA called Brando (notes of mango, papaya, and passion fruit) are abound at John Harvard’s in Framingham thanks to new brewer Brian Flach. A new beer from 2016 Brewing the American Dream winner Brazo Fuerte, who continues to search for a brewery location in Watertown, will benefit the Black Ale Project. Recent participant Medusa brewed a Milk Stout whose proceeds amounted to an impressive $7,000.
Pucker up on March 25th for the third annual Sour Fest at CBC, one of the first breweries in the U.S. to embrace the style. The un-ticketed, all-day event offers sample-size and full pours of more than a dozen funky, tart, pucker-producing wild ales.
As many as five more new breweries have plans to open by the end of the month. Nano brewery Two Weeks Notice plans to “brew its ass off” and give away free beer to Facebook followers while they await the completion of some final construction projects. Turtle Swamp Brewing, who we only recently found out about, is apparently working feverishly at its Jamaica Plain location. Contract brewer Percival is poised for a St. Patrick’s Day opening of its new Norwood brewery and taproom. Andover’s Oak & Iron, a small yet mighty American craft brewery, intends to debut its 10-barrel brewhouse and taproom. And in New Bedford, Moby Dick Brewing will open a 100-seat brewpub with eight brews under the leadership of award-winning brewmaster Scott Brunelle (Brew Moon, Rock Bottom, Harpoon).
If you’re planning to make the trek down to Moby Dick like we are, plan a stop at Buzzard’s Bay Brewing in Westport. The oldest mainland brewery in the Southeast, they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary. While you’re down there, may as well check out Cape Cod Beer’s taproom expansion before the summer crowds arrive. With their new monthly Cask Series and Pilot Brew releases, it’s worth the trip.
Two more breweries you should consider visiting this month are Merrimack Ales, who plans to release more barrel-aged beers and hopes to be serving full pours in its new taproom by the start of spring, and Brewmaster’s Brewing (formerly Opa Opa Brewing), whose new taproom should be finished and serving up pints of their many contract partners’ brews (Brewmaster Jack, 3 Beards, Bay State Beer, Swing Oil, White Lion). By the way, White Lion has a pending purchase agreement on a downtown Springfield building where they hope to establish a pilot brewery in 2017. Keep your fingers crossed.
That should be enough to hold you over for a few months. Let us know if we missed any big events you have circled on your craft beer calendar. Look for the release of part 2 of our Bay State Craft Beer Drinker’s Guide to 2017 shortly before April Fools Day. Cheers.