Mass Consumption – A Commonwealth of Craft Beer

Boston Beer Works brewers Zandy Zeiser (left) and Jack Hendler

Massachusetts is an excellent place to find craft beer. After all the Bay State is the home of patriot brewer Samuel Adams for which America’s largest craft brewery, Boston Beer Company, is named. It is also home to BeerAdvocate founders, brother Jason and Todd Alström. On a recent visit to Massachusetts, Brewpublic-style, some great brews were brought to light. Here is a look at some of the highlights from this particular expedition:

My gracious hosts Sean and Amber Jansen with the 2 Guys Beer blog took me around to some spectacular craft beer establishments in around Massachusetts from around the North Shore and Boston. One such stop is the Ale House in downtown Amesbury. The Ale House offers a massive selection of draft and cask beers as well as an extensive bottle list.

Sean and Angelo toast to the holidays and kickass New England sport teams

Chosen Drafts – On my visit to Amesbury, The Ale House was featuring “Chosen Drafts” from Shmaltz Brewing’s He’Brew lineup. To celebrate the festival of lights, eight different beers represented the eight days of Chanukah. He’Brew Jewbelation verticals 8,9,10,11,12,13, and 14 were all available on tap as well as Vertical Jewbelation, a blend of all seven beers, each outdoing the previous with the number of malts, hops and ABV percentage matching their respective numbers.

Ryan Jansen gets the He'Brew Jewbelation Vertical!

From cask, Haverhill Brewing’s English Brown was a clear choice. This malt-driven brown ale poured a murky earth color with a minimal whitish top. Lots of fruity, nutty esters blossomed in this warming yet evidently approachable ale.

Haverhill English Brown on cask at the Ale House

Other notable pours at the Ale House included La Rulles Tripel, La Rulles Meilleurs Voeux, Ommegang Zuur, Cantillon Vigneronne, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout,Brooklyn Cuvée Noire, and Long Trail Imperial Porter. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been at it since 2007. In addition to offering more than twenty beers on tap, the Ale House also has an impressive food menu and and a spacious inviting atmosphere where they frequently host beer dinners and other events.

Ale House in Amesbury, MA

Gold medal winning GestAlt German-style altbier at The Tap in Haverhill, MAThe Tap is an oasis of craft beer in Haverhill, Massachusetts and the home of the Haverhill Brewery. This fine brewpub under Brewmaster Jon Curtis recently gained national recognition for its success at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in which Haverhill won two medals. Their biggest winner at this year’s GABF was their GestAlt which took home the gold medal in the German-style altbier category (the other was their Annie Schwarz which took home silver in the German-style Schwarzbier category). The brew is a 5.3% ABV crisp yet sweet ale that is now available year round. Fruity notes and a hearty hops presence of a pale ale coupled with the malt complexities of brews found in the Dusseldorf region of Germany work together to offer what the brewery righteously refers to as “the complete beer.”

Taphandles at The Tap in Haverhill, MA

While at The Tap I also experienced Haverhill’s Ruby Bruin, an uncommon Oud Bruin style of beer. Not as tart and sweet as many in the category, this malty Belgian-style ale was sour mashed for three days employing generous amounts of amber and caramel malts. The tap menu at The Tap quotes a customer referring to this beer saying “Maybe I like sour beers.” This brew was unsuitably served in a 16-ounce straight-walled pint glass, but it was a treat nonetheless.

The Tap in Haverhill, MA

Haverhill Brewery sampler at The Tap Also sampled at The Tap: Joshua Norton Imperial Stout – a bold 9.3% ABV English-esque strong dark ale with plenty of roast and malt smokiness as well as a spicing of Cascade hops; A Brewer’s Christmas in Ales – An English-style winter warmer with fruit and chocolate innuendos and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and East Kent Golding hops. 5.8% ABV, 40 IBU; Procrastinator – This beer keeps in line with Haverhill Brewing’s affinity for beers that tip their hat to traditional German and English styles. A chewy 8.4% ABV brew, this German-style Doppelbock held rich maltiness from Munich and Vienna malts and balanced with a hint of German Noble hops; Leather Lips IPA – The first time I experienced this beer I was distraught with a high diacetyl detected However, this tasting was a great improvement. Copper-golden in color and with bright floral notes, the mantra is “So hoppy I can’t taste anything else – better have another” is a bit of an exaggeration (especially when considering the beers many West Coasters are accustomed to), it was nonetheless a delightful and refreshing sessionable ale. 5% ABV, 50 IBU; Haverale – Still a favorite of mine, this light pale golden and crisp ale had a quenching breadiness and a mellow floral nose. Fermented warm to give off a mild fruity aroma, this ale/lager hybrid is, as the brewer states, “a great introduction to what we do here.” Kudos! (Read our previous article about The Tap in Haverhill here.)

Haverhill Brewery

Boston Beer Works – With locations throughout the greater Boston area including one across the street from Fenway Park, Boston Beer Works (BBW) is a top destination for beer lovers in New England. My recent travels landed me at the Canal Street BBW in the city’s North End near the TD Garden (home of the Bruins hockey and Celtics basketball teams). On tap I found a variety of beer styles on tap. Most are brewed on location by Brewmaster Jack Hendler and assistant brewer Zandy Zeiser. Unquestionably, these lads know how to produce high end beer.

Boston Beer Works

Amber Jansen with Boston Beer Works Winter Warmer and Winter Works GruitDuring my stop at Beer Works, four winter ales were available including Winter Works, a unique gruit, a beer made without hops but with an assortment of flavorsome herbs. These included mugwort, yarrow, juniper, and pennyroyal. The result is a minty and zesty ale unlike any other I’ve had the pleasure of tasting before. The BBW Winter Warmer is a dark amber bodied ale with a hearty malt spine and an impressionable level of bitter hops to balance. The Farmhouse Nouveau is an effervescent Belgian-style farmhouse beer brewed without any added spices. The friendly and informative brew staff invited me to taste two distinctly mouthwatering wild ales both aged in old oaken Pinot Noir casks. The first was a Belgian Tripel inoculated with Roeselare wild yeast. A shiny golden-copper colored ale, this strong ale possessed notes of vinous white wine grapes and sweet yet dry citric fruitiness. The second was an amazing Sour Red Ale aged in the same barrels for about ten months. Similar complexities to some of the more adventurous sours from Cascade Brewing, this glowing amber-bodied beer held a sharp fruity tartness with some lactic and woody notes. Truly divine! The barrels obtained by BBW previously housed Samuel Adams’ Utopias. “They only use these (barrels) once for (Utopias)” says Hendler. “Sam Adams are very generous to other area brewers like us.”

Boston Beer Works (Canal Street) brewers Jack Hendler (left) and Zandy Zeiser

Hendler and Zeister say that many one-offs are scheduled to make their way down the BBW pipeline, including a rose petal gruit slated for release on Valentine’s Day and an upcoming English-style farmhouse gruit. This brought to mind the beers from Upright Brewing who are known throughout the Pacific Northwest for such imagination and one-of-a-kind recipe development. Hendler was so kind as to send me home with a 750 ml bottle of BBW’s Sour Cherry Bomb sour. Cheers!

Boston Beer Works

Cambridge Brewing Company – A New England original, CBC near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus in Kendall Square, was founded in 1989 by Phil “Brewdaddy” Bannatyne. CBC boasts being one of the oldest craft breweries in the Boston area and one of the first 100 in the country. A wide range of brews that run the gamut are regularly featured on CBC’s various rotating taps.

Cambridge Brewing Co.

CBC’s Three Rings is a Belgian-style pale ale made exclusively with Vienna and Aromatic malt and hopped with Tettnanger, Spalt, and Cascade hops. A distinct Propnelay yeast strain lend the beer its signature funky notes, citrus fruit notes, and spice character. Heavily dry-hopped, the Three Rings, at 5% ABV, was served fittingly in a tulip glass.

Old Mother Hubbard Saison with local blue Hubbard squash and honey is quite the noteworthy harvest ale. Allandale Farm in Brookline – Boston’s last working farm – provide a “new take on (what might constitute a) pumpkin beer.” 200 pounds of fresh picked Blue Hubbard squash were added to the mash along with 35 pounds of honey from Allandale’s bee hives. The brewery’s Belgian yeast offers a dry palate with natural spiciness (no spices added) and a “pumpkin-meets-melon” flavor. The 5.5% ABV ale was served up in a tidy teardrop chalice.

Cambridge Brewing Co. brewery

Cerise Cassée Barrel-fermented Sour Wild Ale – The name is nearly as complex as the beer itself. Brewed from a three-day sour mash then spontaneously fermented and aged (thanks to resident wild yeast and microflora) melds perfectly with 300 pounds of sour cherries aged in French oak wine barrels. Aging and blending of between one and seven years old beer produces the first true Solera-style barrel cellar beer in the United States. Lots of cherries, malt, and oaky tannins wave across the palate in this “funky yet balanced” one-of-a-kind 8.5% ABV brew served in stemmed flute glasses.

Cambridge Brewing Co. Amber Ale (left) and Cerise Casee Barrel-fermented Sour Wild Ale

Cambridge Amber – Perhaps not as wowing to the most discerning palate, this amber-colored ale offers a hearty roasty malt profile as well as a helping of floral aromatic hops. A faint diacetyl presence is evident in this medium-bodied brew with notes of caramel, toffee, chocolate, and roasted grains.

CBC offers a bong-like massive beer tower that patrons can enjoy in groups in the brewery’s comforting dining and bar areas.

Cambridge Brewing Co. beer tower

Deep Ellum, Allston, MADeep Ellum – On the outskirts of Boston city proper, Allston’s Deep Ellum is a destination for both Boston University students and those with a hankering for something far from your ever day brews. In total, the Ellum pours 28 rotating taps, those from New England, Europe, and the West Coast. Some favorite enjoyed by my friends and I included Green Flash West Coast IPA, Pretty Things Jack D’Or Saison, Ridgeway Bad King John English Black Ale, and perhaps the most outrageous, Denmark’s Beer Here (perhaps an ode to our friend John Foyston?) Dark Hops Imperial Cascadian Dark Ale.  With an opaque black body and a beige-tan frothy head, the sweet dark malts of Dark Hops couples beautifully with citrus and resinous piny hops that are delivered in welcomed abundance.

At Deep Ellum: (left to right) Pretty Things Jack D'Or Saison Americain, Ridgeway Bad John English Black Ale, Green Flash West Coast IPA

Sean Jansen at Deep Ellum with Beer Here Dark Hops Imperial CDA

Soon after my travels to the North Shore and Boston, I made my way to Worcester, Massachusetts’ second most populated city (and home to Tollbooth Willy, $1.25  please). Worcester offers a fair amount of things to do but is nowhere near the kind of beer hub that Boston is. However, Worcester does retain one of New England’s best craft Armsby Abbey. My brother and I have previously written about the Abbey on this site and it remains a key destination whenever visiting the Heartland where my mother Jean lives.

Amsby Abbey

Armsby Abbey is not like any other craft beer bars anywhere in that it offers an extensive selection of import draughts, in particular, Belgians. My visit to the Abbey occurred shortly after the kickoff of their “It’s a Belgian Christmas” event in which a plenitude of hard to find holiday offerings from across the pond adorned the 23 taps available to the public. In addition to mostly Belgian seasonals, Armsby Abbey offered eye opening beers from Germany, Austria Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and England. Some of these were highly sought after selections retrieved from the pub’s aging cellar. With exclusivity and excise tax comes a price. All of the beers at the Abbey were sold for a minimum of $7 per glass. This was quite understandable, yet I knew I would have to make my selections carefully.

Mikkeller Ris A La M’AleMy first beer at Armsby Abbey was Mikkeller Ris A La M’Ale, a delicious traditional Norwegian rice dessert in a glass with flavors of rice, cream, almonds, and cherry. Warm and gratifying, this 8% ABV ale offered complex notes of sweet fruit, nuts, and bread. It was easy to taste how this beer might serve to counterpoint the traditional dessert. A dark brown-ruby colored beer, Ris A La M’Ale was a perfect choice on such a dark and dreary winter’s day.

De Ranke Pere NoelI followed the Mikkeller selection with a glass of De Ranke Père Noël. I’d experienced this fine brew from a bottle but this was my first take on it from the tap. A strong Belgian pale ale, this fantastic Christmas ale defies the universal custom of some stronger, darker, and spicier holiday beers and combines elements of the treasured De Ranke XX Bitter and Guldenberg. A wonderful hops and malts balance provides a deep dryness and subtle musty cellar aroma within a copper-amber hue and bubbly white head.

Other appealing options at the Abbey included 2008 Delirium Noël, De Struise Tsjeeses, 2008 Gouden Carolus Noel, Mahr’s Christmas Bock from a gravity keg, Mikkeller Red/White Christmas, Avec les Bon Voeux, 2009 Corsendonk Christmas, 2007 St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, Slaapmutske Kerstmutske Christmas Nightcap, Oppigårds Winter Ale, and Serafijin Christmas Angel. A quite impressive selection indeed!

Mass Liquors owner Todd GreamoThroughout Massachusetts most beer, wine, and cider is sold at packaging stores where liquor is sold. One such shop with a great selection of craft beer is Mass Liquors in Worcester. Here we found craft beer from all over the Northeast and New England as well as imported offerings. Select single bottles and six packs from choice breweries such as Weyerbacher, Troegs, Atlantic Brewing,  Brooklyn Brewing, and Long Trail are sold here. Store owner Todd Greamo knew his inventory well and said his shop strives to accommodate his beer loving customers as well as wine lovers as Mass Liquors offers one of the most extensive wine selections in Central Mass.

Craft beer singles shelf at Mass Liquors in Worcester, MA

Beer hunting in Massachusetts is always a lot of fun and there appears to be no shortage of folks who are passionate in helping to promote the craft beer revolution. Upon each visit I have noticed more and more innovation amongst Massachusetts breweries and this dedication to expanding perceptions and palates when it comes to malt beverages has resonated across New England and the rest of the country. I look forward to my next trip back to the great Commonwealth. Cheers!