Local breweries are thinking outside the barrel and making beers that fizz like Champagne, taste of New England, and trend with no end in sight. By Brian Underwood // photographs by Joel Laino & Robert Boyd
Craft beer is having its day. According to the Brewer’s Association, sales of these smaller-volume, independently produced brews were up more than six percent last year, and there’s no better place to enjoy them this fall than on the North Shore. Sure, you could crack open a bottle from one of the bigger dogs like Boston Beer Co. (the makers of Sam Adams) or Harpoon Brewery, but the area is also home to lesser-known brands that are taking the humble brewski to new levels of innovation. Here is a craft beer crib sheet just in time for the Oktoberfest revelry.
11 Rogers St., Gloucester, 978-282-7399 capeannbrewing.com
The Story: Jeremy Goldberg was working on Wall Street, but then 9/11 happened, and everything changed for him. “I realized I wanted to do something more than [push] money around,” he says. So, at 27, he toured the country with a friend working on a documentary about craft beer and realized he wanted to be part of the scene. His brother-in-law knew of an available warehouse in Gloucester, and in 2004, Cape Ann Brewing Co. was born.
The Process: The company moved to its new location, which includes a tap room and brewpub, in 2010, but their commitment to producing solid, well-balanced beer hasn’t changed. “We’re not out to shock anyone’s palate,” says Goldberg. “We want our beer to make sense. Take our Pumpkin Stout, for example. No one had thought to do that, but pumpkin and the chocolaty notes of a stout pair perfectly.”
Standout Brew: It has to be the Fisherman’s Brew, an amber lager that boasts a toasty malt flavor and a dry, hoppy finish.
Where to Buy: A visit to the harborside brewery and brewpub would be the obvious choice, but Cape Ann Brewing’s beer is on tap at most restaurants in town, including Stone’s Pub & Eatery, and distributed to package stores from New Hampshire to D.C.
45 Meadowcroft St. Lowell, 413-250-9355, enlightenmentales.com
The Story: While working for the Cambridge Brewing Co. in 2009, Ben Howe was given a bottle of Belgian bière de Champagne (a beer/champagne hybrid) from his boss. “I love to drink both, so a combination of the two was intriguing to me,” he says. Costing upwards of $40 per bottle, the price was steep. “I decided I wanted to make an American bière de Champagne for under $20 a bottle,” he adds.
The Process: With some of the used equipment he had purchased, Ben set up shop in an old automotive garage in Lowell and started brewing. To give bière de Champagne its signature fizziness, conditioning sugar is added to flat beer just before bottling, which induces re-fermentation that creates carbonation. Later, yeast sediments are removed via a process known as disgorgement, and the bottle is recorked.
Standout Brew: The Enlightenment Brut, a bière de Champagne resembles a golden ale with refreshing flavor and plenty of effervescence. Howe recommends drinking it out of a Champagne flute.
Where to Buy: Swing by Ward Eight in Lowell or Deep Ellum in Boston for a taste. To bring some home, visit Bogie’s Beer and Wine in Beverly.
100 Washington St., Haverhill, 978-374-1117, tapbrewingcompany.com
The Story: In 2000, current owner John Fahimian purchased The Tap—a 100-year-old restaurant located in Haverhill. He added a brew house two years later and, soon, a local beer-and-grub phenomenon was reborn. At the time, the brewing facility was operating as the Haverhill Brewery until it joined the restaurant under one name last November.
The Process: Head Brewmaster Jon Curtis has an affinity for German beers, so expect to find a few lagers on tap at all times. “You don’t see that a lot,” says Justin Hoellrich, The Tap’s brand manager. “Lagers need to be conditioned for a month or longer, and a lot of places don’t have the tank space to do that.” Another area of focus is seasonal brews that take advantage of the area’s bounty. Swanny Boy, for example, is a maple porter made with syrup from New Hampshire, and their pumpkin ale incorporates sugar pumpkins from a farm in town.
Standout Brew: Try the Leather Lips IPA, a year-round brew that Hoellrich describes as “bright and hoppy, but not overpowering,” adding that “it’s got a solid malt backbone with a touch of bitterness.”
Where to Buy: The best place to enjoy Tap Brewing Company’s beer is, of course, at the brewpub itself, but package stores and bars in Eastern and Western Massachusetts and on Cape Cod carry the brand, too.
The Story: A professional brewer since 1993, owner Chris Lohring founded Notch Brewing Co. three years ago. It is based upon the concept of the British session beer—a low-alcohol brew that allows the drinker to enjoy several pints at a time.
The Process: Chris admits to being a bit of a traditionalist, and his recipes eschew the use of fruit and other trendy ingredients in favor of the basic grains, yeast, and hops. “People told me my concept was insane,” he says. “It’s the opposite direction of where craft brewing is headed.”
Standout Brew: Notch’s Session Pils is crisp, herbal, and hoppy with only four percent ABV (alcohol by volume).
Where to Buy: Swing by Salt in downtown Ipswich, Short & Main in Gloucester, or In A Pig’s Eye in Salem for a pint. Notch six-packs can also be found in liquor stores throughout Massachusetts and Southern Maine.
3 Graf Rd., # 15, Newburyport, 978-499-2337, riverwalkbrewing.com
The Story: Owner and Amesbury native Steven Sanderson started out as a home brewer. He began by trying to re-create the German and Czech beers he’d enjoyed while traveling through Europe. In 2008, he quit his job as a financial planner and decided to turn his passion into his business. “One of the great things about American craft beer,” Sanderson says, “is that it draws upon craft traditions from around the world.”
The Process: Using as many locally sourced raw ingredients as possible, RiverWalk Brewing Co. produces about 350 barrels of unfiltered, unpasteurized beer every year. “We want to enhance the natural taste, not shape our beer into something it’s not,” says Sanderson.
Standout Brew: Gnomad, a blend of several varieties of barley, wheat, and oats with American hops for a touch of citrus and Belgian yeasts for an earthy, spicy flavor.
Where to Sip: Take a tour of the brand’s 2,000-square-foot space in Newburyport and fill up a growler while you’re at it. Or, you can stop by Newburyport haunts like The Port Tavern, Michael’s Harborside, or Agave Mexican Bistro to taste RiverWalk on tap.
23 Hayward St., Ipswich, 978-356-3329, ipswichalebrewery.com
The Story: When the Ipswich Brewing Company was in danger of closing, employee Rob Martin bought the well-known microbrewery in 1999 and christened it the Mercury Brewing and Distribution Company. After a few years, Martin bought back IPC’s signature brand, Ipswich Ale, and renamed the whole operation.
The Process: The brewery produces 24,000 barrels per year, as well as beer for other local craft brands like Notch Brewing Co., Somerville Brewing Company, and Bad Martha Beer Company on Martha’s Vineyard. In-house brands like the flagship Ipswich Ale and 5 Mile Ale—a single-batch brew featuring Massachusetts ingredients—are local favorites.
Standout Brew: Hands down, the Ipswich Original Ale, a slightly bitter pale ale with a light, fruity aroma.
Where to Buy: A North Shore staple, Ipswich Ale can be found at major liquor retailers like Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits, local package stores, and restaurants like Ipswich’s Choate Bridge Pub and the Landing at 7 Central in Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Newburyport Brewing Company, 4 New Pasture Rd., Newburyport, 978-463-8700, nbptbrewing.com
The Story: At 40 years old, Chris Webb had what he calls a “sort of mid-life crisis,” and decided his job as a leadership counselor wasn’t cutting it. “I got introduced to craft beer in Colorado in the ’90s and thought about starting a brewery,” he says. After raising a million dollars with partner Bill Fisher and teaming up with Mike Robinson (an award-winning brewer who was working as a loan officer at the time), they established the brand in the fall of 2012 and brewed their first batch by the following Valentine’s Day.
The Process: As the first and only craft brand in the state that cans its entire line, the company’s commitment to freshness is evident. “Two things ruin beer: air and light,” Webb explains. The fact that they don’t cut corners on ingredients and use high-quality Maris Otter barley as their base malt makes their beer something special. “It’s a little more expensive, but we’ve searched the world to find the best,” he says.
Standout Brew: The Green Head IPA, named after the ubiquitous biting fly found on Plum Island and across the North Shore, is a West Coast IPA that starts bright and hoppy with a smooth malt undertone and has a slightly bitter finish.
Where to Buy: Head over to the brewery for a tasting, where you can also enjoy a pint during certain hours. The brand is also on tap at Finz Seafood & Grill in Salem, Black Cow Tap & Grill in Newburyport and Hamilton, and Sylvan Street Grille in Peabody and Salisbury. ●n