With the new year just days away, it’s a good time to raise a pint in the Bay State. With more than 50 breweries in the local guild, representing only a portion of the total number of brewers here, Massachusetts has become a robust center for craft beer. From Greater Boston to the Berkshires to the Cape and islands, artisans are creating tipples that are definitely worth a try. But with breweries surging nationwide, trying to keep up with which are from here can be quite a chore. For those looking to show state pride by drinking local this holiday, we offer a sampling of brewers that caught our eye this year.
PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT, SOMERVILLE
The husband and wife team of Dann Paquette and Martha Holley-Paquette have yet to make a bad beer. Brews with whimsical names like Fluffy White Rabbits and Baby Tree are a fine-tuned triple and Belgian quad, respectively. Pretty Things does not have its own brewery, so about twice a week the couple travels to Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport to brew. Pretty Things also offers a series of historical beers, bringing old recipes like the 1832 XXXX Mild Ale back to life.
9 Olive Square, Somerville; 617-682-6419; www.prettybeer.com
NIGHT SHIFT BREWING, EVERETT
Night Shift was founded by three friends, Michael Oxton, Robert Burns, and Michael O’Mara, in 2011. The trio works “within the controlled chaos” of sour beers, Oxton says, putting their brews through various yeast treatments to bring out tart, refreshing flavors like the ones found in their Sour Weisse collection. In addition, Night Shift barrel-ages many of its beers, the most labor intensive of which they hold in reserve for members of their Barrel Society. Members can buy-in at three levels for a year’s worth of special releases in a system not unlike a CSA farm share.
3 Charlton St. Everett; 617-292-4233; www.nightshiftbrewing.com
IDLE HANDS CRAFT ALES/ENLIGHTENMENT ALES, EVERETT
After first establishing themselves as separate brands, the two breweries merged in early December. Idle Hands is run by Chris and Grace Tkach. The couple hired Ben Howe of Enlightenment Ales as its head brewer while absorbing the ridiculously small batch, highly regarded beers Howe produces. Idle Hands beers are Belgian-inspired, from the sweet and spicy interplay in Triplication to the rich, malty flavors of Dubbel Dimples. Enlightenment Brut, the only biere de champagne being produced in America, is a tastier alternative to your New Year’s bubbly.
3 Charlton St. Everett; 617-819-4353; www.idlehandscraftales.com
JACK’S ABBY, FRAMINGHAM
The lager is exciting again. The brothers Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler put American twists on classic German lagers, from the citrusy Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager, to Smoke & Dagger, which rides the edge between a schwarzbier and smoked porter. The beers are approachable and priced well, setting them up to be your everyday brews.
81 Morton St., 508-872-0900; www.jacksabbybrewing.com
TRILLIUM BREWING, FORT POINT
It’s hard to imagine a newcomer getting more hype and still living up to it. Since opening in March, Trillium has been the darling of Boston’s brewing scene. Maybe it’s the lip-smacking hops in the Fort Point Pale Ale that draw us in, or the simple beauty of the company’s flower logo. Brewer JC Tetrault says he is near max capacity and “still not even scratching the local demand for our beer.” Trillium is beginning limited bottling runs, but the best way to take home the beer is in a growler filled at the brewery.
369 Congress St, Boston; 617-453-8745; www.trilliumbrewing.com
BREWMASTER JACK, NORTHAMPTON
Brewer Tyler Guilmette named the brewery for his great-grandfather, a home brewer in the 1930s. Guilmette founded his brewery in 2012 and keeps production small, though not home-brew small. He’s increased his output from 150 barrels last year to 450 this year. The company preaches and follows through on the mantra of local, incorporating grain milled at Valley Malt in Hadley in many of its brews. The flagship Stray Dog Lager is a pleasing, refreshing take on the style, but it’s the saison style in which Guilmette has all the fun. Seasonal releases of these farmhouse ales have distribution in the Boston area.
413-367-7190; www.brewmaster jack.com
MAYFLOWER BREWING, PLYMOUTH
Maybe it’s the brand name or the respect for history, but it sure seems like Mayflower has been around longer than 2007. Mayflower brews beers which honor both English tradition and makes use of New England ingredients and seasonal tastes. Brewed with Pilgrim (naturally) and Glaciar hops, Mayflower’s porter is a cold-weather standby. The brewery recently received a new pouring license and is now able to pour full pints on location.
12 Resnik Road; 508-746-2674; www.mayflowerbrewing.com
MYSTIC BREWERY, CHELSEA
Founder Bryan Greenhagen is known around the industry as the smart, shy type, but get him talking about his beer and all that melts away. There’s some unique chemistry happening in a warehouse that houses the brewery. Big, square wine fermenters bubble over as barrels filled with beer of varying age sit and wait to find out what they’re going to be. Mystic specializes in traditional Belgian beers, but Greenhagen isn’t afraid to veer off the path. For Vinland Two, a gold medal-winning beer at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, Greenhagen used wild yeast cultured from Maine blueberries.
174 Williams St.; 617-466-2079; www.mystic-brewery.com
The well-branded Somerville Brewing Co. now has one of the most recognizable names in Boston. Founders Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter opened in 2011 and keep pumping out new brews, from standbys like Porter Sq. Porter and Flagraiser IPA to seasonal releases like Yankee Swap, an English strong ale brewed with maple syrup and aged in oak rum barrels.
1310 Broadway (no tours/tastings); 800-428-1150; www.slumbrew.com
CAMBRIDGE BREWING CO., CAMBRIDGE
It’s hard to imagine Kendall Square without the 24-year-old brew pub. Founded in 1989, it’s the oldest brewery-restaurant in the Boston area and the predecessor by a long shot to the beery places occupying Kendall today. Instead of being staid, however, brewmaster Will Meyers is constantly tinkering, offering a diverse beer menu that is constantly changing. Particularly good are the sour and blended beers dotting the menu. Cerise Cassee, for example, is a barrel-fermented wild ale brewed with 300 pounds of sour cherries. The beer ages for up to eight years in French wine barrels. Not all of CBC’s beers are this complex, but the best ones are.
1 Kendall Square #100; 617-494-1994; www.cambrew.com
TREE HOUSE BREWING, MONSON
Another small batch brewery, Tree House has taken on a kind of in-the-know cachet in part because of limited availability but also its exceptional quality. At Beer Advocate’s American Craft Beer Festival last summer, lines for Tree House brews were among the longest, despite there being dozens of rare beers there from much further afield. The juicy Julius IPA, bursting with mango and grapefruit, is a must-try. The brewery is currently in the process of relocating operations from Brimfield to Monson.
160 East Hill Road; 413-949-1891; www.treehousebrew.com
NOTCH BREWING CO., SALEM
Founder Chris Lohring’s mission is to define “session beer” for a larger audience, then convince that audience of its merits. So far, so good. Session beer is flavorful low-alcohol beer, which Notch defines as less than 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. They’re so named because you can drink more than one or two of them in any given session without becoming drunk. Brews like Session Ale and Long Play India Pale Lager are brewed to be flavorful alternatives to the mass marketed beers in the same category. In other words, your game-day beer doesn’t have to be dull or make you sleepy.
19 Carlton St.; 978-238-9060; www.notchbrewing.com
BACKLASH BEER, BOSTON
One of the more memorable logos in local beer belongs to the brewery run by one of its more memorable couples. Helder Pimentel and fiance Maggie Foley keep the edge dialed up for Backlash, a brand with an urban vibe and complex range of beer. The brews range from War, a subtle, spicy rye farmhouse ale, to the Uprising! series of in-your-face double IPAs. Beers are brewed at Paper City in Holyoke and sold in 22-ounce bottles and on tap.
26 Medfield St #4; 617-615-9345; www.backlashbeer.com
CISCO BREWERS, NANTUCKET
Even if you haven’t visited them on the island, you’ve likely seen Whales Tale Pale Ale and other Cisco brews on the main land. That beer and the ridiculously drinkable Grey Lady Ale are standbys, but Cisco Island Reserve and The Woods series beers showcase Cisco’s more contemplative side.
5 Bartlett Farm Road, Nantucket; 508-325-5929; www.ciscobrewers.com
BERKSHIRE BREWING CO., SOUTH DEERFIELD
A New England mainstay since 1994, Berkshire Brewing has kept up with the times, debuting stalwarts like Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale in cans recently. Cabin Fever Ale, a well-balanced sipper with notes of dark fruit and toffee, has gotten many a New Englander through long, cold winters. BBC distributes throughout New England.
12 Railroad St.; 413-665-6600; www.berkshirebrewingcompany.comGary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com.