In December, the Brewers Association released a staggering statistic: There are now 4,144 breweries in the United States, the most in history. The last time there were close to this many brewers was 1873, well before Prohibition, and before the founding of the mammoth companies that still make the vast majority of beer in this country.
Norton’s Bog Iron Brewery is one of the many. It’s tiny, open to the public two days a week and selling most of its beer on site (kegs also go to select bars and restaurants). Founders Matt Menard, Frank White, and Brian Shurtleff met through a South Shore homebrewing club. In 2013, they opened the business.
“It’s almost kind of the law that if you’re a home brewer, you have to at least daydream about opening a brewery,” says Shurtleff. “We were just the three who were dumb enough to actually try it.”
Until last month, Bog Iron didn’t even have a sign out front. It brews what the three founders want, which is often the subject of intense discussion. White is full-time, while Shurtleff and Menard have kept their day jobs. The three take turns suggesting what to brew. The only requirement is somewhat vague.
“We just want to make beer that people like,” says White. “That sounds like a cop-out, but it really isn’t. If I’m in this kind of mood, what would I want to have in terms of a pint?
“We have arguments about this stuff daily. Oh, absolutely we do.”
I recently tried three Bog Iron beers, two from growlers and one from a limited bottling. Jump Back is an IPA with a bulbous nose dominated by the aroma of tangerines. There’s a great first wave of hops, though it could have used a little fuller finish. It’s a welcome addition to the local IPA scene.
I also tried One Down, a porter made with cherrywood-smoked malts, and Devil’s Footprint, a mezcal barrel-aged braggot ale brewed with honey. The latter was the most impressive, a finicky beer that actually tasted of mezcal. Bog Iron is making other unexpected things, such as Belgian lambics aged in Chardonnay barrels, and a Flanders Red that’s spent time in Madeira wine barrels.
Bog Iron would love to expand. The brewery recently purchased a 15-barrel system, increasing potential capacity by five times. That doesn’t mean it will be filled right away.
“Our goal is to make enough beer so that we can overcome the demand in our taproom, and then get our beer out,” says Shurtleff.
Despite the number of breweries nationwide, Menard doesn’t have any doubt about competing.
“Why isn’t there a pizza joint bubble?” says Menard. “Every corner in every town has name-your-town House of Pizza. I think there’s room for a lot more local-style breweries.”
Bog Iron (508-952-0555, www.bogironbrewing.com) is open Wednesday 4-9 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.