For many years there was just one craft brewery on Cape Cod. Today there are three. And by the end of this summer there will likely be five, making Cape Cod a bona fide craft beer destination, with tasting rooms running the length of the peninsula, from Mashpee to Orleans.
It all started with Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis. And Cape Cod Beer started, way back in 2004, with an out-of-work couple who loved beer and Cape Cod. On their first trip together, somewhere around 1995, Beth Marcus says, her now-husband Todd took her to the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado. Recalling their pursuit of the American dream back then, she said: “We went to college, and we all got these high-paying corporate jobs, and we were miserable. We called it the race to the bottom.” Once the layoffs began, it was time to do something they loved.
In its first year Cape Cod Beer had 12 customers and one employee (Todd); they delivered beer in Beth’s minivan, typically with their two sons strapped into car seats in the backseat. Today the company employs 20 people and occupies 10,000 square feet in Hyannis with a 30-barrel brewhouse and tasting room. It brews four beers year-round — Beach Blonde Ale, Red, IPA, and Porter — in addition to seasonal specialties such as Hot Blonde, infused with hot peppers, and Christmas in July, an oak barrel-aged British-style strong ale bottled in champagne bottles and available only at the brewery from July 25 until it’s gone.
Brewery tours, offered Monday-Saturday at 11 a.m., involve grabbing a seat in the cavernous brewing facility while a guide recaps the company’s history and describes the brewing process, as the enormous steel tanks hum softly in the background. Visitors are also welcome to look around and taste during regular retail hours. Tastings are $5 for five 3-ounce samples and a souvenir glass. (capecodbeer.com)
It would be 11 years before the Cape got another brewery. In 2015 friends and avid home brewers Matt Belson and Mike Segerson opened Devil’s Purse Brewing Co. in South Dennis. (A devil’s purse is the small black egg sac of a skate, which resembles a miniature purse.) A journalist in his former life, Belson hails from Brooklyn, N.Y. Segerson, who grew up in Connecticut and spent summers on Cape Cod, was a video editor with a wine background.
The seven-barrel brewery’s core beers, Belson said, are Handline Kolsch, Surfman’s Check ESB (extra special bitter), and Pollock Rip IPA. (All the beer names refer to Cape Cod themes or history.) Among the envelope-pushing varieties are PNG Dark Mild Ale, which tastes distinctly of the added cold-brewed Papua New Guinea coffee, and Intertidal Dry Oyster Stout. To brew the stout, Belson explained, Segerson adds three or four dozen locally harvested oysters in a mesh bag. During the brewing process, the oysters open, releasing brine, and the boiling extracts calcium from the shells.
After the bags are removed, the stout has a subtle minerality.
Tastings are offered Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m., in 5- and 10-ounce samples, with prices varying according to beer style and tasting size. (www.devilspurse.com)
It may not be Cape Cod’s newest brewery for much longer, but Hog Island Beer Co., a 15-barrel system in Orleans, will always be its outermost brewery, says co-owner Mike McNamara. Because of the way the tip of the Cape curves back toward the mainland, he says, Orleans will always be the Cape town farthest from the center of the state.
While Cape Cod Beer and Devil’s Purse are primarily breweries with tasting rooms tacked on, Hog Island was in one sense a tasting room before it became a brewery. Formerly the function hall for the adjacent Jailhouse Tavern, Hog Island’s beer hall is an expansive indoor space with picnic tables, upholstered furniture, ping-pong, and foosball, complemented by a grassy outdoor area with more picnic tables and Adirondack chairs. In late 2015 McNamara and partner Mark Powers, who also jointly own the Jailhouse, added an 1,100-square-foot brewhouse to the beer hall, and Hog Island opened to the public in June 2016. Thanks to the Jailhouse’s banquet kitchen, visitors can enjoy pizza, Bavarian pretzels, and assorted small bites with their brews.
Hog Island brews six beers, ranging from White Shark Wheat (tagline: “You’re gonna need a bigger glass”), inspired by brewer John Kanaga’s college years in Kansas, to Far Out Stout. Along with pints, the tasting room serves four- or six-beer flights at $7 and $10. Live music will be offered seven nights a week in summer, McNamara said. (www.hogisland
Hot on the trail of these three breweries are Barnstable Brewing in Hyannis and Naukabout Brewery & Taproom in Mashpee.
Peter Connor, who runs Barnstable Brewing with his wife, Ann, and son Mark, says the brewery will have an international flair. Mark Connor, who holds a degree in microbiology, trained as a brewmaster in Germany. The family expects to open the brewery this month.
Naukabout, which is currently contract brewing, bought the former Flume restaurant on Mashpee-Wakeby Lake in Mashpee in 2016 with the goal of turning it into a taproom and brewery, said co-owner Peter Murner.
Naukabout is shooting for a late summer opening.
All the brewers subscribe to the “rising tide” theory, believing that the proliferation of breweries will help everyone by making the Cape a beer destination. “The beer drinking public will travel,” said Connor. “I think the Cape could support 10 or 12 breweries. . . . Obviously there’s a theoretical limit, but I don’t think Cape Cod has reached it.”