Brewery Overview: Mystic Brewery

Mystic Lineup

Location: Mystic has a taproom at 174 Williams St. in Chelsea, MA, right off of the Tobin bridge. They offer sample flights, full pours and growler fills of their flagship, seasonal, and specialty beers including some brewery-exclusives. The taproom isn’t huge, but it has a small bar and a variety of seating, plenty of room to hang out with a group of friends and drink some tasty saisons.


Leadoff: Have you ever wondered what a brewery would look like if it was founded by a PhD biologist with a passion for micro-organisms and the products of their metabolism? No need to theorize because that is the (extremely brief and generalized) background of Mystic Brewing founder Bryan Greenhagen. While hops and malt get most of the attention when it comes to beer ingredients if it wasn’t for the microbes that convert that malt into alcohol beer would just be strongly flavored sugar water. Belgian style ales in particular take advantage of the array of flavors that yeast can contribute to beers. Mystic has emerged as a local expert in the development of unique strains of yeast. They have had some incredible successes, from their house Renaud yeast, to Vinland strains isolated from local fruit, to their new wild ale program. Each of these strains of yeast has been used as a significant component in Mystic’s array of Belgian style ales. Regular readers of this blog know how much I love saisons, and Mystic makes some of the best examples of the style.

Mystic Mary of the Gael

My Favorite Mystic Beers:

Mary of the Gael: Probably my favorite beer brewed by Mystic. Bright floral and earthy hops perfectly complement the fruity and spicy notes from expressive yeast strain. The only problem I have with this beer is that it’s only available in the spring!

Day of Doom: Can you think of a more appropriate name for a Belgian style quad that weighs in at 12% ABV? Tons of rich malt flavor is complemented by subtle estery notes from the yeast. This is incredibly easy to drink for a big beer, you can taste the booze but it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.

Vinland Series: Each beer in the Vinland series is brewed with a yeast strain cultured from a different fruit grown in New England. Vinland 1 (which I am sad to say I never got to try) used plums from Massachusetts, Vinland 2 used blueberries from Maine, and Vinland 3 used raspberries from Vermont. While no actual fruit is added to the beer, you get subtle notes that are reminiscent of the fruit the yeast came from, which shows how influential native yeast strains are in our perception of flavor. It also helps that each beer in this series has been delicious, tailor made to complement the flavors produced by the yeast. I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Descendant: A hybrid beer that combines the dark roasted malt bill of a Irish stout or an English porter fermented with the house Renaud yeast. The addition of molasses to the brewing process is an ode to an old New England brewing tradition. The final beer is a complex mixture of coffee and chocolate from the malts with fruit and spice from the yeast.

Mystic Hazy Jane

Other Beers You Should Try: Mystic’s flagship Saison Renaud is a stellar saison that showcases their house yeast culture. Summer seasonal saison Hazy Jane uses a generous dose of wheat malt along with an array of hops resulting in a flavorful and refreshing beer for the warmer months. Traditional saisons were often lower in alcohol, and Mystic pays homage to this with Table Beer, a full flavored but sessionable offering. On the other end of the spectrum is Entropy, a boozy beer which is fermented in four stages with four different yeast strains, achieving both high ABV and incredible complexity. Flor Z is a sour saison that combines fruity and spicy Belgian yeast with a mild tartness.

Wild and Barrel Aged Beers: Mystic recently announced a partnership with Cambridge Brewing Company to expand bottling production and produce a series of Belgian style wild and sour ales. This is a huge commitment of time and effort, some of these beers need to age for years before they are ready to drink. In the end Mystic will become one of the leading producers of Belgian style sours in the US, a very exciting proposition considering their expertise in extracting amazing flavor from a variety of microbes.

Mystic Melissa

Gruit: Mystic is one of a handful of breweries trying to revitalize the gruit style, which is essentially beer flavored with herbs/adjuncts other than hops (so technically it isn’t beer in the strictest sense). Mystic is experimenting with a number of gruits. I recently enjoyed Melissa, a gruit brewed with lemon balm, juniper and lavender. Another recently released gruit is Freak Scene, brewed with honeybush and hibiscus.

Wigglesworth Series: While Mystic is renowned for it’s Belgian style ales, they also brew a series of traditional bottle conditioned English ales under the Wiggleswoth label. These beers were formulated by part-owner, accomplished home-brewer and British ex-pat Alastair Hewitt.

Final Thoughts: In the increasingly competitive beer marketplace it is paramount that a brewery has a calling card, something that is unique or that they do better than the competition. With their unparalleled ability to develop novel strains of yeast and use them to make delicious beer Mystic has their calling card. If you love Belgian styles, or even if you are just starting to try them, you need to make the trip to Chelsea and sample some of Mystic’s offerings. I can’t wait to see what they put out when their wild ale program gets rolling!

Mystic Flor Z

At the beginning of the year I had an admittedly aggressive goal regarding my new series of brewery overview articles. I had hoped to write one article a month and eventually have an overview of every major brewery in New England. I think I underestimated the amount of time it would take to prep and write each article. So even though it is going a little slower than planned I’m going to keep knocking the articles out as I can. This week (hopefully tomorrow) I’ll publish my brewery overview of Mystic Brewery in Chelsea. I stopped by the brewery recently and sampled some of their new and classic creations. One of the newer beers that I really enjoyed was Flor Z, a saison brewed with a house wild yeast strain. This wild yeast mixes varieties that contribute the fruity and spicy esters of traditional Belgian beers with microbes that add the tart flavors present in sour styles. Mystic is in the process of opening a new facility that will expand their capacity to brew barrel aged and wild fermented beers, an exciting prospect considering the breweries experience with culturing amazing strains of yeast. Mystic Flor Z is available currently on draft and in 750 mL bombers.

Mystic Flor ZMystic Flor Z pours a clear straw yellow with a solid white head and vigorous carbonation. The scent is a mixture of yeasty esters and a little tart acidity. The yeast is also the major flavor, notes of pear, pepper, lemon and sour apple. The “sour” component is present but not overkill, it complements the Belgian yeast flavors without overwhelming them. The beer is rounded out by solid malt flavor including some noticeable wheat and just a touch of floral hops. Flor Z is spritzy and super drinkable, a perfect beer for summer. At 6% ABV it isn’t overly boozy, and the finish is crisp with a touch of lingering tartness. If this is the quality of beer we will see more of as Mystic expands their barrel aging and wild ales program I am really excited for more trips up to Chelsea! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5

Previous Mystic Reviews:

Mystic Melissa, Mystic DescendantMystic Vinland ThreeMystic Brewery visit and Day of Doom, Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer

Tree House Alter Ego

This weekend I violated one of my principal rules as a beer connoisseur. I have stated that I strongly dislike the idea of waiting in line for beer, I even wrote a whole article last year about why it bothers me. Yesterday was my birthday, and on Saturday my wife was taking full baby duty and giving me the morning and early afternoon to do whatever I wanted. Obviously I was going to a brewery, and under the circumstances it had to be one that was a little out of the way and more of a challenge to visit. After some debate I chose Tree House Brewing in Monson. I have enjoyed every Tree House beer that I’ve had the pleasure of trying, but it is a rare occasion that I make my way out to Monson (which is pretty much the only place you can buy their beer). This week they had over 450 cases of cans of both of their flagship IPA Julius and their 3rd Anniversary IPA Alter Ego when they opened on Wednesday (plus a substantial amount for growler fills). Despite relatively limited hours both beers were sold out by Saturday afternoon. I made the trip Saturday morning, arrived 30 minutes before the brewery opened and I was still #88 in the growler line. Despite the crowd they have the process down to a science, and in a little over an hour I was back on the road stocked with cans and full growlers. While I generally stand by my stance against waiting in line, I’ll put up with it on occasion for these super-fresh and flavorful beers. This was my first chance to try Alter Ego, brewed with the same malt base as Julius but it’s dry hopped with Amarillo and Mosaic hops. Tree House Alter Ego is available on a rotating basis on draft and in tall boy cans.

Treehouse Alter EgoTree House Alter Ego pours a hazy deep orange with a substantial off-white head. The scent is a huge burst of hops, mostly citrus and tropical fruit. The taste is also very hop forward, notes of tangerine, grapefruit, passion fruit, pine and lemon. The hops add a noticeable but soft bitterness, you know you are drinking at IPA but it drinks very smooth. The malts provide some balance and a base to showcase the hop flavor, touches of whole grain bread and just a hint of caramel. Alter Ego is medium bodied but very easy to drink, the 6.8% ABV is about what you’d expect from and American IPA. The finish is crisp and clean with some lingering hop flavor. While Julius gets tons of hype (for good reason), it’s cousin Alter Ego is a great IPA is it’s own right, the massive hoppiness you want from an American IPA but still balanced and easy to drink. After my first glass of this beer I knew that the trip and even the wait in line were worth it! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous Tree House Reviews:

Tree House Haze

The beers you need to try when you visit Boston

As a Boston-based beer blogger probably the most common question I get asked is “I’m coming to Boston for a weekend, what beers do I NEED to try while I’m in town?” It is a tough question, so much of the response depends on the drinkers preferences, what time of year it is, and what beers are available at the bars/restaurants/breweries that they visit on their trip. Despite that, I thought it would be a fun exercise to make  in-no-way definitive list of the beers that anyone visiting Boston from out-of-town should seek out. First, a few ground rules I used to make this list (although I am sure some people will ignore this preamble, browse the list and write angry comments like “Why didn’t you include Beer X? You know nothing Hoppy Boston!” What can you do).

  1. Only breweries based in Massachusetts are eligible. There are tons of amazing beers from other states that are sold in Boston and not in other parts of the country, and I would understand wanting to try them while you are in town. I needed to limit myself before the list became unwieldy. I’ll leave it up to some of the talented Maine-based beer writers to make a list of Maine beers to try when you visit Portland.
  2. I avoided beers that are distributed nationally. Sam Adams Boston Lager and Harpoon IPA are classics, but you can get them all over the country. I wanted to focus on local beers with a somewhat limited distribution.
  3. I only included beers that you would be likely to find on draft in metro Boston. You should absolutely try Treehouse Julius and Bog Iron Middle Child if you get the chance, but both breweries have limited distribution right now and you probably won’t find these beers without driving to the suburbs. I could make a whole other list of breweries worth driving to, but that would be a separate article. I guarantee someone will not read this and “call me out” for neglecting Treehouse.
  4. I limited myself to one selection from each brewery (kind of). I try to explain the reasons I picked the particular beer, whether it’s the best version of a particular style or incredibly unique.
  5. There are a number of really new breweries in metro Boston who are making some great beer (Aeronaut, Down The Road, Medusa, Lord Hobo, etc), but I tried to stick to more established brands for now.

Enjoy the list and let me know what you think (links are to full reviews where applicable). Any obvious oversights?

Cambridge Brewing Company You Enjoy My Stout: Too many barrel aged imperial stouts are overdone, just booze on top of booze, but this one has delicious and complex malt flavors that aren’t overwhelmed by the bourbon. If you’re in town definitely stop in Cambridge at the brewery and try their specials!

Idle Hands TriplicationIdle Hands Triplication: A flavorful, somewhat hoppy and dangerously drinkable take on the Belgian tripel. Idle Hands is brewing on limited capacity as they transition into a new space, this reminds me that I need to stock up on some Triplication.

Jack’s Abby Smoke and Dagger: It was really hard for me to leave Hoponius Union and Mass Rising off this list, especially when I still see some beer drinkers claiming that they “don’t like lager beers”. If I’m picking from a bottle selection I might choose one of the IPLs, but most bars stock Smoke and Dagger on nitro, which jumps it ahead for me. Rich malt flavor and subtle smokiness that is perfect with the creamy body from a nitrogen tap. Yum.

Mayflower PorterMayflower Porter: I love porter, and this might be my favorite version of the style. No gimmicks, no crazy ingredients, just a well crafted and supremely balanced dark beer.

Any Mystic Saison: A total cop out. My favorite Mystic beer is Mary of the Gael, their spring seasonal, but all of the seasonal saisons, along with their flagship Saison, Saison Renaud, and Table Beer are very good. Another must-try is the Vinland series, where they isolate and culture yeast from local fruit and use it to ferment their beer.

Night Shift Mainer WeisseNight Shift Sour Weisse Series: Nearly perfect as an introduction to sour styles, but also great if you are well seasoned with tart beers. Ever Weisse, Somer Weisse, Cape Codder Weisse, and Mainer Weisse are each Berliner weisse beers brewed with different fruits that complement the acidity of the base beer.

Notch Session Pils: The beer that changed my mind on what pilsner could be. Light and easy to drink but still packs a ton of flavor. One of my go-to day drinking beers.

Pretty Things Jack D'OrPretty Things Jack D’Or: The beer that made me a fan of the saison style. More hoppy than traditional saisons, but not a hop-bomb like some new American takes on the style. Diverse malts and expressive yeast but everything is in balance. Bonus points for how ubiquitous this beer is in area bars.

Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale: I’m stretching my “readily available” guideline a bit here, but the brewery is located right in the city and there are a few bars that have Trillium on draft on a regular basis. Some people would pick their IPAs or coffee-infused stouts, but my favorite Trillium beer is still this hop-centric APA.

Wormtown Be Hoppy: One of the best local IPAs, tons of hop flavor without being overdone. This beer still sells incredibly quickly, but the recent expansion of capacity at the brewery should make it more widely available.

I am sure there are other beers I missed, but I feel like this is a pretty good starting point for someone on a quick trip into Boston. Let me know what you think!



SoMe Templeton Saison

Unfortunately it looks like I will only make one trip to Maine this summer, my next trip up north will probably be for Thanksgiving (and might be abbreviated). I had a grand plan to visit a crazy number of breweries on the trip up in July, and then I immediately started to scale back to a more reasonable number when I remembered that I was travelling with an infant. One of the breweries on my initial list that didn’t make this cut due to the timing of our drive was SoMe (Southern Maine) Brewing Company in York. I wasn’t very familiar with SoMe’s beers, but I had heard good things about a number of their selections and hoped to try some right from the source. It didn’t work out on this trip, but they are still high on my list of places to visit on a fture trip to Vacationland. Fortunately for me, right after my trip SoMe announced that they were expanding distribution into Massachusetts, so I was able to finally try some of their beers. On my last stock-up run I picked up a bottle of SoMe Templeton Saison, a Belgian style ale brewed with coriander and lemon. SoMe Templeton Saison is sold on draft and in 22 oz. bombers, and is now regularly available in metro Boston!

SoMe Templeton SaisonSoMe Templeton Saison pours a hazy deep orange with a massive white head and vigorous carbonation. The scent is mild, mostly spicy and fruity Belgian style yeast. The yeast also leads the flavor, notes of apple, pepper, clove. The added coriander and lemon are also present without being overpowering. The yeast is complemented by a solid malt body, touches of wheat and fresh baked bread. The flavor is rounded out by some earthy hops. The beer is clean, medium bodied and easy to drink at 5.7% ABV. The finish is smooth with just a hint of estery yeast in the aftertaste. SoMe Tempelton is a solid saison, good flavor and well balanced. I look forward to sampling more of SoMe’s beers and hopefully stopping by the brewery on one of my next trips up to Maine! Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Mayflower Daily Ration

It is amazing how many new beers come out every month, it is hard to keep track and nearly impossible to try them all. A segment of the beer culture seems to over-emphasize what is new over what is good, and many breweries are taking advantage by releasing a constant stream of rotating, small batch, seasonal, and one-off brews. I am not opposed to this, it is great for the brewers to experiment with a wide range of recipes and share the results. While I love trying a range of beers, there is something to be said for taking the time to perfect a single recipe and turn it into a new flagship, year-round beer. It is extremely important to get these beers right, they are the beers that most drinkers will associate with your brand. Mayflower Brewing Company out of Plymouth recently released their newest year-round offering, a low-ABV American pale ale named Daily Ration. Mayflower named the beer in honor of the daily ration of beer each passenger on the Mayflower was allotted. Mayflower Daily Ration is brewed with Cascade, Centennial, and Mandarina Bavaria hops and sold on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Matflower Daily RationMayflower Daily Ration pours a hazy bright yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of hop-derived citrus fruit. The flavor is also hop forward, notes of grapefruit, orange and guava along with a mild but present bitterness. The malt backbone is light, some crusty bread, which acts as a canvas to showcase the hops. The beer is very light bodied and easy to drink, a true session beer at 4.5% ABV. This is a great day-drinking beer for the whole year,  low alcohol but full of hop flavor. I also love that they made the beer a sessionable APA instead of jumping on the overdone session IPA bandwagon. Very good addition to the regular Mayflower line-up. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Mayflower Reviews:

Mayflower SquantoMayflower PorterMayflower Scotch AleMayflower Spring Hop, Mayflower Oatmeal Stout

Night Shift Maracuya

The business world can be brutally competitive. In most industries each company views any other business that produces a similar product or service as a potential threat. An immense amount of effort is spent on protecting business secrets and trying to corner as large a share of the market as possible. When a competitor falls on hard times it is generally looked on as a positive, a way for your company to fill the resulting void and strengthen your own position in the market. While there is some of this cut-throat attitude in parts of the beer industry, it is refreshing to see how much individual breweries try to support one another. Sharing ideas, collaborations, and even sharing ingredients and equipment has become commonplace across the industry. Night Shift Brewing took this to another level recently. While they could have easily capitalized on the void created when neighbor Idle Hands lost their brewery,  Night Shift instead allowed Idle Hands to keep their brand going by guest brewing at their Everett facility. Night Shift even keeps a dedicated tap for an Idle Hands beer. This is the type of business I want to support, doing the right thing even if it isn’t necessarily the best way to maximize profits. It also helps that Night Shift makes some delicious beer. One recent example is Maracuya, an American wild ale brewed with passion fruit. Night Shift Maracuya is available on draft and in 750 mL bottles on a rotation basis.

Night Shift MaracuyaNight Shift Maracuya pours a cloudy deep orange with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of tart acidity and tropical fruit. The passion fruit leads the flavor, strong but not overpowering and contributing just a hint of sweetness. This is balanced out by a the sour flavor, which adds a little bite without being tongue numbing. The malts round out the flavor with some whole wheat bread and added body. The beer is very drinkable, some sour beers wear out my palate over time, but I could sip this on the porch all afternoon. Some of the beer-info websites list Maracuya at 7.4% ABV, which would be a little strong for the style, but the batch I bought is much more reasonable at 5.6% ABV. The finish is clean with some lingering tart fruitiness. Maracuya is a really nice beer, complex and flavorful but balanced and easy to drink. Night Shift remains the masters of adding a wide range of adjunct ingredients to beer without overwhelming the core flavors. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Night Shift Reviews:

Night Shift Mainer WeisseNight Shift Thunder Moon, Night Shift Morph IPA, Night Shift Ever Weisse, Night Shift Grove, Night Shift JoJo, Night Shift Taza Stout, Night Shift Simcoenation