Random Beer Thoughts: December 2020

The combination of some time off from work, so more time to look at social media, and a bunch of year-end pieces means much more content for my (slightly late) beer thoughts and links column in December. Look forward to some year-end stuff from me in the next week or so, I have a couple ideas floating around to help get the year started in style. As always, feel free to send along any links that you think I should include in the next edition of this post.

Despite the pandemic there were lots of new breweries that opened in 2020, the Mass Brew Bros have a list of all 27 that opened in Massachusetts this year. Opening a brewery is a long and costly process, so while some plans might have been delayed this year many others pushed forward. Aquatic Brewing is open in Falmouth, led by a couple of oceanography majors who switched careers to focus on making beer. After a COVID-related shutdown Stoneman Brewery is back along with their CSA type model for craft beer. There are also a number of breweries that have expanded or opened up additional locations. Aeronaut has turned the former Down the Road space in Everett into a new production brewery, and you can grab cans to go from their drive-through window. Wormtown has also announced a significant expansion of their Worcester brewery, which will include a distillery. Pioneer Valley Brewing is also open for business. Rapscallion is moving from their Hyland Orchard brewery into a new taproom in nearby Spencer.

With the good news comes the bad, a record 12 Massachusetts breweries closed down this year, and others have temporarily suspended operations due to COVID with the hopes of re-opening soon. While it is bad news when pretty much any local brewery closes, I’m actually surprised that the number isn’t much higher. I am worried about the stats for 2021, I don’t think we’ll be back to any kind of normal until late in the year (at best), so I worry that many more breweries will be forced to close. We might even see long term effects from the pandemic as some businesses take on large loans to stay afloat now that burden the business down the line. One local brewery that closed recently is Hopster’s, which was forced to liquidate as part of bankruptcy proceedings.

Online beer magazine October has decided to shut down. It is sad to lose any beer publication, especially one that paid freelance beer writers for their work, we have too few publications already and talented beer writers are going to struggle to stay in the field. I think the move towards hyper-local hurts national beer publications, too many breweries are only familiar to a small subsection of drinkers, and advertising dollars are scarce. Josh Noel has some thoughts on the issues with October, namely their affiliation with AB-InBev and the amount of content that highlighted InBev beers without clearly stating the potential conflict of interest.

October had some excellent articles published right before they signed off, including Robin LeBlanc’s essay arguing that #BeerTwitter shouldn’t just stick to beer. I completely agree, I love getting to know the people behind the accounts and I have had interesting and insightful “conversations” on a variety of topics with my beer twitter friends. It can backfire when sensitive topics come up, there is one prominent beer writer who I am sure lost a lot of followers with his idiotic recent tweetstorm about the pandemic.

Speaking of idiotic responses to the pandemic, the Portland Press Herald has the story behind Sunday River Brewing, the Maine brewery that has repeatedly defied orders to institute social distancing and other safety protocols. I’ve never been to the brewery or tried any of their beers, and that will remain the case considering their complete disregard for the welfare of their employees and patrons.

There were a number of great profiles of local breweries this month. Kristen Foster visits Notch and discusses lager with owner Chris Lohring, one of the masters of traditional lager styles. Kate Bernot chats with the founders of Lone Pine Brewing about making constant tweaks to perfect their IPA recipes. Marco Cartolano discusses the similarities between the beer and biotech industries (two industries I am also very familiar with) with Greater Good President Paul Wengender. Thrillist has a list of places to drink in Burlington, VT, one of the best beer cities in the US. Beer and Brewing has a feature on Maine Beer Company using solar power to mitigate the environmental impact of brewing beer. The Boston Globe has a story on how Widowmaker Brewing is not just surviving but thriving during COVID.

Gary Dzen has a rundown of local and not-local (but locally available) beers you should try this winter. Great variety of styles here and many beers that I agree with. The Mass Brew Bros also have a rundown of winter seasonal releases from Massachusetts breweries. One of my favorite, and in my opinion completely underappreciated, winter beer styles is barleywine. John Holl agrees, as he writes in his tribute to the bold and boozy style.

Another article by Holl looks at the rampant issue of intellectual property theft in craft beer. I understand that it’s easy to get away with if you are a small brewery making a one-off beer, and that the known IP can help sales, but eventually some small brewery is going to get slammed by a big lawsuit for this, and they will absolutely deserve it.

Wine Enthusiast has an article on the importance of freshness in IPAs, and how different substyles and even slightly different beers can be optimal at different times.

Clickbait articles of the month: The end of the year always leads to a bunch of “best of” lists that range from OK to ridiculous, especially in a year with minimal travel that would limit the range of beers and breweries any beer writer could sample. The crew at Vinepair somehow put together a ranked list of their favorite beers of 2020. While there are some great beers on the list I don’t really understand how you could rank them unless everyone involved in the article drank all of the beers listed. I have a similar issue with Hop Culture’s list of best new breweries of 2020, I can’t imagine that they were able to visit enough breweries to make a definitive list (although it is awesome to see Gilded Skull get some well deserved kudos).

The one “best beers” article I enjoy is when a publication polls a variety of beer experts for their favorite beers of the year, like Gear Patrol did this month. No rankings, nothing definitive, just a list of beers that other beer geeks loved this year.

That is it for December, thanks again for following Hoppy Boston and for liking/sharing/commenting on posts and on social media, hopefully we can all get through a long winter enjoying some delicious beers. Cheers to a better year in 2021!

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