Category Archives: Brewery Overview

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.

Website: http://www.mystic-brewery.com

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!

Brewery Overview: Jack’s Abby Brewing

Jack's Abby Lineup

Location: Jack’s Abby has a tasting room at the brewery, located at 81 Morton Street in Framingham, MA. The tasting room sells full pours and tasting flights along with bottles and growlers to go. They tap a specialty cask every week, usually with dry-hopped variants of some of their hop-forward beers. While they bottle most of their beers the tasting room usually also features a few brewery-only specialties. They are in the process of expanding and building a huge new facility in Framingham, I’ll update this when it opens!

Website: http://jacksabbybrewing.com/

Leadoff: Most small breweries predominantly brew ales, the shorter times and higher temperatures used in ale fermentation makes it more economical to produce. The downside is that many traditional lager styles haven’t seen the same attention and innovation that American brewers have devoted to their ales. Enter Jack’s Abby Brewing who decided to stand out in an increasingly competitive beer marketplace by producing only lager beers. Since they founded the brewery in 2011 brothers Jack, Eric and Sam Hendler have revolutionized lager production, producing incredible versions of classic styles while also inventing entirely new types of lager beer. The brewers believe that the extra time required to brew lagers pays off in the clean and crisp flavor profile of the final beer. The incredible range of flavors that Jack’s Abby coaxes out of their lagers has been extremely well received by the beer community as they are now one of the most well-respected brewers in the country.

Jack's Abby Hoponius Union

My Favorite Jack’s Abby Beers:

Hoponius Union: Jack’s Abby’s flagship India Pale Lager features bold hop flavor in a crisp and clean lager body. Now widely available in the Boston area, Hoponius Union is one of my go-to beers for all occasions.

Mass Rising: A double India Pale Lager with incredibly light body and a huge dose of aromatic hops that easily mask the 8% ABV. This beer is dangerously easy to drink for a higher ABV brew.

Framinghammer: Most beers that fall under the porter umbrella are ales, but the Baltic porter style are dark and alcoholic lagers. Framinghammer is one of the best Baltic porters on the market. Rich and boozy but goes down shockingly easily. The barrel-aged versions get a lot of attention, but I’ve always loved the original.

Smoke and Dagger: Dark and malty with just enough smoke to enhance the flavor of the beer without overwhelming it. Many bars offer Smoke and Dagger on nitro, I highly recommend giving it a try if you see it on a menu. 

Sunny Ridge Pilsner: One of the most flavorful and well constructed versions of the pilsner style that I’ve ever tasted. This summer seasonal is light and crushable but still complex and delicious.

Jack's Abby Bride Maker

Other Beers You Should Try: Bride Maker is one of the only lager wines (a lager version of a barleywine) I’ve seen, and it is chock full of malt flavor and booziness. The year-round session lager Jabby Brau is light and easy to drink but still full flavored. It is no surprise that a lager-centric brewery would make a traditional marzen style for Octoberfest, and Copper Legend lives up to the name. Kiwi Rising is a DIPL in the vein of Mass Rising but using fruity hops from New Zealand. Spring seasonal Maibock Hurts Like Helles is a traditional lager with a nice balance of malt and hop flavors. Red Tape Lager was named in honor of the bureaucracy in MA that puts countless obstacles in place for brewers that want to make and sell great beer. I am a huge dopplebock fan, and Saxonator is a deliciously malty and easy to drink version of the style.

Jack's Abby Hopstitution BAM

Hopstitution Series: Many breweries are doing single hop or rotating hop beers that keep a consistent malt/yeast profile and showcase different single hops variety or combinations. Jack’s Abby’s Hopstitution series uses a pale lager body that is aggressively hopped with a combination of hops du jour. Every version of this beer that I’ve tried has been well done. I reviewed Hopstitution BAM, and Calyptra was so popular that it has been converted into a regular release.

Jacks Abby Jacks evil brew

Collaborations: Jack’s Abby has done a few collaboration beers and has more in the works. I really enjoyed Jack’s Evil Brew, the schwarzbier brewed with Evil Twin Brewing. I am looking forward to a new collaboration in the works between Jack’s Abby and Otter Creek, a noveau pilsner called Joint Custody.

Sour Project: The popularity of sour beers has exploded over the last few years and many brewers are starting barrel programs to establish their own versions of this popular style. While most traditional sour beers are variations on ales, Jack’s Abby is making a number of sour lagers. They started with Berliner Style Lager, a Berliner weisse fermented with lager yeast. This summer the brewery will be releasing a series of new sour beers, I’m looking forward to seeing how they turned out!

Jack's Abby Barrel Aged Framinghammer

Framinghammer Variants: While the standard version of Framinghammer Baltic porter is a great beer in and of itself, Jack’s Abby also makes a number of barrel-aged versions. The standard Barrel-Aged Framinghammer is conditioned in bourbon barrels, adding a solid but not overbearing whiskey flavor. The other versions are also aged in bourbon barrels with the addition of Vanilla, Coffee, Cocoa-Nut (chocolate and coconut) or Peanut Butter and Jelly (yes, seriously). All of the versions are limited release and some are brewery-only.

Final Thoughts: It is no coincidence that I have reviewed more beers from Jack’s Abby than from any other brewery, they make an impressive breadth of tasty lagers. No “best breweries” in New England list is complete without this powerhouse out of Framingham. I am excited for the opening of the new brewery and to see what they come up with next!

Brewery Overview: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Pretty Things Line-up

Location: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is based out of Somerville, MA but they don’t have a physical brewery. They rent out brewery space to brew all of their beers. I would love to see a Pretty Things brewery/taproom at some point, but the contract brewer setup seems to fit the philosophy of the brewery and it’s founders.

Website: http://www.prettythingsbeertoday.com/wp/

Leadoff: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is the brainchild and passion project of husband and wife team Dann and Martha Paquette. For six years they have been producing some of the highest quality beers in Massachusetts. Dann and Martha find inspiration in their travels and through collaborating and studying with other brewers. They make beers using a combination of classic and modern brewing techniques. They also take pride in researching old recipes and bringing back styles that have fallen by the wayside. Although Pretty Things makes a wide range of beer styles they have an affinity for maltier beer, an anomaly in the hop-centric American beer culture. This was one of the first local breweries that inspired me to learn more about the beers I was drinking, a path that eventually led to me starting this blog.

Pretty Things Bocky Bier

My Favorite Pretty Things Beers

Jack D’Or: The beer that made me a fan of the saison style. This beer is complex mixture of expressive Belgian style yeast, a number of diverse grains and substantial hops, but everything meshes in perfect harmony.

Meadowlark IPA: Many people were surprised when Pretty Things first launched an American IPA, but it quickly became one of their most popular beers. Bright and hop forward but still balanced, this is one of the best local versions of the IPA style.

Barbapapa: Pretty Things uses a complicated and time consuming double decoction technique to extract maximum malt flavors for some of their big beers. Barbapapa is a bold and boozy imperial stout that celebrates dark and roasted malt flavors.

Bocky Bier: I think the bock/dopplebock styles of German lagers are underrated and underexplored by American brewers. Pretty Things released Bocky Bier this winter and it immediately became one of my favorite versions of this style, I really hope it becomes part of their regular lineup.

Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride

Other Beers You Should Try:

It was hard for me to limit myself to only four “favorite” Pretty Things beers, I enjoy so many of their offerings. Baby Tree is their flagship quadrupel featuring huge malt flavors that perfectly complement the Belgian yeast. Their spring seasonal Fluffy White Rabbits is a Belgian tripel with a liberal dose of tasty hops. The early winter brings double-decoction mashed Our Finest Regards, one of the best local barleywines. Their other double decoction beer is Grampus, a hoppy ale with lighter color but big boozy flavor. Other flavorful malt-forward offerings include brown lager Lovely Saint Winefride and brown ale St. Boltoph’s Town. All of these beers are worth picking up if you are a fan of the respective styles.

Pretty Things There's No Place Like There

Collaborations: One of the advantages to contract brewing is that it allows Dann and Martha to travel more and from these travels many collaboration beers are born. One of my all-time favorites was a Stingo they brewed with Boulevard Brewing Company. Stingo is a nearly extinct dark and malty British ale style, after tasting this beer I really hope it makes a comeback. More recently Pretty things brewed a deliciously hoppy double IPA called There’s No Place Like There with Spanish brewer Naparbier. I look forward to seeing what collaborations are in store for the coming year.  

Pretty Things Jack D'Or

Artwork and Glassware: Ever wonder who comes up with the interesting and eclectic cast of characters that adorn the Pretty Things beer labels? Dann and Martha do all of the artwork for the brewery themselves. Sometimes they even come up with a design and a name first and have to develop the proper beer to complement their art.  Pretty Things also makes some very unique glassware, including the pint glass boot that I was finally able to add to my glassware collection.

Final Thoughts: It amazes me how many people forget about Pretty Things when they list the best breweries in New England. I don’t think I have ever had a bad beer by this brewery, and many of their beers are amongst my favorite versions of a particular style. I highly recommend tasting any and all beers this brewery produces, I know I will continue to be a frequent customer!

Brewery Overview: Trillium Brewing Company

Trillium Stock-up

Location: Trillium’s taproom is located at 369 Congress St. in the Fort Point neighborhood on the Boston waterfront. It is walkable from South Station and there are a number of bus routes that will get you even closer. Parking in the area can be a little bit of a challenge, but there is some metered parking in the area as well as a few nearby lots. They are also opening a new brewery in Canton, I’ll update this once it opens.

Website: http://www.trilliumbrewing.com/

Leadoff: In a short amount of time Trillium Brewing Company has established itself as one of the most popular breweries in Massachusetts. Boston Globe beer writer Gary Dzen named them the best brewery in the state in November, 2014. I wrote a response to this, asking my readers for their favorite local brewery (I am OK with picking a favorite, calling one the “best” when everyone has different tastes in beer seems kind of ridiculous), and Trillium was far and away the most mentioned. When the brewery was forced to shut down for a month due to a licensing issue many of their supporters were apoplectic, and as soon as they re-opened there were lines out the door. Trillium’s popularity stems from their line of well crafted ales, especially their hop-forward offerings, considered by many to be among to the best IPAs in the country. While the IPA style drives business, Trillium also makes a wide variety of styles from Belgian ales to wild fermented and sour beers to porters and stouts.

Trillium Farmhouse

My Favorite Trillium Beers:

Trillium Farmhouse: Saisons are one of my favorite beer styles and Trillium’s eponymous Farmhouse Ale is one of my favorite takes on the style. The expressive Belgian yeast effortlessly mingles with American hoppiness to form a complex and flavorful beer.

Fort Point Pale Ale: This is the best story to describe how good Fort Point Pale Ale is: My pregnant wife got one whiff of a FPPA I was drinking and proclaimed that this was the first beer she wanted to drink once the baby is born. Enough said.

Congress St. IPA: Trillium makes a few different IPAs but my personal favorite is still the original. Congress St. IPA mixes a bold boutique of hop character with a solid malt backbone and just enough bitterness.

Mettle: Trillium also makes quite a few different double IPAs, and it is difficult to choose a favorite here. Mettle is one of my favorite local takes on the style, huge and aggressive hop flavor and aroma in a balanced and easy to drink beer.

Trillium Sinister Kid

Other Beers You Should Try: While Congress St. is my personal favorite Trillium IPA, I could understand why others would prefer Melcher St. IPA or Sleeper St IPA, all are deliciously hoppy versions on America’s favorite craft beer style. In addition to Farmhouse Ale, Trillium’s Belgian strong ales are both very good. The Belgian strong pale ale Broken Angel and Belgian strong dark ale Sinister Kid are both flavorful and complex, definitely worth picking up. While the addition of oats is most common in the stout style, Pot and Kettle is an oatmeal porter that mixes the thick mouthfeel  from the oats with a little hop kick. I am still gaining a taste for sour styles but I loved Stonington, a wild fermented saison that is the perfect mix of tart and funky. Wakerobin is a solid rye beer, with a flavorful mixture of spicy rye and a little hit of hops. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but PM Dawn is a delicious stout made with cold-brewed coffee.

Double Dry-Hopped Beers: Trillium makes special versions of FPPA and many of their IPAs where they double the amount of hops in the dry hopping process or dry hop with a specific alternate hop style. The additional hops don’t add any bitterness, just a little flavor and a huge amount of mouth-watering hop aroma. Order one of these at a bar and after one sniff everyone around you will want one too.

Barrel-Aged Beers: Trillium has a fledgling barrel aging program that is going to get a huge boost with the additional storage space provided by the new brewery. I know I am not the only one who is excited to see what they come up with!  

Final Thoughts: It is very easy to see why so many people consider Trillium to be their favorite brewery. The hop-forward beers draw you in and the diverse array of offerings keep you coming back for more. I have introduced a few friends to Trillium and all of them have come away impressed. I am very excited for their expansion because it will make their beers much more widely available, and allow their brewers to continue to experiment and innovate. If you haven’t done so recently make the trip into the city and grab some Trillium!

Brewery Overview: Maine Beer Company

Maine Beer Co Lineup

Location: 525 US Route 1 Freeport, Maine. A very easy stop off of I-295 if you are in the area. Their tasting room offers flights and full pours of 8 selections, plus bottles to go. It is a welcoming place to sit and hang out, especially if you need to take a break from shopping at the outlets in downtown Freeport.

Website: http://www.mainebeercompany.com

Leadoff: Even though Boston is my home now I am a Mainer. I was born, raised and educated in the great state of Maine, so a brewery with the audacity to name itself after my home state needs to meet an extremely high standard in my mind. With their wide variety of well-made hop-focused beers, the Maine Beer Company in Freeport lives up to these high expectations.

Maine Beer Co Peeper

My Favorite Maine Beer Company Beers:

Mo Pale Ale: While many hold out for MBC’s IPAs, you should really try Mo, a widely available and delicious pale ale. Mo has more malt body than Peeper, without the aggressive bitterness of an IPA.

Lunch IPA: One of the most sought after and respected IPAs in New England, and for a good reason. Tons of hop flavor and aroma balanced by just enough malt body, a must try for any hop-head.

Another One is a fitting name for MBC’s “other” IPA, and holds up to the very high standard established by Lunch.

Maine Beer Co Another OneOther Beers you should Try: Peeper Pale Ale is the first beer Maine Beer Company released, a light bodied, hoppy pale ale. I love hoppy amber ales, especially in the fall and spring, and Zoe is one of my favorites.  Weez is Another One’s sister beer, a black IPA brewed with the same hop profile but very different malts. While MBC is mostly known for their hop-forward beers, you also need to try their dark and malty King Titus porter and Mean Old Tom stout. Don’t take the name of Lil One literally, this bold strong ale is a tasty mix of an American IPA and a boozy barleywine.

Unicorn Beers: Due to their popularity and relative scarcity you could list Lunch (or even Another One) in this category, but the big unicorn is Dinner, MBC’s occasionally brewed and highly sought after double IPA. A Dinner release results in lines at the brewery and people bragging about sleeping in their cars in the parking lot the night before. I have yet to try Dinner, but I’ve heard very good things.  

Beers I’d Still Like to Try: I’ve done a decent job tasting what this brewery offers, but haven’t tried Red Wheelbarrow or A Tiny Beautiful Something yet. They are both on my short list, along with Dinner. Maine Beer Company isn’t the type of brewery that releases 10 new beers a year, it is clear that each release is well thought out and tested.

Maine Beer Co 2013Collaborations: Maine Beer Company does occasional collaboration beers, usually with other Maine brewers like Allagash and Rising Tide. Keep an eye out for these, the releases I’ve tried have been spectacular.  

Charity Work: Maine Beer Company prints “Do What’s Right” on every bottle, and they put their money where their mouth is. 1% of gross sales go to environmental non-profits and they support a variety of local and national charities. They also take extra effort to use energy efficient and environmentally friendly products in all parts of the brewing process.

Final Thoughts: Maine Beer Company has established themselves as one of the premier craft brewers in all of New England. Their IPAs are considered some of the best in the region, and they do not disappoint. While they are proficient with the big hop flavors, you should really try the whole variety of beers they brew. I hope you enjoyed the first in my Brewery Overview Series, let me know what you think and I’ll keep working on the details!