Boston Brewery Tour

This past weekend I had the opportunity to head to Boston for work to visit some of the up and coming breweries in the area.  After going through my usual New Yorker’s checklist: Avoiding any and all sports conversations, mockingly saying the word “chowda”, and avoiding driving in north end. The breweries on the agenda were: Jack’s Abby Brewing, Mystic Brewing, Idle Hands/Enlightenment Ales, and Nightshift Brewing.

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

First up was Jack’s Abby Brewing in Framingham, MA 20 miles west of Boston.  Jack Handler and his two brothers started the brewery in 2011 entirely based on lager production.  They use a propriety lager strain for all of their beers ranging from classic German styles to triple Imperial Pale Lagers and Barrel aged Baltic Porters.  They are a unique operation from choosing to carbonate all of their beers via bunging the conicals and letting them carbonate with naturally produced CO2 to 15psi to starting a program to sour barrel age their lagers.  Currently they are producing 20,000BBl/year on their 20 barrel brewhouse and will soon be opening a new nearby facility on a 60BBL brewhouse and will look to be a major regional player and eventually distribute down to NYC.  If you are up in town I recommend the “Maibock hurts like Helles” (Maibock/Helles Hybrid) or the trIPL (triple imperial Pale Lager).

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Mystic Brewing in Chelsea, MA just outside of the city is the brainchild of Bryan Greenhagen.  Part fermantorium part brewery he borrows heavily from his background in industrial fermentation to do incredibly authentic farmhouse ales.  They cultivated a house Saison strain and utilize it to fantastic results in several beers.  In addition they are the only brewery to ever win a GBAF medal with a yeast strain completely indigenous to the USA which was initially cultured from the surface of a Raspberry. 

Mystic is also one of a very few breweries in the world to have a traditional lambic program.  Bryan has been working on producing a traditional lambic since the brewery was founded in 2011.  Through trials, tribulations, and many discarded barrels they are finally bottle conditioning their initial batch, which I had the privilege to taste.  It is still a bit on the young side lacking the punchy acidity but the flavor and structure of the beer has immense potential, at maturity it will be a spectacular beer.  Finally they poured an incredibly unique beer they call “Entropy”.  It really does defy any style of beer I know of but if I had to I would say it is a cross between a Belgian Strong Dark and a Semi Dry Sherry without the expected oxidation.  Served still and at a robust 14.5% it is a exceptional example of pushing the boundaries of what a beer can be.

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Idle Hands Brewing and Enlightenment Ales share a 5BBL brewhouse in Everett, MA.  Christopher Tkach is the Owner and Founder of Idle hands brewing.  Having been a homebrewer for sixteen years he decided to leverage his life savings to open his brewery.  He takes a true focused and traditional approach to his beers keying in on Belgian Abbey Ales and German Lagers.  All their beers are super enjoyable, in the case of the Tripel dangerously so at 9.8%.  In addition he is one of a handful of people producing a traditional Patersbier with a very clean and crushable 4.9% consisting of 100% pilsner hopped with Syrian Goldings and Pearle.  The Deutschland would be proud of the super clean and crisp Dortmunder and German Style Pilsner they produce as well. 

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Enlightenment is the brainchild of the head brewer Ben Howe.  He got his start working at a brewpub in Cambridge and produces beers more in line with things he wants to drink with a creative edge.  Their flagship beer is the only true to style traditionally produced Biere de Champagne produced in the US.  The beer starts off life as a abnormally high abv (about 11%) Belgian Style Golden Strong Ale, after primary fermentation is done the beer is bottle conditioned to an abnormally high 3.5-4.0 volumes of CO2.  After secondary fermentation is complete the beers go through a traditional riddling process.   The bottles are placed in a rack at 45 degrees neck down and rotated 45 degrees every morning by hand for six weeks.  Once all of the yeast is tightly compacted in the neck of the bottle they are chilled to subfreezing temperatures and the neck is further frozen in a solution of Dry Ice and grain alcohol until the bottles are opened the yeast plug popped out and any remaining dregs are removed.  The bottles are then corked and caged and further conditioned for a week before they are ready to drink.  What you are left with tastes exactly like the name, a very effervesant beer with a nice malt sweetness and a nice dry finish.  Ben also sells a fantastic farmhouse IPA and Export Stout both worth seeking out.

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Photo courtesy of Starchefs.com

Michael Oxton, Rob Burns, and Mike O’ Mara bonded over late night home brewing sessions.  Discussing the nuances of beer and brewing as well as lack of enjoyment in their day jobs it eventually led them down the path to open Nightshift Brewing in 2012.  Initially starting off in a tiny space with a 3.5BBl brewhouse this past summer they substantially upgraded to a 20BBL brewhouse in a 20,000 sq/ft space.  With this newfound capacity there are taking a three part approach to expanding into the local and regional beer market.  They want to locally produce super fresh IPAs, expand their sour ale production and continue to develop their barrel aging program.  This program has recently produced their most recent release Funk’d Blanc a 100% Brett fermented ale aged in white wine barrels.  Utilizing all three major brett strains the beer is super complex with a bright tropical fruit and lemongrass nose with notes of funk and a nice bready dry finish, a delicious beer that will age very well.  If you are up in Boston the space is big and inviting and the super varied tap list really will have a beer everybody will enjoy.

Boston is still a small emerging brewing scene, but with the passion and quality of beer these brewers and others are producing it will become as big of a beer town as any on the east coast in the coming years.

Alex Kalaf

Native New Yorker who spent his formative college years at NYU, during which he had his first true encounter with craft beer at Peculiar Pub. Started homebrewing in December of 2011 and loves to drink and brew West Coast Style IPAs and Farmhouse Ales.