With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now reached our 21st state, making our state series old enough to drink and also reminding us of our favorite amendment. So it’s only apropos that we’d be celebrating where beer in America began, Massachusetts. The Bay State is not only where the Mayflower’s crew dropped the Pilgrims off to ensure they had enough beer for the return trip, but also one of the regions that fed the rebirth of artisan brewing in the 1980’s.
Massachusetts ranks 15th in total population (roughly 6.8 million), is ranked 3rd in population density and houses 84 craft breweries as of 2015 (an increase of 23 since 2014) who are represented by the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. The state ranks 17th in total breweries and 28th in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.
While some historians may dispute the above claim about the Mayflower needing to drop off the Pilgrims in order to preserve their “beere” stock, it is certainly a less politically correct reason for why they disembarked in Plymouth that fateful December day in 1620. Considering their need for safe hydration and off work inebriation during a long, cross-Atlantic voyage, it certainly makes practical sense.
In 1634, the Puritans (yeah, those religious zealots), licensed the first American Public House and 3 years later issued Robert Sedgewick the first brewing license in America, brewing for the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Most of the suds found in and around Boston during the Revolutionary War period (the late 1700’s) were available at Public Houses or homebrewed. Most beers were brewed by an “alewife,” which continued a tradition started by the Sumerians who wanted to ensure proper methods were passed on via matriarchy.
West Boston Brewery, the city’s first, was in operation from 1796 to 1814. Massachusetts passed their own prohibition law in 1852, which was later repealed in 1868. Then as the industrial age boomed in late 1800’s, so too did Bostons brewing scene, hitting a peak of 27 in 1890.
Following Prohibition, Haffenreffer & Co. dominated the beer industry in the region along with the Boston Beer Company (1828-1957, once the longest operating brewery in America – no relation to the brewer of Sam Adams) and Croft Brewing in Roxbury. Then in 1964, Haffenreffer was the last to brew in the state until the craft beer revival.
In 1984, Jim Koch started a new Boston Beer Company, often referred to simply as Samuel Adams based on the success of their flagship Boston Lager. Now the second largest craft brewer in the nation, producing in excess of 4.1 million barrels and employing over 1,300 people (as of 2014), Sam Adams is the most commonly available craft beer on draft and in bottles nationwide.
Harpoon Ale was the first beer to be commercially bottled and distributed in Boston by Mass Bay Brewing, aka Harpoon Brewing, starting in 1986. The oldest existing brewpub still open today is Cambridge Brewing, who have taken craft cuisine to another level, pairing their superb locally sourced dishes with 10 GABF medal-winning brews since 1989.
Huge thanks to Beer Advocate, the stalwart Boston-based beer journal, for historical perspective.
12 More Massachusetts Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Boston Beer Works (7 locations) – Including locations in Salem, Hingham, Lowell, Framingham and 2 tap rooms at the Logan Airport, Beer Works is the largest chain of brewpubs in the state. Starting up their Fenway location in 1992, each location today offers over 20 taps including gluten free and cider options. All the sites have collectively raked in 7 GABF medals over the years.
Clown Shoes Beer(Ipswich) – Founded in 2009 by Gregg Berman, this creative upstart is known for their strong ales, fanciful label art and creative naming of the nearly 100 brews they’ve crafted. Over half their current offerings – primarily imperial stouts, weigh in at over 10%, so bring your sense of humor and your tolerance.
Idle Hands Craft Ales (Malden) – Originally started in Everett, the brewery was displaced last summer by a new casino complex, allowing them to open a larger location in neighboring Malden. Founded as the “first Boston area nano-brewery” in 2010, their focus on old-world barrel-aged offerings wows all who are lucky enough to put their idle hands to good use.
Jack’s Abby (Framingham) – This Lager only brewery, founded by the brothers Hendler in 2011, has been creating some of the most unique lager variants ever seen. With 2 GABF medals in their pockets and over 160 varieties in 5 years, it’s no wonder their production has grown exponentially, with no signs of slowing.
Mayflower Brewing (Plymouth) – The only brewer in Massachusetts to medal at GABF in 2015 did so with their Summer Belgian Session Ale. This nearly 10-year-old brewery is known for their variety of IPAs, their spot on English Porter and their small batch specialties.
Mystic Brewery(Chelsea) – In existence since 2011, this barrel focused brewer makes some killer Saisons (such as their GABF medal winning Vinland 2), which make up roughly have of their regular production. They also specialize in wild/sour ales, barleywines, and double IPAS.
Night Shift Brewing (Everett) – Founded in 2012, these Somerville home brewers-turned-pros set up shop in Everett on a 3.5bbl nano-brew system. They’ve since expanded in a 20bbl brewhouse and in 4 short years have created drool inducing stouts, porters, IPAs, pale ales and most every other variety under the sun (over 230 in total!)
Notch Brewing(Salem) – Founded by Chris Lohring, formerly of Tremont Brewing, Notch focuses specifically on well-crafted session ales, the first to do so in American back in 2010. With none of their beers ever topping 4.5%, Notch beers, such as their IPA, Pils, and Saison, can be found in 6 pack and 12 pack cans, as well as on cask and draft.
Somerville Brewing – Slumbrew (Somerville) – Celebrating their 5th anniversary this year, Somerville Brewing has grown primarily due to the success of their core brand of Slumbrew beers. Sporting a great variety of styles from Belgian IPAs and Tripels to classics like their porter series, there’s always something for everyone enjoy.
Spencer Brewery (Spencer) – America’s first and only certified Trappist beer is brewed by the Monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer. Over 2 years, the brother monks set out across Europe to learn the original craft from their brethren. While they’ve only been open since 2013, they have now created 5 varieties: 2 classic Belgian and 3 American styles.
Tree House Brewing (Monson) – Starting out originally as a tap-only, farmhouse-style operation in 2011, filling only 750ml and 2L bottles, Tree House now cans many of their IPA and Pale Ale offerings. Crafting over 140 options in that time, it’s clear that freshness, quality, and consistency are of the utmost importance to this top rated brewer in the state.
Trillium Brewing (Boston, Canton) – Open now only 3 years, Trillium came about as a commemoration of the marriage of founders JC and Esther Tetreault. Another New England Farmhouse style brewer, they’ve created over 130 styles in that short time and are known for their excellent Saisons, IPA’s and Pale Ales.
To find more Massachusetts Brewers, check out an interactive or PDF map from the Brewers Guild