The third in a series of profiles of smaller craft breweries in New England, this edition
focuses on the breweries of Massachusetts (Paper City Brewing Company and Cisco Brewers), New Hampshire (Smuttynose Brewing Company and Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery), and Vermont (Rock Art Brewery and Otter Creek Brewing Company). With the
exception of the Woodstock Inn , which mainly serves as a brewpub,
these breweries each direct some focus to lager beer production.
Paper City Brewing Company, Holyoke, Massachusetts
If you visit Paper City during one of its popular Friday night tour and party sessions,
you’ll usually see a man off to one side, quietly building and filling beer containers for
his departing guests. With his prodigious work ethic, it’s no surprise the man turns out to
be a big Jimmy Carter fan. As unusual a statement as that may be, I promise the two
subjects are related. It can be said that if it wasn’t for the former president and Senator
Alan Cranston of California, Paper City and a host of other craft breweries might not
In 1978, President Carter signed legislation introduced by Sen. Cranston that legalized
homebrewing in America. After his government performed this patriotic act, Paper
City’s founder, Jay Hebert, started brewing beer for his own personal consumption. Until
that time, Hebert had been disturbed by the state of domestic beers. From the start,
Hebert knew he wanted to eventually own his own brewery and bring good beer to his
home city of Holyoke.
In 1995, Hebert incorporated the Paper City Brewery Company and then spent most of
his time in transforming the fifth floor of the warehouse into a functional, federally and
state approved micro-brewery. Paper City’s attractive brewery often flies under the radar
of beer enthusiasts in New England. It produces a diverse selection of flavorful ales and
lagers, along with some quirky beers in its Limited Brewer’s Offering specialty series.
Paper City does a variety of wild ales, but none can top the Hop Monster’s explosion of
flavor. The aroma is a sharp smack in the nose with earthy hop and hugely sweet malt
notes. The beer is gloriously unbalanced, with the ultimate battle for control waged
between citrusy, bitter hops and an almost cloying malt sweetness. As it warms, the Hop
Monster tames a bit and shows some lighter flavors, including passionfruit. With its
gloriously rough, unpolished edges, the Hop Monster bears great similarity to Dogfish
Head’s flagship 60 Minute IPA and it clearly breaks out of the mold set by other IPA’s in
Cisco Brewers, Nantucket, Massachusetts
When Wendy and Randy Hudson started Cisco, which was actually located outdoors
except for the cold-conditioning room, they called it a nano-brewery because it wasn’t
big enough to qualify as a microbrewery. Faced with tight surroundings, a new structure
was soon required to house both operations. Construction was delayed, resulting in a
complete absence of Cisco’s beer for a two-month period of time. The black time led to
the brewery’s humorous motto: ‘nice beer, if you can get it.’
In 2000, Dean Long, who owns the Nantucket Vineyard located on the same property as
the brewery, secured a distilling license which allowed him to open the Triple Eight
Distillery. The company’s first product, a whiskey aging in 63 oak barrels, took five
years to hit the market. To raise money to support the distillery, Triple Eight sold futures
to the public on each barrel of its whiskey. To make up for the delay, the distillery
decided to produce the Triple Eight Vodka, the release of which has been a business-
altering event for the three operations. Made from organically grown corn blended with
sand-filtered island water from well #888 (thus the name), the triple distilled vodka has
proven wildly popular with consumers and very lucrative for the owners.
Due to the popularity of the Triple Eight Vodka, there has been some concern about the
future of Cisco as a brewery. Much of the company’s promotional energy and attention
are directed at the growth of the liquor operation. Since 2001, a marketing team has been
seen around Boston promoting the liquor in a souped-up, pale blue 1975 VW camper van.
The brand is now available at more than 200 accounts and is a mainstay liquor in Boston-
area bars. Triple Eight also remains busy branching out with new products, including an
orange vodka, a rum, and a gin.
The brewery’s Captain Swain’s Extra Stout is named for one of the brewer’s ancestors
who originally settled on Nantucket in the 1600s, this beer is most often found in Cisco’s
signature 750-milliliter bottles. It possesses a very rich and creamy flavor, a beautiful tan
head, and loads of roasted malts. Dry-hopped with Chinook hops, there is an earthy
aroma that translates to a slightly piney finish balancing the dark malt flavors.
Smuttynose Brewing Company, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
From the ruins of a closed microbrewery, Peter and Janet Egelston, the brother-sister
team behind the Northampton Brewery and the Portsmouth Brewery, teamed up with the
Ipswich Brewing Company to open Smuttynose in 2000. Ipswich left the partnership a
few months later and in December 2000, Peter Egelston assumed control of Smuttynose
in a deal with his sister, who now solely runs the Northampton Brewery.
Named after a local island in the rugged archipelago of nine small islands known as the
Isle of Shoals, Smuttynose started by brewing and bottling recipes from its sister
brewpubs, including the Shoals Pale Ale and the classic Old Brown Dog.
For me, every Smuttynose beer evokes very vivid memories and feelings. The
delightfully hazy Shoals Pale Ale tastes like summer, especially when sampled directly
from the bottle. This style-bending English pale ale uses ample doses of both Cascade
and Chinook hops to complement its decidedly yeasty flavor. As I’ve said in reviews for
Smuttynose’s sister establishments, the Old Brown Dog is one of the first craft beers I
can remember trying and loving. With their low bitterness and sweet malt flavors, brown
ales are often a very comfortable, approachable style for beer novices to tackle. The Old
Brown Dog remains a classic example of this traditional style.
In 1998, Smuttynose fired one of the earliest rounds in the nascent extreme beer
movement. With the start of its Big Beer Series, Smuttynose dedicated itself to releasing
specialty beers with more aggressive flavor profiles. While some releases, including a
barleywine and an imperial stout, indeed were big beers, some of the other selections,
such as a simple kolsch, seemed wildly out of place in a series dedicated to pushing the
limits of beer.
Although Smuttynose’s beers were always respectable, the brewery really stepped it up
with the addition of brewer David Yarrington in August 2001. A graduate of the master
brewer’s program at UC-Davis, Yarrington continually retools Smuttynose’s bigger
beers, playing with the recipes in simple or substantial ways. The bottles in the series
now include vintage dating and the brewery encourages beer lovers to age the beers.
Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery,
North Woodstock, New Hampshire
For true beer geeks, the experience of actually working in a brewery is akin to an aspiring
parent’s first opportunity to with babysit a friend’s child: While entertaining at first, by
the end of the night you’re intensely happy to leave it under someone else’s control and
head home. At the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery, you can live the crazy life of a
brewer, while maintaining a safe harbor at the end of the grueling experience.
On four weekends every year, visitors can enter the brewhouse here, pull on the boots,
and start mixing hops and grains for themselves as part of Woodstock’s popular brewer’s
weekend packages. During these events, individuals and couples spend the weekend at
the brewpub assisting the brewers in producing beers on the seven-barrel system. The
reasonably priced deal includes two nights lodging, several meals, a reception on the first
evening, a brewer’s dinner, and a t-shirt or hat. If your significant other or traveling
companion would sooner spend their vacation walking over hot coals than shoveling
spent grain, the inn is happy to suggest a variety of alternate plans, including outlet
shopping and hiking. The program, which draws about 20 participants each weekend,
welcomes homebrewers and novices alike. You may even get bitten by the brewing bug
as Dave Wollner did. Before opening his Willimantic Brewing Company in Connecticut,
Wollner spent a weekend here checking out the brewer’s lifestyle.
The Woodstock Inn is in the process of expanding its brewing operations. The
brewpub’s two flagship products, the Red Rack Ale and the Pig’s Ear Brown Ale, are
contract brewed and bottled by Shipyard Brewing Company and widely available in New
Hampshire bars and package stores. If you enjoy the mainstays and are interested in
learning about brewing on a larger scale, or simply want a nice place for a weekend
retreat, the Woodstock’s got a pair of boots waiting for you.
Rock Art Brewery, Morrisville, Vermont
Rock Art stands in a long, red wooden barn just outside of downtown Morrisville. With
its tall ceilings, the space is vastly different from the brewery’s original home. For its
first three years of existence, Rock Art operated as a cottage brewery, producing about
25,000 gallons of beer a year out of Matt and Renee Nadeau’s basement. The owners’
talk of adding a pub to this location, but nothing is yet planned. As the staff settles in
with the new system, Nadeau also hopes to add some specialty release beers.
A native Vermonter, Matt Nadeau and his wife were living and working in Colorado
when inspiration struck. While river rafting, he saw a Kokopelli figure carved into a rock
formation. An image familiar to all, even if the name doesn’t immediately resonate,
Kokopelli is a figure drawn from ancient Anasazi Indian mythology. With his signature
hunchback posture, the stick-looking figure dances happily around playing his flute. To
his followers, Kokopelli symbolized fertility, replenishment, dance, music, and mischief.
The image immediately intrigued Nadeau and he later recalled it when trying to think of
an original name for his brewery. The owner didn’t simply want to choose a boring
regional descriptor; he wanted a standout name. From this desire, and with the help of
Kokopelli, Rock Art was born.
Rock Art’s beers generally tend towards the malty side of the flavor wheel. The brewers
also produce a few lagers, including the special release Mountain Holidays Bock.
Bottled in a cream-colored label and topped with gold foil, this beer tastes of slight fruit
and alcohol notes and offers a mild malt balance. While lighter in terms of the style, the
bock is an enjoyable seasonal release.
Otter Creek Brewing Company, Middlebury, Vermont
Comprised of two very different beer brands acting in concert, the Otter Creek Brewing
Company was originally founded by passionate homebrewer Lawrence Miller. During
his time at Reed College in Oregon, Miller watched first-hand the rise of American craft
brewing. After researching German-style beers in Europe, Miller returned with a precise
recipe in mind for his flagship Copper Ale. He selected the town of Middlebury as his
headquarters not so much for its sleepy, congenial atmosphere and built-in base of
collegiate patrons, but for the qualities of its water. The pH levels of the town’s water
met the exact criteria Miller set for his altbier yeast strain.
In 1998, Otter Creek struck an important business deal to begin producing the Wolaver’s
line of certified organic ales in partnership with the Panorama Brewing Company.
Founded by the Wolaver family in 1997, the two principal owners of Panorama, Robert
and Morgan Wolaver, wanted to fuse together a family history of farming, a dedication to
environmentally friendly business, and a passion for brewing. In order to limit the initial
startup costs, Panorama chose to contract its recipes out to seven regional breweries
across the country rather than build its own facility. The business plan worked and the
beers found a niche in the marketplace.
In May 2002, the Wolaver family purchased the Otter Creek Brewing Company and kept
its name and products. The mix of the two brands seems to work well here as not much
has changed since the brewery merger. Otter Creek remains mainly a regional product,
while the Wolaver’s line is distributed in select markets around the country. The
Wolaver’s line is certified organic by the Vermont Organic Farmers and the brewery is
likely the largest purchaser of organic malt in the country.
The company's first offering was the Wolaver's Pale Ale, a beer whose malt body is more
noticeable than its hop character. While the beer has more in common with less hoppier
products than it does with more typical versions of the style, it is a pleasant, refreshing
beer. The brewery’s Brown Ale, which relies less on hops, is more representative of its
intended style. It boasts a slightly sweet, creamy malt base, a deep, reddish-amber hue,
and a very mild hop balance. The Wit and Oatmeal Stout also allow the brewers to focus
more on the flavors of available organic malts than on hops.