The New England Beer Rumor Mill Swirls…New beer bars in Boston, Lowell Beer Works, and A Shelton Goes AWOL

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What follows is a host of smaller news items that I haven’t been able to fit into any particular place so I’ve decided to place this here until I can offer further follow-up and detail.

One Shelton Gets High and Mighty

Word is that one of the founders of Shelton Brothers has left his day job at the beer importing business. After years of helping his brother Dan scour the Earth in search of beer gems to bring back to the United States, younger (and handsomer to hear him tell it) brother Will Shelton started part-timing his own beer operations. Will started the High and Mighty Brewing Company, a contract brewery through which he brews under agreement at the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Paper City, which is contained in the same building as the Sheltons’ importing business, allows Will to brew his company’s beers on its system and then separately market and distribute them. Will’s first four beers include Beer of the Gods, Two-headed Beast, Saint Hubbins, and XPA. After splitting his time between the two operations, Will reportedly has decided to focus his efforts full time on the High and Mighty brewing business.

The Lowell Brew Works Adds To The Empire

After languishing for years under a number of identities, including some time as the home of the Concord(e) (Junction) Brewery (Brewing Company), the Brewery Exchange building of Lowell is now in the process of transitioning into the newest outlet of the Boston Beer Works chain of brewpubs. The Slesar Bros. Brewing Company (now minus brother Steve) is presently interviewing staff for the new location. Owner Joe Slesar informed me via email that the Lowell location was expected to take ownership of a new 40 barrel DME brewhouse. The former brewery’s equipment was removed and shipped to another brewery out-of-state. According to a request made to a local licensing board, Lowell Beer Works plans to take over approximately 2700 square feet of dining space on the second floor of the structure, which used to house various entertainment venues such as a dance and comedy club.

Although the brewery would not confirm it, a 40 barrel system is substantially larger than its other operations and is likely too large to simply cover the Lowell location. With a system that size, it’s likely that the Lowell Beer Works may brew beer for its other operations, including its new tap room at Logan Airport. This may also give the brewpub chain the opportunity to reclaim production of its IPA, which has been contracted out to Mercury Brewing on the North Shore for a few months.

Boston Area Beer Bar Buzz

The worst kept secrets in the Boston beer gossip world are that the owners of two of the state’s most popular beer bars have long been looking to expand their operations.

Daniel Lanigan, proprietor of the Moan & Dove of Amherst and the Dirty Truth of Northampton has long wanted to return to the Boston market and open his own place. A former worker at the under-appreciated Other Side Café in Boston’s Copley/Mass Ave district, Lanigan loved the location. For a few months, he was in negotiations to either purchase or takeover the Other Side Café and transform it into his third beer bar. The deal fell through early this Spring and Lanigan wasted no time in looking for a new spot. The rumors report now, entirely unconfirmed by this presently lazy reporter, is that Daniel is in negotiations to open his third bar across the river in Cambridge. While I won’t report the name of the rumored takeover target (because I can’t confirm it and because people would likely riot if they knew, how’s that for a tease?), the spot, if it works out, is centrally located (no pun or hint intended).

UPDATE: The location is confirmed and a deal is underway. At the request of Lanigan, I’m still deciding whether to post the name of the place. News of the deal is now the worst kept secret in the gossipy world of the Boston foodie scene as it has gotten back to me through four different sources at this point. In any event, you’ll learn the name soon enough.

In Brookline, David Ciccolo, owner of the Publick House beer bar has been in a tough battle with local regulators over his attempt to secure a license to sell alcohol in his recently opened store, Publick House Provisions. Reports from the front suggest that the state’s alcohol commission plans to issue the license but no decision on the owner’s appeal has yet been made public.

Ciccolo also recently opened up to Beverage Magazine (for which I write; this wasn’t my piece) about his plans to open a barbeque restaurant near the Publick House.

“We’ve taken over this entire building – 7OOO square feet – to open up a restaurant and gourmet beer store. Roadhouse Craft Beer and BBQ is a Texas barbecue restaurant featuring authentic pit-smoked barbecue and grilled fish. Here’s our two and a half ton cast-iron smoker; our chef found some good people to build it on a research trip to Texas. There’s where the butcher shop will be. Out the back will be Road House Catering, and all to-go foods will pass through this take-out window. High top tables will be over here. American craft beers with 4O draft lines (minimal bottles) will be the focus, unlike The Publick House’s 25O bottles.?

In an entertaining interview, Ciccolo also takes a moment to explain why the Publick House doesn’t sell any Harpoon products.

“Harpoon IPA was being made by Todd Mott as a summer seasonal. We’d wait every year with baited breath for that fantastic hop monster! Since then it’s been dumbed down, much to the disappointment of us hopheads.?

Over the years, they’ve honed their list to the best of the best. “Now we’re getting really picky,? says Ciccolo with a straight face. “We’ll work only with serious brewers, not companies moving boxes. We don’t carry Lindemans any more, and that’s saying something. I just couldn’t do it. You open one up and you smell that syrup and extract. We don’t carry Harpoon beer anymore, but their cider is one of the best. It breaks my heart that my backyard brewery won’t quite take the plunge into assertive, full-flavored beers. I only want them to make something good and flavorful and we’d love to carry it.?

Ouch…maybe Dave will like the new Leviathan line

There is much more to report on the New England beer scene, including the reported opening of a couple new brewing operations and an explosion of beer bars in Portland, Maine, a city that is arguably the best for beer in the region. But that’ll have to wait for the next edition of the rumor mill…

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The Carlson Craft Brewery (CT) Readies Its Operations…

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The citizens of Branford, Connecticut, are about to add a second brewing operation to its town’s repertoire. Andrew Carlson, a career firefighter, has nearly completed efforts to open his own mini-craft brewery in the town. I first heard from Carlson about two years ago when my book, The Good Beer Guide To New England, was new on the shelves. He excitedly told me of his plans and that he hoped to be in my second edition. Then nothing but silence followed…up until a month or so ago. Carlson has completed many of the necessary bureaucratic hurdles and has but a final local inspection or two to go. He will be brewing on a surprisingly small 1-barrel system so that he can maintain his day job. Inspired by the nano-brewery of Tod Foster at the original Bar Harbor Brewing Company, Carlson plans to use his minute system to

Despite receiving his first hop and grain orders, his original hopes to have sale by mid-June are not likely to be met. Expect to see his beer, wherever he can afford to sell what little he can produce, at better beer establishments in the local area. As Carlson tells it,

I am going to have two year round beers available in 22 ounce bottles. These will be real ales being bottle conditioned and unfiltered. The first is an American style wheat ale. Its name is Vete Öl. This is Swedish for Wheat Ale. I decided to basically use a Swedish translation of their English names as their names. It is made with 100% organic wheat and malts. The second beer is kind of a hybrid Amber-English style beer called Bärnsten Öl. It is a balanced easy drinking beer. It is about 90% organic malts. I was planning on offering a third year round beer in bottles, but instead, I will be offering it as a cask ale in pins and firkins. It is an Old Ale style and it is called Gämmal Öl. I will be self distributing my beer.

Best of luck to Andrew, we know he’ll be busy this summer.

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Harpoon To Release New ‘Big Beer’ Series…

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I have been a little lax on the New England news reporting lately despite having a half-dozen interesting topics lying around. Here is a quick attempt to get one into the beer geek rumor mill.

The Harpoon Brewery of Boston is preparing for the release of a new line of ‘big beers’ to accompany its existing line of mainstream ales. The new series, named ‘Leviathan,’ will start out with draft only offerings and eventually transition into 4-packs and limited availability on draft. The line is designed to appeal to the niche of beer geeks who felt that the brewery’s ‘100 Barrel Series’ lacked sufficient punch as a specialty release. The 100 Barrel Series was initially designed to help Harpoon push beyond its stock lineup of traditional, mild flavored beers. While it offered several ‘extreme’ or higher gravity offerings, the 100 Barrel Series eventually focused on more traditional styles, such as oatmeal stout and wit, that were not designed to push the brewing envelope, the Leviathan series is expected to forage into new brewing areas for Harpoon.

Ironically, Harpoon’s first release in the Leviathan series is a throwback to the tenth beer the brewery produced as part of its 100 Barrel Series. The Leviathan Triticus, a beer originally brewed with help by Jason and Todd Alstrom of, will debut at the American Craft Beer Fest in June (Harpoon and BeerAdvocate are partners in the ACBF venture). The Triticus is a wheat wine of 14-percent alcohol.

This isn’t the first time the Leviathan name has been used by an American craft brewery in connection with a series of stronger beers. The Sleeping Lady Brewing Company of Anchorage, Alaska, produces the Leviathan Double I.P.A., the Pacific Coast Brewing Company of Oakland, California, brews the Leviathan Imperial Stout, and the Fish Brewing Company of Olympia, Washington, brews the Fish Tale Leviathan Barleywine.

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InBev Makes Hostile Offer For A-B, Reports Say…

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There is late word from at least two media outlets this evening that InBev has finally made its move on Anheuser-Busch. The Brazilian-Belgian international behemoth InBev has been long rumored to be in the market for a hostile takeover of America’s largest brewery. The deal, rumored at $65 per share, will face regulatory and shareholder review. The prospect of InBev owning America’s largest brewery raises a number of interesting business issues, ranging from whether consumers will continue to accept Budweiser (recently promoted as the Great American Lager, as compared to the damned Canadian and South African competitors) as owned by a foreign entity and whether InBev, notorious for cost cutting, will leave A-B’s brewing operations intact or dismantle select breweries. A very interesting day in the beer world.

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Some Disjointed Thoughts After My Return From Portland, Oregon…

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Things have been a little quiet here due to a fair amount of recent traveling. In the last two months I’ve been in Florida, DC, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Oregon and I’ve had some very different beer drinking experiences in these diverse parts of the country. I returned last evening from Portland, Oregon, where it was 58 degrees and rainy most of the week, to experience what the rest of the country has been enjoying, 95 degrees and humidity. It appears that gin and tonic season is suddenly upon us.

I think it may take some time to process my Oregon experiences. I’ve wanted to visit Portland, dubbed ‘Beervana’ by enterprising local publicists, for a number of years. It was perhaps just behind Bamberg on my to-do-list of beer destinations. And while Bamberg exceeded my already high expectations, I’m still trying to figure Portland out. It’s indisputable that quality craft beer has permeated the city. You can find a solid pint in nearly every restaurant in the city, even the diviest Chinese joint. Where most cities would offer Sapporo or another bland lager at an Asian restaurant, we always found Black Butte Porter or Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes and oddly, Fat Tire was everywhere. And while we visited a couple of dozen breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars in the course of five days in the city and the quality was always high, something about the experience failed to quite live up to the hype. The only comparison I have is Bamberg, which also has a dozen or more breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars in a small city. While Portland definitely offers a greater quantity of beer spots, I think Bamberg may be the better city for beer (even if the diversity of selection is less than Portland).

I can unequivocally say that the Oregon Brewers Guild did a great job with its guide to the state’s breweries. In a dozen pages in its “Guide to All Things Beer in Oregon,” the guild lists dozens of beer events and festivals, 139 breweries, brewpubs, and brewery tap houses, and 9 local tap houses. Add in a helpful map with locations of all of the above spots and visitors have a tremendously handy resource to finding quality pints in the state. I’ve recently been perusing similar guides from other areas and associations, including the San Diego Brewers Guild and the Michigan Brewers Guild, and firmly believe more state organizations should spend a few dollars to promote their interests in this accessible manner.

I can also unequivocally state that a brewery the size of Widmer should run more than 3 tours per week, serving approximately 45 people. In a time when Widmer ought to be concerned with its public image due to its relationship with Anheuser-Busch, one which I support, I think that engaging the community a little more might be wise.

While my feelings on Portland are not yet fully formed, I can say that the Bier Stein Bottleshop & Pub in Eugene is one of my new favorite places to have a beer. The concept here is one that we rarely see, due to expense, insurance issues, or more likely, local and state regulations. The Bier Stein is a package store that also offers patrons a place to stay and drink their recently purchased bottles. If you take away the beer, you get 15% off your bill. If you stay, you’ll be drinking a huge range of craft beers from around the world at substantially cheaper prices than what you would be paying in a bar. Want to try all of New Belgium’s lineup? $1.95 per bottle. How about Elysian’s Jasmine IPA in a 22 ounce bottle? $5.95. The beers are served in appropriate glassware and you can also select from ten or so well-priced draft beers. I’ve also seen the concept of a package store bar in Sonoma, California, at the Wine Exchange, which offers six or so draft beers as well as a much smaller number of chilled bottles. I love the concept and think it’s a great way to sample new beers at very friendly prices, especially in this price sensitive climate.

There were certainly a number of quintessential and memorable beer related moments during the trip, including the visit to the crazy Kennedy School, seeing Don Younger smoking and playing video poker at the Horse Brass, and drinking a number of excellent organic beers (including from the Hopworks in the company of local writer and photographer Matt Wiater of and his girlfriend Becky). During the trip, we also spent some time with the employees of Full Sail in Hood River, the locals at Rogue in Newport, and at various places around Western Oregon. After some contemplation, I’m sure I’ll return to offer some more coherent thoughts on the trip.

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