A Comprehensive Update To The Good Beer Guide To New England…

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It’s a running joke in the travel publishing industry that your product is out-of-date before it even hits the shelves. This time-tested maxim has again proven to be true when applied to The Good Beer Guide to New England. Published by the University Press of New England in May 2006, the guide has sold quite a few copies and been critically well-received. While a remarkable amount of the book’s content has withstood the test of time, I’ve been compiling information to keep the book updated online (in anticipation of a second edition down the line). If you have any updates, please feel free to contact me with your information. The comprehensive and dedicated Updates Page can be found here or by clicking on the Updates Page on the sidebar of any page.

The craft breweries of New England, which for you New Yorkers is defined as the six states of the Northeast, excepting your own, have experienced impressive stability in turbulent times. Of the 96 breweries and brewpubs (counting chain operations only once) and 11 beer bars profiled, only two have closed shop (Franconia Notch, which the book noted was in the process of closing, and the Manchester location of the Hops brewpub franchise, which was a victim of a corporate bankruptcy). Two breweries have converted their production operations into contract brewing operations (Casco Bay Brewing and Concord Brewery). During the last two years, we’ve seen nine new beer destinations open. In Massachusetts, the following brewpubs opened for business: Pittsfield Brew Works (Pittsfield), Gardner Ale House (Gardner), Mayflower Brewing Company (Plymouth), Cody Brewing Company (Danvers), and John Harvard’s opened another location at the Jiminy Peak ski area (Hancock). Maine saw the creation of two new places, the Marshall Whaf Brewing Company (Belfast) and the Inn on Peak’s Island (near Portland). Each of the other New England states had one new opening: Southport Brewing opened a new location in Hamden (CT); Pennichuck Brewing in Milford (NH); and Stonecutters Brewhouse (VT). Another two breweries came and went in the time since the guide was published. We hardly knew Hornpout Brewing (VT) and the Whale Tail Brewpub (ME).

In the first edition of the guide, I limited my selection of Great Beer Bars to 11 places in New England. In so doing, I defined a ‘great beer bar’ as being “comprised of a combination of rarely achieved elements.? These places excelled in several crucial respects, including “extraordinary selection of craft beers, respect their clients in terms of keeping prices fair, hold events promoting craft beers (from beer dinners to brewer meet-and-greets), make craft beer key to their business, and also offer true character as pubs.?

By these hard-to-meet criteria, I would now add the following four places to round out the list as the “15 Great New England Beer Bars.?

The Dirty Truth, Northampton, Massachusetts. Proprietor Daniel Lanigan has built a massive multi-tap destination in downtown Northampton to rival his sister pub, Amherst’s the Moan and Dove. The Dirty Truth doesn’t capture the attitude of the M&D but it does provide another worthy addition to the local nightlife and the Massachusetts beer scene.

Ebenezer’s Pub, Lovell, Maine. Owner Chris Lively goes all out to provide the ultimate geek adventure for true beer enthusiasts deep in the Maine tundra. A big fan of Ebay, you’re likely to find a lot of unexpected offerings both listed on the menu and on reserve if you know to ask for them. Make sure to ask for Chris if you visit (he lives in the house attached to the bar).

Cambridge Common, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The dedicated ladies who run Cambridge Common probably sponsor more beer events than any other beer bar in the Boston area. The tap lists often favor hard-to-find regional beers, including usually never seen offerings from Sebago and others.

British Beer Company, multiple Massachusetts locations. A powerful influence for beer good on the south shore, the BBC locations have an even mix between imports and American craft beers. I had the opportunity to review the Walpole location last year.

With any luck and some free time, I hope to keep the Guide’s page on BeerScribe.com updated with any news or changes, before a second edition of the Guide is published.

Cheers,

Andy

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Concord Morphs Into Rapscallion; Dann Paquette Rolls Eyes In Yorkshire…

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A quick update on one of the most complicated brewing stories in New England. As I wrote in The Good Beer Guide To New England:

In its short existence, the Concord Brewery has had four different names, three different owners, and three different homes. The name, which was originally the Concord Junction Brewing Company, refers to the brewery’s first home in Massachusetts, where brewers developed the idea for the unusual Concord Grape Ale. After brewer Mike Labbe purchased the brewery from its owners, he changed the the name to Concord Brewers. After leaving its Concord home for Shirley, the brewery then became known as the Concorde Brewery. Soon after taking over the reins, Labbe found that he preferred being a brewer and there the brewery nearly closed. In the most recent twist, the brewery’s accountant, David Asadoorian, purchased the brewery, renamed it the Concord Brewery, and relocated it to the old Brewery Exchange complex in Lowell. To add a little more to the convoluted history, the brewery produces beers under three different brand names.

Well that confusing history just became a little murkier.  Phil Jewett, owner and founder of Pennichuck Brewing in Milford, New Hampshire, has announced the newest chapter in the complicated story that is the Concord Brewery. New owners Peter and Cedric Daniel have changed both the brewery’s name (to Rapscallion Brewing) and its location (to Milford, NH).

As of this past weekend, the remaining equipment from Lowell has been moved to our 10,094 square foot Pennichuck Brewing in Milford, NH. Their first beer, Rapscallion Honey Ale (formerly known as Concord Extra Pale Honey Ale) was brewed about a month ago and went on the market today in Mass. in draft form only. As soon as their federal and state paperwork has been completed, several establishments in New Hampshire have given commitments to put RHA on tap.

Pennichuck Head Brewer Damase Olsson and I have established a very well balanced working relationship with everyone involved at Rapscallion and we look forward to working closely with them over the coming years creating this new chapter in New England microbrewing history. We are very excited to be a part of bringing consistency and quality to a line of artisanal brands that at one time was an industry leader in this region. Stay tuned for more information on product releases in the coming months.

Developed as a personal artisanal project by former brewer Dann Paquette, the Rapscallion line has perhaps been the brewery’s most visible project and was an early pioneer in pushing the definitional boundaries of ‘beer.’ Born in the spirit of beers that are intentionally different from batch to batch, the Rapscallion line of beers defied the notion that consistency in flavor profile is the brewer’s only goal. The three early Rapscallion brands, named Blessing, Creation, and Premier, varied in consistency and flavor from batch-to-batch, but were widely lauded by beer enthusiasts.

Under Asadoorian’s control, the Concord and Rapscallion brands never grew beyond their local environs in Lowell. The quality of the beer also suffered. I visited the Lowell pub a handful of times since the publication of my book and each time I was further put off by both the Concord and Rapscallion offerings. When the beer is undrinkable at the source, you know there’s a problem. It’s difficult to say whether the interest of yet another set of new owners will change the brewery’s prospects.

On the rebranded brewery’s website, the new owners joke about the company’s troubled history. “Maybe you never understood why a beer brewed in Lowell, MA went by the name of Concord. Well, we didn’t either.”

The brewery’s first release will be the Rapscallion Honey. The owners claim that other brands from both the Rapscallion and Concord lines will be reintroduced in the future. With all the uncertainty surrounding this brand, I won’t be holding my breath.

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Recent Trips To Willimantic BC And The British Beer Company

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I’ve been keeping pretty close to home recently but managed two recent and memorable beer trips. Last weekend, we went to a perennial favorite in the Willimantic Brewing Company in Willimantic, Connecticut. Located in a renovated post office, it is a quirky environment for a brewpub. Owner and brewer Dave Wollner ups the quirkiness with his unbending dedication to hops. While most New England brewer seem averse to making American-style IPA’s (there are notable exceptions of course), Wollner is one of our biggest hopheads.

He brews more than 20 different IPA’s during the year and puts loads more on his guest taps. For the Jake 180 IPA, Wollner turned over the system to assistant brewer, Jake Matot. The Jake is an unusual IPA in that it employs only two-row Munich and wheat malts. It is hopped with Warrior, Simcoe, and Perle hops. The resulting flavors remain strongly hoppy, but the underlying malts playfully confuse and bedazzle the palate.

Wollner’s own pleasantly sour Willi Whammer ’06 Barleywine (Jack Daniels aged, 10.4% ABV) and RodenZok (in collaboration with homebrewer Paul Zocco) were also enjoyable.

A few weeks before, we also had the chance to travel to Walpole (not for legal business) to visit the British Beer Company. I’ve heard a lot about this small chain of pubs from readers and industry types but this was my first personal visit. Now, the south shore is not particularly well-known for its dedication to good beer by the BBC is doing a great job countering that. The pub has a very authentic interior created and built in Britain, with lots of nooks throughout the place.

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The extensive, written beer list is praiseworthy in its level of detail. The menu even offers a range of vintage and aged beers for purchase. The list is near evenly split between British beers, many hard to find in Boston, and craft beers. The owners seem to have good relationships with craft brewers ranging from Dogfish Head to the Berkshire Brewing Company. The owners also have an innovative employee exchange program with the Newcastle Brewery, where employees can travel to England to learn the pub trade there before returning to the states.I enjoyed a beautiful Ridgeway IPA that was remarkably fresh. The only complaint I have, and it’s a small one, is that the pub appears to employ the controversial, fake cask engines Fuller’s has unfortunately brought to the United States.

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GBGTNE Update: Cold River Brewing to Open in North Adams, MA

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A newspaper in North Adams, MA, tucked in the upper left hand corner of the state, is reporting that a few enterprising guys plan to open a new craft brewery there.  The partners, Christopher Post, Allan Duvall, Chris Cuzme and Alex Hall, have applied for a license to open a 15-barrel brewery to be located in a 4,000-square-foot space in Delftree building at 234 Union St.  The team has experience brewing and working at the Chelsea Brewing Co. and Greenpoint Beer Works.  Expect real ale to be a focus of the operation.  Hall is the editor of the Gotham Imbiber and a hardened CAMRA proponent.  He informed the BeerAdvocate readership that the brewery has already ordered 50 firkins.

The guys will go before the local planning board on March 12.  From the article, it appears they will fight the continuing battle against beer ignorance.

“I think it’s a labor of love, more than anything else with these guys,” he said Monday. “They started coming in a year ago, and finally, we thought the proposal was ready. As long as it’s not going to sell beer or have any smells associated with it, then it will be fine.”

The mayor said he was sure any odor issues would be dealt with at the Planning Board meeting.  The mayor in North Adams said of the proposed brewery:

“In no uncertain terms can there be an odor,” he said. “I guess they have ways to prevent that. Seeing all the other breweries don’t have this problem, I don’t think it will be an issue.” 

Best of luck and drop me a line with more details.

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GBGTNE: Changes at The Tap Brewpub in Haverhill, MA

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I had the chance to speak about The Good Beer Guide To New England and the local beer scene at a recent meeting of the North Shore Brewers at The Tap Brewpub in Haverhill, Massachusetts. It was an enjoyable event and notable for two bits of information. Brewer Steve Bernard is leaving The Tap (where he recently brewed an excellent Berliner Weisse) to run a bottling line at a well-known craft brewery in the Greater Chicagoland area. The big news is his replacement: Mike Labbe. Labbe was the long-time brewer and one time owner of the Concord Brewery of Concord and other Massachusetts locations. More recently, Labbe helped open the Pennichuck Brewing Company in Milford, NH. The move is a bit surprising as Pennichuck is still in its infancy, and to my knowledge, Labbe has never worked as a pub brewer. The Tap has been the home to three very talented brewers (Todd Mott, Dann Paquette, and Bernard) in quick succession. I look forward to seeing what happens under Labbe’s stewardship, whether he carries on The Tap’s tradition of pushing the brewing envelope or chooses to go more traditional as has been his history.

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