Monday, April 16, 2012

A Brewing Revolution

There’s a brewing revolution going on, and it’s happening in Everett, MA. Idle Hands Craft Ales and Night Shift Brewing might not have been the first in the most recent wave of new breweries to pop up from the suburbs of Massachusetts,* but they are unique in that they practically share the same room.

I happened to have a free Saturday—a rare occurrence—and I thought I’d make the best of it by driving over to Everett to see what was brewing. It was an impossibly beautiful, spring day and I rolled through Somerville and Medford with the windows down. After a few wrong turns, no thanks to the GPS, I found myself off the Revere Beach Parkway in what looked like some kind of post-Apocalyptic industrial complex. Had it been anything but a beautiful day, I might have felt uneasy, but as I’ve learned in the past, sometimes the best beer comes from the most unusual of places.

I pulled the car into the Charlton Place Small Business Center, but couldn’t see a clear sign of where to park the car, so I backed out to the street and slid in behind a row of cars opposite a large fenced lot. The Night Shift Brewing website indicated there would be a set of signs pointing the way, so I walked back towards the building and spotted one on a telephone pole. While the signs were helpful in leading me to an entrance, I was still unclear if I was in the right place.

I found a door that appeared to be correct and I descended down a ramp and into a hallway that continued the post-Apocalyptic theme with slightly flickering fluorescent lights, an abandoned desk and chair and a beeping smoke detector. I walked through the hall to an open loading bay of sorts where I found a few parked cars. At the far end of the bay I could hear music: a sure sign of life. I hastened across the rough concrete floor towards two open doors and two of the state’s newest production breweries.

Night Shift Brewing was my first visit and brewers Rob Burns, Mike O’Mara and Mike Oxton were there to greet me. As Rob showed me around the brewery he told me about a few bottle projects they had in the works including a 10.5% ABV Belgian Quad and a Berliner Weisse brewed with lemongrass. All three of Night Shift’s current releases were available to sample and Rob was kind enough to walked me through their line-up.

First up: Trifecta, a Belgian Pale Ale brewed with Chimay, Rochefort and Westmalle yeast, then aged on vanilla beans. The quality of each of the yeast strains is present in the beer, contributing spicy, earthy and fruity notes. The vanilla bean lingers on the palate well into the finish, contributed a unique sweetness that contrasts the herbal hoppiness. Their second beer is a Belgian inspired wheat beer brewed with honey and green tea. Bee Tea is earthy with just a hint of sweetness and a dryish finish. Finally, their Taza Stout, brewed with chicory root, a healthy dose of ginger, and cocoa nibs from local chocolate producer Taza Chocolate. Taza Stout is a complex beer that reminds me a lot of chocolate-covered candied ginger—I can think of few other beers I’d rather pair with dessert.

Conveniently located one door down and to the right of Night Shift Brewing is Idle Hands Craft Ales. Proportional in size to Night Shift, Idle Hands has a similar setup, and I found brewer and owner Chris Tkach behind the tasting bar. He had quite a few beers on draught for tasting and for growler fills ranging from a Patersbier brewed with 100% Pilsen malt to a fascinating Belgian Stout aged on a variety of wood chips. Patriarch, the Patersbier, is only available on draught for growler fills, a tradition, Chris says, he is unwilling to change. Patersbier is still brewed by monastic brewers as a drink only available at the brewery for the monks and their guests. To release this beer formally would go against that tradition. Patriarch is wonderfully drinkable with hints of grain, spice, and mild fruit—a hidden gem if there ever was one. The other standout was certainly the Belgian Stout, with hints of vanilla and wood from the oak chips, and a sweet, chocolate finish—another dessert beer for sure.

As I thanked Chris and headed back out to the loading bay, I thought about these two breweries and their unlikely location. I guess it isn’t dissimilar to the idea of a brewery being housed in a Belgian farmhouse or a windmill or something, and places like the Charlton Place Small Business Center are plentiful around the city of Boston. With the relatively low overhead in neighborhoods such as we find here, breweries like Idle Hands and Night Shift can produce world-class beer without charging too high a premium to drink it. As I said before, there is a revolution in brewing happening right here in Massachusetts and I’m only too eager to participate and watch it grow.


*I seem to remember Mystic hitting the shelves, then Slumbrew. Then, of course, there’s been a steady stream of new breweries including Notch, Backlash, Blatant, Jack’s Abby, etc., etc. But we’ll save those for another time.

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