Western Mass Beer Week starts now

  • Visit westernmassbeerweek.org for the full lineup of events. staff photos/jerrey roberts

  • Leah Jacobson pours a Lick the Spoon Chocolate Stout on nitro at New City Brewery in Easthampton, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Katrina Pierson, the taproom manager said the combination, "mellows the sour taste and adds ginger spice."

  • Todd Sullivan, the head brewer at Progression Brewing Company in Northampton, stirs an extra pale ale made with hops from Four Star Farms in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Progression Brewing Company in Northampton, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

  • Leah Jacobson pours a Lick the Spoon Chocolate Stout on nitro at New City Brewery in Easthampton, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Katrina Pierson, the taproom manager said the combination, "mellows the sour taste and adds ginger spice."

  • Todd Sullivan, who is the head brewer at Progression Brewing Company in Northampton, in the brewing room, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

  • Leah Jacobson pours a combination of Bramble Weiss Sour and Original Ginger Beer at New City Brewery in Easthampton, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Katrina Pierson, the taproom manager said the combination, "mellows the sour taste and adds ginger spice."

  • Taproom at New City Brewery in Easthampton, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

  • Beers available in bottles and cans at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • New City Brewery in Easthampton, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

  • Todd Sullivan, who is the head brewer at Progression Brewing Company in Northampton, in the brewing room, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

For the Gazette
Published: 6/7/2019 4:17:10 PM
Modified: 6/7/2019 4:16:56 PM

I keep my finger on the pulse of local craft beer business. Since 2014, I’ve had plenty of little dramas and lucky breaks to cover, from small-business zoning woes to creative partnerships with local farms and restaurants.

But right around 2016 — the year of the first Western Mass Beer Week — something happened. The pulse of our beer scene began to quicken. In the four years since, a dozen breweries have opened their doors in western Mass. More draft lines are pouring locally-made liquid. More restaurants are hosting beer pairings and tap takeovers to showcase beer made down the street. 

More farms are selling ingredients to breweries, and getting spent grain in return, which they use as feed for livestock. Taprooms have become a central home for many local bands seeking small live venues. And anecdotally, I have seen more visitors coming to the western Mass region specifically to string together brewery visits into day trips and weekend getaways.

That’s the whole point of Western Mass Beer Week, says Jordana Starr, co-chair of the Beer Week committee. “We want to show that this is a destination for beer. The cohesiveness of the beer community encourages people to come visit. The Valley is only so big, but we’re seeing more and more cooperation and collaboration each year.”

Starr, who also runs the homebrew shop Beerology in Northampton, thinks that brewers’ awareness that Beer Week will return each year has led to a deeper integration of local talent.

“We’re seeing not just more events each year, but more people at each event,” she says. “Sometimes at a beer dinner, you can get to know five or six brewers in one spot. I see that as a measure of success.”

“And a lot of participants know what they’re doing at this point,” she adds. “Beer Week now does a lot of its own work. We set up the backbone, and because people are familiar with it, they say ‘no problem,’ and they jump in. Some places have been planning this since last year.”

Certain collaborations continue beyond Beer Week. This past spring, Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton teamed up with Amherst Brewing on a beer called Hazeopotomus, which became so popular that they were still making and releasing it through the fall and winter. 

For brewers new to the scene, Beer Week can make it easier to connect, says Schilling. “It clears a lot of schedules,” he says. “When brewers set aside the week in advance, there’s less of a feeling of cold-calling each other to collaborate.”

Matt Tarlecki, who runs Abandoned Building Brewery, said he thinks of Beer Week “like a petri dish of experimentation for beer entrepreneurs.” That’s why he’s collaborating with Vanished Valley Brewing in Ludlow on a milkshake IPA that uses grapefruit and guava fruit puree — “a new combination for us.”

Brewer Tyler Guilmette, who runs Brewmaster Jack in Northampton, says he is “psyched” to collaborate with Shire Breu-Hous in Dalton on a new double IPA. “Beer Week is a great time of year,” he says. “I definitely have a habit of focusing too much on what’s in front of me at the brewery, and not carving out time to just hang out and catch up with friends in the Western Mass beer scene. Beer Week is a great excuse to break that cycle.”

CJ Eldridge, one of the founders of Arcpoint Brewing Company, says Beer Week has been instrumental to the new brewery’s journey. Arcpoint formed in 2017, and hopes to open its building and taproom in Belchertown toward the end of this year.

“Through Western Mass Beer Week, we’ve made so many lasting friendships in the local beer industry that have played a vital part in helping Arcpoint become more of a household name here,” Eldridge says. Arcpoint will be involved with the Worthy Craft Beer Showcase on the final day of Beer Week, he says, and “we couldn't be more proud to take part.”

Brewer Caleb Hiliadis at Amherst Brewing says Beer Week has been “one of the single most important things for our brewery” when creating a sense of community. “It brought new friends through our doors for the first time that first year, and we have now built relationships with too many to count,” he says. Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle, who runs Brew Practitioners in Florence, feels similarly: “For the breweries, it is a holiday. As the holidays roll around, you all get together, toast a beer, and share tales of the year past. It is a ‘Beer-mas’ for brew staff!”

It’s not just breweries and bars that jump on board. The annual Connecticut River boat cruise hosted by Valley Malt, Hadley’s local malthouse, has become a popular Beer Week event. Owner Andrea Stanley works with western Mass farms to grow barley, wheat, rye, and corn. “To malt and then sell this grain to a local brewery and have it enjoyed by people in our community is a radical thing,” Stanley says. “Most beer ingredients come from thousands of miles away where the farmer is rarely celebrated. We are lucky to live in a place where we can highlight and celebrate local farmers and support them and their family farms in a pint of delicious beer.”

In North Adams, Bright Ideas Brewing co-founder Orion Howard says brewer Danny Sump is collaborating with Building 8 Brewing in Northampton on a hazy New England IPA. “We have not distributed much beer in the Pioneer Valley, although we just started to do so with our cans,” Howard says. “This gets our name out there … it reminds people that Western Mass extends all the way over to the Route 7 corridor.”

We’ll see what the local craft beer landscape looks like in another four years. But as usual, the work gets done one week at a time. Newcomer Zachary Livingston, who opened Floodwater Brewing in Shelburne Falls a few months ago, says he plans to relax, have fun and enjoy what’s out there. “When you open a brewery, you make a rewarding decision that comes with a lot of sacrifice,” Livingston says. “To me, Beer Week is a celebration of the local breweries that work hard to serve the community and beyond.”

A TASTE OF THE BEER WEEK CALENDAR

Here are just some of the events we’re looking forward to between June 8 and 15. Visit westernmassbeerweek.org for continued announcements of additional events.

Pints in the Park

Third-annual celebration in Greenfield with live music, tasty food, and lots of local brews and food from The People’s Pint and Bart’s Ice Cream, plus kombucha and Ginger Libation from Artisan Beverage Cooperative. With musical acts Moxie, Ali Kat and the Revelators, Hevvi Synthia, The Buddy McEarns Band, and Squash Blossom. Tickets are $10 in advance. Saturday, June 8, from noon to 6 p.m.

WMABW Scavenger Hunt

Stop by Beerology in Northampton to sign up for a scavenger hunt to uncover amazing beer and delightful locales throughout Western Mass. The hunt runs until Sunday, June 16. (Sign-up for teams of up to four people began Friday, June 7.) Completed materials due back to the shop by Tuesday, June 18. The winning team gets an awesome prize package. Entry fee of $20 per team due at sign-up.

Valley Malt Riverboat Cruise:

Hadley malthouse Valley Malt will host a two-hour tour up the Connecticut River on the Lady Bea Riverboat, featuring samples of beer made with local malts, plus light snacks, including breads from Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton. Sunday, June 9, from noon to 2 p.m.; tickets required. 21-plus.

Bear and Bramble Outdoor Cask Tapping

Florence nanobrewery Bear and Bramble will tap an exclusive craft beer on the covered deck at Bistro 63 in Amherst. This year’s flagship brew is thee Bombus Impatiens Saison, which has never been casked before. Sunday, June 9, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Industry Night at
The Dirty Truth

One of Northampton’s best beer bars will host a special beer week edition of the local industry night, with a list of local cans for $5 and pints of fries for $2. Beer line-up includes Lola’s Saison from Abandoned Building Brewery, Jess New England IPA from Amherst Brewing, Wild Thing Cider from Artifact Cider Project, Busker Czech Pilsner from Berkshire Brewing Company, Pink Boots Society Saison with hibiscus from Fort Hill Brewery, and Galaxy IPA from White Lion Brewing Company. Monday, June 10, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Can Releases — Epiphany Milkshake IPA and Further New England IPA

By popular demand, Progression Brewing Company will make 50 cases available of Epiphany Milkshake IPA in its Northampton taproom. The 6-percent ABV beer is brewed with flaked oats and lactose sugar, then hopped with Mosaic and cold-conditioned with blood orange and mango fruit purees. Also just canned: the hazy Further New England IPA, 5.2-percent ABV hopped with Simcoe and Columbus, full of tropical tastes like melon, pineapple, apricot and passionfruit. Wednesday, June 12, beginning at 4 p.m. While supplies last.

Valley Malt Showcase 2019:

Annual celebration of local and regional beers that feature local malt produced at Valley Malt in Hadley, hosted by The Dirty Truth in Northampton. The beer pour list will include beers from Bear and Bramble, Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing, Honest Weight, Jack’s Abby, Kent Falls Brewing Company, Trillium Brewing Company, and Wormtown Brewery. Thursday, June 13, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Jessica Release

Per its Beer Week tradition, Amherst Brewing will release this year’s Jessica IPA, brewed once annually. The 2019 recipe uses a denser grain bill and way more hops, clocking in at 8.5-percent ABV. Cans and drafts will be available at the brewery, and draft will be available at all Hangar Pub and Grill locations. Beginning Friday, June 14, at 11:30 a.m.

Tap Takeover Extravaganza

Join Hitchcock Brewing Company at Hatfield Pub to celebrate with 3-4 beers on tap as well as a collaboration beer brewed specifically for Beer Week by Hitchcock and Floodwater Brewing. With live music, a food truck, and giveaways. No tickets necessary. Friday, June 14, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Caricatures by Alex

Sample Ginger Libation ginger beer at Artisan Beverage Cooperative’s HQ in Greenfield, plus Katalyst Kombucha, Green River Ambrosia meads, and a brewery-exclusive milk stout. While visiting and sampling, get a free caricature drawn by artist Alex Hughes. Saturday, June 15, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Worthy Craft Beer
Showcase

Always a sell-out event, “the Worthy” features four hours of tastings of local beers. Hosted by Theodore’s Barbecue and Smith’s Billiards in Springfield. Advance tickets required. Saturday, June 15, from noon to 4 p.m.


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