Best Bites with Robin Goldstein: A cold beer in the fresh air and you

  • Mike Gargiulo and Emily Gargiulo enjoy cool beers on a warm day Thursday at the new Tree House Brewery location in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 7/15/2022 5:31:17 PM
Modified: 7/15/2022 5:28:32 PM

In the long, languid days of July and August in the Pioneer Valley, I love kicking back in the afternoon or early evening with a cold local brew. It’s also fun to impress your out-of-town summer visitors with the incredible quality and diversity of beer brewed right here in Western Massachusetts. So today’s column is devoted to local breweries whose beer you can sample and drink outdoors.

Writing about brewery beer gardens presents a serious dilemma, because there are so many great ones in the area. So this week I’m going to depart from my usual style and go rapid-fire through seven of my favorite places to sip suds in the sun (or shade), with short travel guide-length descriptions of each.

Note that I’m saving indoor-only brewpubs for a later column, so People’s Pint lovers, don’t fret!

Many of these beer gardens have fairly limited opening hours, so I’ve included that info with each listing, too. Hours tend to change quickly, though—especially these days—so it’s best to check their websites before you go.

Since these are the dog days of summer, it’s also appropriate that all seven of these beer gardens are pet-friendly in their outdoor spaces. (Bring a leash, though, and pick up after your furry friend.)

Progression Brewing Co., Northampton: New England IPA is a hazy, citrusy beer style that burst onto the scene within the past decade and now brings renown to our area from all over the beer world. My favorite New England IPA comes from Progression.

The classic choice here is Connect the Dots, a hazy, citrusy 7% ABV brew that’s dangerously easy to drink. I also love the stronger Evolve (an 8% double IPA), while the Noon Juice is a much lighter (3.9%) session beer that’s still got that trademark NEIPA taste and hazy texture.

Although I usually come here just to drink, the kitchen also turns out burgers and other straightforward pub food. There are two outdoor seating areas, one on each side of the brewery, as well as an outdoor beer kiosk in the midst of the Summer on Strong buzz, with tables where you can drink Progression beer and watch live music at the gazebo. What could be better?

Fort Hill Brewery, Easthampton: A trip to Fort Hill is like a weekend getaway wrapped up into a single afternoon.

You pull up to a picturesque red New England barn, framed by idyllic rolling farmland beyond, and take your place (after a wait, sometimes) at a gracious sprinkle of tables on the front lawn. Then you stand in line to get your beer from the taproom and bring it back to your table.

There’s often a food truck here (Crazy Arepas, Bistro Bus, and Thai Chili are in the current rotation), but you can also bring your own food. Live music graces the lawn periodically; check the website for the schedule. Fort Hill’s tasting room and beer garden are open Thursday 4-7 p.m., Friday 4-8 p.m., Saturday 2-8 p.m., and Sunday 2-6 p.m. The place is so dog-friendly that you might even be in the minority if you don’t show up with a dog.

Berkshire Brewing Co., South Deerfield: BBC has been an anchor of the local beer scene for ages (OK, since 1994, which is ages in craft brewery years — until 1986 there wasn’t a single craft brewery in Massachusetts).

I love the vibe here so much. It’s an industrial-chic outfit where the indoor taproom blends into an outdoor garden with picnic tables, so you can find an ideal corner, whatever your mood. BBC’s classic Steel Rail Pale Ale is a light, refreshing thirst-quencher that totally pre-dates the hop revolution. But BBC’s beer garden is also a great place to branch out and try their excellent porters, stouts, and a few specialty New England IPAs that you’re not likely to find anywhere else.

Food is limited to snacks (nuts and jerkies). It’s open Friday 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1 to 9 p.m.

Vanished Valley Brewing, Ludlow: Vanished Valley, founded in 2016, has an underappreciated gem of a beer garden, outdoor porch seating, and enough geeky beers to please any craft enthusiast (especially the New England IPAs and Double IPAs).

Their food program is excellent, including legit BBQ and a serious wood-burning pizza oven that turns out delicious pies. It’s open Monday 12 to 9 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The beer garden is open Friday 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday noon to 7 p.m., and there’s live music every weekend.

Northampton Brewery, Northampton: The granddaddy of them all opened in downtown Northampton in 1987, making it one of the very first craft breweries in the state (along with Sam Adams and Harpoon). This was before anyone had ever heard of a local brewpub.

Unlike most of the local craft beer competition, Northampton Brewery’s style is more traditional (pre-dating the hoppy American craft beer style), so its strengths lie in its amber- and dark-colored English-style beers, comparatively low in alcohol. Daniel Shays’ Best Bitter is an absolute classic.

The brewery’s beer garden is a multi-level terraced affair with bar and table-service areas, and the inside bar room is fun and pubby. There’s a full menu of satisfying pub grub, of which catfish bites, fried fish sandwiches and pulled pork are my favorites. I also love the small selection of Northampton Brewery gear; the legendary “Peace, Love, and Beer” hoodies make for great Northampton souvenirs.

Tree House Brewing Co., South Deerfield: The world’s biggest beer geeks credit Tree House with putting Western Massachusetts on the craft beer map soon after opening in 2011. Julius, a citrusy, hazy, unfiltered “American IPA,” was their first breakout beer, but it’s just one of many.

A wide, ever-changing range of hazy unfiltered New England IPAs are strong and heady, complemented by lighter options such as oak-aged Helles lager. Tree House had such a cult following in its original Charlton location that one- to two-hour waits in the car for pickup were common.

Thankfully, with the opening of their newer Deerfield location — a lot closer to the population centers of Hampshire County — you can now saunter up and try their beer on tap, or buy beer to go without much of a wait. Tree House serves draft beer and pizza Tuesday and Wednesday 2 to 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 12 to 8 p.m., and Sunday 12 to 6 p.m. There’s also a theater with big-name ticketed shows; check the website for the schedule.

In spite of how much I’ve crammed in here, there are so many other lovable brewery beer gardens in the area that I’m sad not to be able to describe more fully. Abandoned Building Brewery and New City Brewery in Easthampton, Brew Practitioners in East Longmeadow (a transplant from their beloved Florence location), Element Brewing Co. in Millers Falls, and Drunken Rabbit Brewing in South Hadley are four other fantastic ones.

Explore on your own, and write me about what else you discover!

Robin Goldstein is the author of “The Menu: Restaurant Guide to Northampton, Amherst, and the Five-College Area.” He serves remotely on the agricultural economics faculty of the University of California, Davis. He can be reached at rgoldstein@ucdavis.edu.


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