|Feb. 27, 2012|
By Chris Maza
If you're looking for a great weekend outing, taking a drive out to one or a few of New England's many craft brewers is always a great idea.
In the past, I wrote about some of the terrific breweries that exist along the Interstate-91 corridor in Western Massachusetts and Vermont that my wife, Eileen, and I have visited and recently we took another excursion to the central part.
One of our stops was the Wachusett Brewing Company in Westminster for a tour that featured almost as much sampling as touring. If you have the chance to swing up to Westminster, just minutes outside of Fitchburg, I suggest checking it out. For a $2 donation to a local charity, you receive a sample glass to take home that can be filled with as many samples as possible while remaining responsible, of course while getting the chance to see the beer making equipment.
Among the samples we were allowed to try was their Milk Stout.
The Milk Stout is an interesting beer on a couple of levels. First of all, as the tour guide explained to us, Wachusett Brewing Company in the past has made only ales. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of beer, there are two distinct styles that all other beers fall into ales and lagers. The difference lies in the fermentation process. Ales are made with yeasts that ferments at the top of the tank at temperatures in the 70s while lagers are bottom fermented at colder temperatures.
While stouts are also top-fermented, the milk stout is by far the darkest beer that Wachusett has ever made and quite possibly could ever set out to make. Milk Stouts are also fairly rare compared with classic stouts or the increasingly popular chocolate stout. That's partly due to the fact that it is very difficult to make a good tasting milk stout.
Wachusett proves to be one who does it well. It's a very attractive drink with a dark brown body and a thin, tan head and the sugary smells and chocolate notes had my mouth watering. It's a sweeter beer than most other stouts with chocolate and coffee undertones and a little bit of nuttiness that balances well, which is impressive, given the complexity of the brew.
It's another very solid offering by Wachusett, which has one of the best all-around selections of a Massachusetts-based brewery.
Another stop on our outing was the Gardner Ale House.
Located in the center of the Chair City, the Gardner Ale House is pretty much what anyone who has dreamed of owning a brew pub would love.
The place was full of character with a large bar as well as a dining area that offered a menu with unique takes on pub fare as well as specialty pizzas that looked simply delicious.
In the back of the building was a large portion of the Gardner Ale House's beer-making apparatus, adding to the homegrown feel and reminding you that you are indeed getting beer that the people around you have made with care. Like a lot of small brewpubs, you can only get the Gardner Ale House's beers in-house.
The Gardner Ale House does offer tours, but they are by appointment only. Luckily, though we didn't have a reservation for a tour, a group taking one kindly allowed us to tag along with them. Brewmaster Dave Richardson, whose last stop was Red Hook Brewery before joining business partner Rick Walton to open their pub, had an incredible amount of knowledge and a terrific way about him.
He fielded questions and included tour-goers brilliantly while explaining the brewing process in a way that everyone, whether an experienced home brewer or a complete beer novice, would understand.
His girlfriend, Steph, who oversees much of the restaurant's service, was also very accommodating to us.
After the tour, we sampled a couple of the pub's offerings the Facelift India Pale Ale [IPA] and the Vienna Lager. The IPA was very well-done with a heavy dose of the style's trademark bitterness, but enough character on the back end to smooth it out. The Vienna Lager, which received the gold medal in the amber lager category at the 2007 Great International Beer Festival, was very well-balanced with a very complex malt profile.
If in the area and in the mood for some good food, atmosphere and some great beer, the Gardner Ale House is a good bet.
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