By Chris Maza
From new brews to new buildings, there's a lot to be excited about in the Western Massachusetts craft beer scene.
Several Pioneer Valley breweries were among those from around the country at the American Craft Beer Fest (ABCF) at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston on May 31 and June 1 to showcase those exciting developments and Reminder Publications
had the opportunity to catch up with some of them to talk about what local beer enthusiasts can expect.
Among the companies quickly growing in popularity is Westfield River Brewing Company, which has only been in operation since 2012.
Building on its flagship Black Squirrel Pale Ale, Westfield River has put together a solid variety of beer including the 413 IPA and Charlie in the Rye. Now more established with its core selection, they're experimenting with new recipes, including the Springtime Saison, a beer infused with peach, and the new Test Batch X.
Intended to be a white India Pale Ale (IPA), Test Batch was made with freshly harvested hops that the company grew through a collaboration with a local farm, head brewer Sergio Bonavita explained.
"Because of our good harvest, we were able to dry-hop all of the Cascade hops we had grown, so we we're really excited to have something new and different," he said. "We didn't really know how it was going to come out, so we just said, 'Hey, we're going to call it Test Batch.'"
In the early going at the ABCF, response had been positive, Bonavita noted.
"It's been flowing for about 15 minutes and we haven't heard anyone say they didn't like it," he said, adding that the second round of hops will be harvested in September with the intention of creating a black IPA.
In addition to new beer, Bonavita said the company is excited to soon be able to offer its beers in cans. He explained that his company would be one of the first customers for a new mobile canning unit and expected to have cans hitting the shelves on Aug. 1.
"We're going to be putting Charlie in the Rye and Black Squirrel Pale Ale into 12 ounce cans, which are going to be available in six packs and 12 packs," he said.
Brewing out of Northampton for about 18 months, Brewmaster Jack has also enjoyed a good early response to its selection as well.
Brewmaster Tyler Guillmette explained that because it is a small operation he does all of his own distribution in the Pioneer Valley he has been cautious about expanding too rapidly, though he had just signed a deal with a distributor to get his products on shelves in Southeastern Massachusetts.
"Because it's just me in a pickup truck, I'm not aiming towards expanding wildly," he said. "You don't want to get too many customers because you want to make sure you're servicing everyone properly."
In addition to the Stray Dog Lager, Brewmaster Jack's low-alcohol flagship made with local grain that Guillmette said appeals to a wide audience, the Aquila Pale Ale, Total Eclipse Porter, and Ambrewsia Imperial IPA will be available year-round.
On top of those mainstays, Guillmette said he hopes to turn his attention to single releases, the first of which is a hoppy blonde ale made with American and New Zealand hops, which will be available through December. Beyond that, an imperial amber lager and an American stout are slated to be brewed.
In Holyoke, High and Mighty has re-released its Pas de Deux, a saison, but has scaled back its production a bit in anticipation of the move into its own facility.
"We're really focusing on our core items and making sure they are on point and continuing to fill the pipeline with those until we make that jump," brewer Andrew Bosquet said.
Since its founding, High and Mighty has brewed its beer at the Paper City Brewery, but has been constructing its own brewery in Easthampton and is now just putting on the finishing touches.
Bosquet explained the new location was formerly a felt factory, calling it a "beautiful brick and beam building." He added that exterior construction and landscaping to beautify the outside of the building was in the planning stages in the hopes that the city and the brewery could "grow organically together." Once operational, it will be open to the public with a tasting room. He was cautious on giving an estimate on when the facility would be ready.
"To be honest, we've already missed a couple of target dates, but we we're hoping within three months' time we can get up there and running," he said.
Bosquet said the new brewery represents a significant amount of growth in the industry in Western Massachusetts, something that he said can be attributed to the region's interest in culture.
"It's been a hotbed for culture for many years," he said. "You've got the five colleges and that brings a very conscious crowd to the area. A lot of people really pay attention to what they eat and drink and what they listen to and everything, so it's a very natural fit."
Chris Sellers from The Peoples' Pint in Greenfield agreed that there is a "really strong food culture" in Western Massachusetts, but added that the agricultural strength of the area lends itself to the success of businesses such as his.
"All of these restaurants and brew pubs have some form of integration with local farms," he said. "For years, we've been connecting directly with our farms."
The Peoples' Pint, which operates primarily as a restaurant with its own beer offerings, has slowly begun to put more of its beers in bottles and distribute them throughout the area with an interesting reasoning for doing so.
"With packaged beer, we're able to reach more customers in more places but more importantly, the company itself has a mission of reducing vehicle use and reducing our resource footprint. Bringing a volume of beer to a store in our delivery vehicle is a way to get beer to our customers without having all of them drive to our restaurant," he said.
Sellers added that in the same vein, when the delivery truck makes a run south to the Springfield area, for example, on its return trip, the driver will stop at the local farms to pick up the produce for the restaurant in an effort to utilize vehicles more efficiently.
While Amherst Brewing Company (ABC) has signed a contract with Williams Distributing, assistant brewer Shaun St. Clair said customers should not expect to see a rapid expansion right off the bat. What's first, he said, is ensuring the existing customers remain happy before branching out.
In the meantime, St. Clair said the company has had a great time developing some new offerings.
"Occasionally, we get to experiment with something out of the ordinary and it's a lot of fun," he said.
Among the special offerings at the ACBF was the Massatucky Brown Ale on Bourbon Vanilla Beans, which he explained is exactly as it sounds. The Massatucky, a local favorite, was aged over vanilla beans that were soaked in bourbon and a touch of oak flavor was added.
ABC is also bringing back the popular Wedding Wit, as well as the Worthy Pilsner, a beer first introduced at the Annual Worthy Street Craft Beer Showcase, and a new spin on a Vienna Lager that will feature a high dose of hops not usually found in the style. The Wedding Wit and Vienna Lager will be released at this year's Worthy Street Craft Beer Showcase, which is set to take place on June 22 on Worthington Street in Springfield.
For more information on that beer festival, visit www.theworthybrewfest.com