New England has long been a destination for craft beer lovers. The beer-focused crowds seem to get bigger annually as an almost-overwhelming amount of exciting producers releases exciting products. Here are just a few breweries—new and old—whose products merit a visit, purchase at a store, or an order at a bar this summer while you're in the area. (For those spending no time in New England, some of these breweries distribute beyond their immediate areas; be sure to check the listed websites for more information.)
New England Brewing ~ Woodbridge's New England Brewing churns out some of the most worshipped hop-forward recipes in the country. Take its citra-hopped Fuzzy Baby Ducks (rated ‘100’ on both BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com); when the brew is released for growler fills at the brewery, hordes of neck-bearded craft obsessives line up before it opens. To circumvent the sweaty crowds, order a hoppy NEBCo offering at a Connecticut bar to experience the fresh crushability that inspires such fervor. 175 Amity Rd., Woodbridge, Conn. 06525
Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores (OEC) ~ Major importer B. United, which specializes in beer, cider, and mead, opened Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores last summer in Oxford, Conn. (It’s known, less cumbersomely, as “OEC.”) The campus shares space with B. United’s ambitious “Zymatore” program, in which they experiment with barrel-aging brews in a wide variety of pre-used casks. There are also fruit trees and an herb garden whose yield gets utilized in their old-world-with-a-fresh-spin elixirs. Keep your eyes especially peeled for releases in OEC’s continuing “Experimentalis” series that features various beers aged in oak barrels with fruit. 7 Fox Hollow Rd., Unit B, Oxford, Conn. 06478
Oxbow Brewing ~ There may be no better expression of Maine’s brewing terroir than Newcastle’s Oxbow Brewing. Since professional operation began in 2011, its refreshing farmhouse beers have made enough of an impact on thirsty locals to allow the company to set up a new blending/bottling facility and taproom in Portland. This spring it released Saison dell’Aragosta, which was crafted in collaboration with Italy’s Birrificio del Ducato. It’s a lightly tart ale brewed with local sea salt and fresh live lobster. Liquid Maine. 49 Washington Ave., Portland, Maine 04101
Urban Farm Fermentory ~ Portland’s Urban Farm Fermentory focuses on an experimental craft approach to cider and kombucha production. The latter—which, when made traditionally, pushes well past the .5 percent alcohol-by-volume threshold and requires identification for purchase—has proven to be its bread and butter, with keen demand from a fervent, rapidly expanding fan base. Things got particularly exciting when UFF began blending and incorporating the seemingly very different beverages. Case in point: when Urban Farm Fermentory aged a kombucha in oak barrels that had previously held a cider it made (after originally housing Jim Beam bourbon). Consider arbitrary genre lines blurred. 200 Anderson St., Portland, Maine 04101
Tree House Brewing ~ Monson’s Tree House Brewing is a team that likes to set a simple goal and pursue it relentlessly. Whether that's showcasing a hop varietal in the most intense, yet pleasurable way possible (see: Tree House Brewing's Eureka series of single-hop session blonde ales), or using single-origin coffee beans as a stout adjunct (see: its Double Shot series of robust stouts), purity is a recurring theme. The brewery recently added a canning line so its fresh nectars can be enjoyed later. 160 East Hill Rd., Monson, Mass. 01057
West County Cider ~ West County Cider’s Maloney family has been fermenting rustic cider in rural Western Massachusetts since 1984. While annual production from their Colrain farm has experienced some growth (up from 100 cases to 2,000 annually), this remains a tiny operation that invests in quality over quantity. Drinking the dry, authentic ciders provides an opportunity to connect to America’s original table beverage—an experience that surprisingly few U.S. cider producers are facilitating. West County Cider does not do tours or brewery visits, but its ciders can be found in these locations.
Smuttynose Brewing ~ Founded in Portsmouth, N.H., in 1994, Smuttynose Brewing is by now a de facto New England godfather of craft. (Most ubiquitously distributed might be their Finestkind IPA, famously featuring a photo of “Cy & Paul” on its label: a couple of old grandpas whooping it up.) These days, Smuttynose is running the exciting program, “Smuttlabs,” in which experimentation is king. Whether it’s a Belgian-style Quadrupel, aged in apple brandy barrels for six years, or a collaborative hoppy Saison, made in partnership with Baltimore’s Stillwater Artisanal Ales, the brews Smuttynose is producing prove that age is nothing but a number. 105 Towle Farm Rd., Hampton, N.H.
Narragansett Brewing~ Cranston’s Narragansett Brewing is like a once-prominent actor being given a chance at a new audience decades later. Founded in 1890 and revitalized in 2005, the brand’s old-fashioned approachability is embodied in its longtime marketing slogan, "Hi, Neighbor, have a 'Gansett!" Its unaltered Lager recipe (currently contract-brewed by Genesee Brewing in Rochester, N.Y.) is a profoundly agreeable and refreshing favorite. Remember Jaws? Crush it like Quint did. Narragansett's available beers are listed here.
The Alchemist Brewery ~ By now, even those who are not obsessed with craft beer might have an awareness of Heady Topper, rated BeerAdvocate.com’s No. 1 beer worldwide. (It has been reported that 2013 Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris requested a tallboy backstage at every hour during the telecast.) The Alchemist Brewery was running as a beloved brewpub in downtown Waterbury, Vt., when in 2011 Tropical Storm Irene essentially obliterated the establishment. Luckily, the company had just built a brewery nearly twice the size, complete with a canning line, just a stone's throw from the original site. After spending the subsequent years focusing solely on brewing and perfecting Heady (which sells out immediately just about everywhere it’s carried), Alchemist has begun to re-explore its more versatile brewing past with sporadic releases of old favorites and new recipes. 35 Crossroad Rd., Waterbury, Vt. 05676
Prohibition Pig ~ If the wreckage of the Alchemist brewpub were located in, say, Manhattan, odds are that the site would swiftly be turned into an Equinox or a Starbucks. Luckily for Waterbury, Prohibition Pig—an equally revered watering hole—took over the space. Focusing on classic cocktails, craft beer, and fine barbecue, Pro Pig returned the space to its brewpub origins late last year when it unveiled a brewery behind the restaurant. While several tap lines are dedicated to company suds produced upstairs, expertly curated offerings from other, mostly local producers are still in play. 23 South Main St., Waterbury Vt. 05676
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