When you think Massachusetts, Boston is generally the first thing that comes to mind. And while we will eventually discuss breweries from the largest city of New England, there is plenty to talk about when it comes to the area north of there. Quaint towns dot the landscape of the Northeast section of the state. From historic and infamous Salem, to Newburyport with its church steeples towering above downtown, it’s a lovely area to visit even without the craft beer. Each of the four breweries profiled come from a different town, and they are incredibly unique. Whether it be music inspired, or a focus on session beer, the diversity here is fun to experience.
- Newburyport Brewing Co; Newburyport
- Silvaticus Brewery; Amesbury
- Notch Brewery; Salem
- The Tap Brewing Co.; Haverhill
Co-founders Chris Webb and Bill Fisher are inspired by music. They actually met through it, and play in an 8-piece funk band, which you can sometimes listen to live in the taproom! A stage is set up in front of the windows looking into brewery, and it plays an integral part in the experience. I had a great time chatting with them during my visit, and it is clear they are passionate about everything they do. The taproom has a straightforward approach, with a U-bar to one side, and plenty of seating on the other. Local art hangs on one wall, and you can actually purchase a piece if you desire. A nice, large outdoor area provides additional space.
They want you to enjoy their city, not just the beer. That’s evident in some of their names, such as Newburyport Pale Ale and Plum Island Belgian White. Plum Island barely took the award as my favorite, with its combination of spicy and citrus notes. It barely edged out the Pale Ale, which was one of the best examples I’ve had from that style. The other that was in contention was Maritime Lager. It’s as good a lager as you can get anywhere. While those three stuck with me, there were other good brews as well. Melt Away Session IPA is brewed with Citra and Amarillo hops, and has refreshing clean and crisp qualities. Tall Buoy is a NE-style IPA, and is actually dangerously quaffable for an IPA. The other year-round offering, Green Head IPA, is a west-coast IPA, with more hoppiness character to go along with a 7.2% ABV.
Newburyport has been expanding since they were founded, and had told me they would be across all of New England by the end of October. I hope that’s the case, as more people should have the opportunity to drink and appreciate the great beers they make.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a cooler taproom than Silvaticus. In downtown Amesbury, there are multiple buildings that use to make up a manufacturing plant for carriages and cars. In what was the boiler room now sits the brewery and taproom of Silvaticus. A towering smokestack makes it easy to spot, and the tall ceilings inside continue the wow factor. Much of the infrastructure is still intact, with the brick walls providing a nice backdrop. The bar is to the right as you walk in, while straight ahead you can view the brewing equipment. While it is not original to the building, behind the bar there is a large Scannell Boilerworks door.
There were some interesting choices at Silvaticus. According to their site, Belgian Farmhouse Ales and German Style Lagers are the focus. They do not offer flights, but I was able to sample a couple and got a pint of another. Oblivion was easily my favorite. It was one of the better black lagers I’ve ever had. The toastiness level was right in the sweet spot. For a crisp, drinkable beer, order a Smooth Sailing, a hoppy lager with crushable characteristics. Apropos, a farmhouse ale, was unique in that is was more hoppy than others of the same style I’ve had. It wasn’t for me, but those looking for a different take on the style may like it. Finally, I also tried Tamarack, a fresh hopped Saison, which again had hoppier qualities than one would expected from a Belgian style.
I was blown away with how well Silvaticus used the space for their taproom. It’s a place that if I lived nearby I would visit often. It should also be noted that Silvatius just opened earlier this fall, so I’m sure there are bigger and better things to come!
Ever sat down with a big barleywine or imperial stout and thought, man, it’s too bad I can’t drink six of these. Well you won’t have that problem at Notch! Everything at Notch is some form of a session beer. That means it is 4.5% ABV or lower. Located near downtown Salem, right on the Salem Harbor, it’s a picturesque spot for a taproom. A year-round outdoor Biergarten provides views of the water, and walking inside through large garage doors allows patrons to view the brewing equipment through windows to the right of the bar. I’m not sure on the history of the building, but there are several brick walls that break the space up into a couple rooms. A unique addition is the skee ball sitting in one corner; not something you usually see.
Along with low alcohol content, Notch has also decided that crazy beer names are their thing. Land Speed Record is a pale ale that’s refreshingly crisp and dry. This was my top pick here. The other two I had were Giddy Up! and The Standard. Giddy Up! was a to-style German Ale. There were some nice notes of melon and maybe pine on the nose, but was more balanced on the tongue by the malt profile. A Czech Pale Lager, called The Standard, was a complex beer. There were some soft fruity esters to it, and seemed to have a little more flavor and body, despite it being 4.4% ABV. Some other crazy names that weren’t on tap when I visted? At the Swans, Hoodang!, and Teenage Riot. As a sour fan, Hoodang! intrigues me.
Notch is a fun place to drink, because you know you can toss a few back without worrying about overdoing it. Add on a beautifully located taproom, and you a recipe for success. By the way, the biergarten is dog friendly!
Resting along the Merrimack River in downtown Haverhill, The Tap Brewing Company has been serving up delicious beer since 2003. Whether you are coming for a full meal, or just want a beer, this is a place to stop at. It’s an older building, with a pressed tin ceiling and classic wood bar. At the end of said bar, there are windows that allow guests to see some the brewing equipment. An exposed brick wall separates the bar area from additional seating. Downstairs is another bar space, referred to as ‘The Playpen’. This area includes some pool tables and more windows to view equipment. A deck in the back allows for nice river views and fresh air.
They did something I’d never experienced. Normally, when you order a flight there are not additives to your beer, besides an occasional lemon or lime. When I ordered a flight that included their fall seasonal, Pumpkin Eater, they asked if I wanted caramel sugars. I said yes, and my taster glass came with sugars around the rim. It was delicious! The downside is I cannot say how much of the flavor was affected by the sugars vs the beer, but I recommend it. The other three were solid. Invisible Creatures is a New England style pale ale, and has strong floral notes complemented by passion fruit. Dark beer fans should ask for a Sky Dog. This Dark Lager is smooth, with a subtle roasted touch. If something fruity is your thing, Berry White is a Belgian Wit with a hint of blueberry.
Besides the prime location and extensive food menu, I was impressed with the number and variety of beers on tap (they had a dozen). If I was back in the area, this would be somewhere I would enjoy stopping for lunch or dinner.
There is plenty to do around these parts even if you are not into beer. But if you’re reading this, you probably are, so take the time to swing by these establishments. One word of warning, if you plan on coming in the fall, traffic gets pretty crazy on the weekends around Salem (Halloween is a pretty big deal there).
Vermont is one of the top craft beer destinations in the country. I already profiled Hermit Thrush Brewing from Brattleboro in a previous article, but now we’ll focus on the great breweries this states offers!