Brewery Spotlight

New England Brewery Tour Series: Massachusetts Breweries (Pt 3. Western Mass)

New England is replete with brewing states, many of them boasting some of the most sought after brews in the country. Since the rise in popularity of the craft brew, beer artisans have aimed to gain notoriety through their concoctions. Massachusetts has made its mark as a state that can consistently deliver a high-quality beverage. 

Detailing each of these breweries one at a time would be to handicap our readers from finding the breweries they want to add to their tour list now. Multi-part state tour posts will give a birds-eye view of a brewing state. For a closer look at a specific brewery, dive into its brewery spotlight. 

In this look, we’ll fly through the often neglected Western Massachusetts. Many of these breweries do not have the long history and experience of their elder counterparts in Boston. Still, their passion and innovation are proving that the world west of Boston has serious beverage abilities. The coupled craftsmanship of these microbreweries, along with other developments and attractions out west, are making these counties more and more of a destination. 

If you missed the beginning of the Massachusetts tour, make sure to check out The New England Brewery Tour Series (Pt. 1 Boston) as well and let us know what you think of our list.

The Forgotten Lands of Western Massachusetts

Image by Klimkin from Pixabay

Vanished Valley

One of the youngest breweries being featured on this series of Massachusetts craft locations, Vanished Valley, is named in honor of the sacrifice that four towns made when they were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir nearby. The reservoir, now brimming with wildlife all around, is an appropriate metaphor for the brewery that is positioning itself to inject a new kind of life into the brewery scene of the Pioneer Valley. With a massive expansion underway, Vanished Valley will be opening a full kitchen with a brick oven to offer artisan food to appreciate alongside their artisan beverages. 

The increased space will also allow a significant uptick in their distribution. Already with a massive selection, Vanished Valley’s offerings include a host of IPAs, a milkshake series of specialty IPAs, a holiday series, and an experimental series. With room to grow into, the creations that could come out of this brewery are nerve-racking. One must remind themself that it isn’t absolutely necessary to try every single one of their beers on the same night, although temptation may push you down that road. Please, air on the side of health and caution and spread out your samplings over time. 

Vanished Valley, along with the efforts of local businesses and projects, is poised to make the Pioneer Valley more of a destination than it has ever been. Those who aren’t yet familiar are sure to hear the name flooding the chatter of friends and family in the area that can’t get enough. Those who already know and love Vanished Valley are sure to fall more in love through this expansion and start a word-of-mouth storm that floods the streets.  

Iron Duke Brewing Company

Behind the mills of Ludlow, Massachusetts, running alongside the Chicopee river is a brewery that is stomping the print of its boot into the maturing legend of Massachusetts craft breweries. Started in 2010, this brewery is likely still unknown to those who haven’t made their way through the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. While that may be the case, it is not for lack of quality in their product. 

Iron Duke has developed a stellar reputation for delivering world-class beer. The brewery has garnered respect from local drinkers leading to riot-like anger when a location runs out or is not stocking their beer. One of the favorites of the brewery – and a favorite of mine – is their porter titled ‘Baby-Maker.’ The class of this beverage would have the soft-willed drinker refilling again and again until they reach inebriation to the point of very poor decision making. Don’t take this as a joke. If you plan on drinking this beer, have a friend you can trust by your side who will be in the right state of mind to take you home and get you safely tucked into bed.

It is an unfortunate circumstance that Ludlow and much of the area doesn’t yet garner more attention as a tourist location. You might have trouble finding a reason to make the trek out to the Pioneer Valley area from wherever you are. If so, the hiking, the basketball hall of fame, Springfield’s MGM casino, Northampton, Amherst, and these two listed breweries in Ludlow could make a suitable start to that list. Find your reason to make the trip. Just be warned, when you do make that journey, it may result in any or all of the following: Required future trips. Anger with local establishments that don’t stock the Duke. Babies.

Drunken Rabbit Brewing

From Ludlow, a short ride on the Mass Pike will get you to the next brewery. Drunken Rabbit is a youthful brewery only opened in late 2017. Already, they’ve crafted brilliant brews with a healthy list (depending on your perspective) of 16 beers on draught in their taproom and one wine of their making also available. The brewery regularly has the ‘El Gringo’ food truck on-site to serve fare that will brilliantly complement your beverages.  

Without the long history and reputation that other Massachusetts breweries have, Drunken Rabbit is looking to make a name for itself with relative haste and has been doing an exceptional job thus far. Although the brewery itself is youthful, the founding members’ brewing experience runs much deeper. Friends Bruno and Dave have been brewing for more than 15 years. At the request of friends and family who’d enjoyed their beverages for some time, they began entering brewing competitions. A portion of the money used to open this brewery was raised on Kickstarter. A unique lifetime membership offer remains open where members gain lifetime perks such as discounted pours and early access to sample new brews.

Fort Hill Brewing

Devoted to traditional German brewing techniques, founder of Fort Hill Brewing, Eric Berzins, was drawn to Easthampton, Massachusetts because of its award-winning water. The friendly people of the area were the second magnet, and Eric has developed a staff that is making it clear that he picked the right spot. Nestled just beside the five-college area, Fort Hill enjoys a comfortable flow of people eager to taste what has been created by this German-inspired imagination. 

Many consider freedom to be the essential ingredient to unencumbered creativity, but the stress of too many options has proven it can sometimes cause more paralysis in decision-making. The “Reinheitsgebot” that Fort Hill adheres to is a German brewing ideology that states a beer will only be brewed with water, barley, hops, and malt. With the majority of their beers, Fort Hill has used this method to narrow its vision and master brewing within that focus. 

After two years of construction, Fort Hill poured its first beer in 2012. Berzins looks to continue the success the brewery has found in the years since then and make Fort Hill into a cornerstone of the area. If the short history is any indication, Fort Hill will begin to grow in popularity and spark more to make the trip out to the former hay farm looking up at Mt. Tom.

Tin Bridge Brewery

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Brother Joe and Nick Cocchi founded this bar in their hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, and have quickly become a favorite goto location in a few short years. The doors of the brewery opened in the fall of 2017 after a home brewery project grew into something more. Tin Bridge’s taproom features arcade games, board games, and a new beer released every Thursday. This is the first visitable brewery that the town has had, and the guests are proving it is something they’ve been wanting whether they knew it or not. 

When I was seeking recommendations of breweries to visit for featuring, Tin Bridge was an oft-repeated brewery on the list of responders. With weekly food trucks visiting and a bring-your-own-food policy always in effect, the many fans of this brewery are beginning to have difficulty finding reasons to leave. With the growing mastery of these brother-brewers, it is likely they’ll have people waiting at their doors when they open and begging to stay at closing. 

Holding its Own Against the Experience of the Capital

While it may be true that Boston has a more extensive history with brewing, these breweries are among many in Western Massachusetts that are proving there are many reasons to drive out west. With equal time, experience, and resources put into the market, the brewing reputation of the state has only more to gain. 

People outside of the state are probably not as familiar with these upstart operations, as they are with the more entrenched establishment to the east of the state, but they should expect to start hearing a lot more. These craft locations are contributing to a growing list of reasons for people to find their way move to the west of the state, and it is empowering economies and communities to expect growth in the future. The drinking of alcohol is not always seen as an honorable thing, but the positive impact made by these breweries are shining a flattering light on the brewing world.

In part four of our Mass tour, we will circle back around to Boston to feature a few of the breweries we missed the first time around.

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