Standing Out in a Town of Breweries
Easthampton, Massachusetts, is a town of breweries if ever there was one. The small town is host to three breweries with a population of only 16,000 people in the space of only 16.3 square miles. With this much beer in a small area, let’s hope residents of Easthampton are making responsible decisions in their consumption despite the array of options. In the United States, it seems no matter where you go, there is a craft brewery nearby or a new one in planning. In an industry that is becoming as crowded as this one, it is a real challenge to find a way to stand out from others.
For New City Brewery and its founder, Sam Dibble, that piece of individuality came ingrained in the path of its creation. The road to Dibble’s opening of this brewery started back in 2005 when he first started brewing while he was working as a carpenter in the Paragon Arts & Industry Building, also in Easthampton. He did not begin with the typical homebrewing projects but instead worked with Mead, a wine made from honey. His Mead creation was the first domino to fall in a line of fermenting projects that he would undertake.
Next, he began working for a friend of his who started the Artisan Beverage Cooperative in Greenfield, Massachusetts, where he would later become an owner. He was first making Kombucha with Katalyst Kombucha, stretching his beverage expertise further, and then co-founded Green River Ambrosia, where he produced more Mead and worked with Ginger Libation. His time with these projects laid the groundwork for what New City Brewery would become.
New City Brewery Begins
While working with Artisan Beverage Cooperative, Dibble began brewing beer in his spare time at home. Fermenting beverages both on and off the job, his fermentation skills could confidently be put up against anybody else in the area.
“I’ve basically fermented everything that I can,” Dibble said. “No Sake, yet. And I haven’t made grape wine, yet.”
He added in yet into his statement quite matter of factly as if it was only a matter of time before those two would also be checked off his list. It seemed as if he wouldn’t be able to come up with a good reason not to try his hand at them.
New City found its home in an abandoned building in Easthampton in 2015 after spending a year making it habitable. They were not the only ones that found an appeal in the location, as it now plays host to an array of businesses, including another brewery, appropriately named Abandoned Building Brewery.
Finding Their Character in Ginger
Dibble, speaking like a genuine historian of the industry, let me know about the scale of the microbrewery boom I was aware of but somewhat numb to the details.
“It’s been growing consistently by more than 1,000 breweries per year over the past seven years. Now there are almost 8,000 microbreweries in the country, and there are at least 2,000 more in planning.”
He admits that he was not always so interested in the craft of brewing. When I asked him about the beers that inspired him to open the Brewery, he mentioned, “when I was younger I was drinking kind of cheap beer. That was college for me,” he said. “Back then BBC, here locally in Deerfield, and their Steel Rail was kind of the fancy beer we got in UMass.” Dibble said the opening of the Sierra Grille in Northampton was an impactful moment for him. A friend of his worked there, and he would go to try beers from all over the world. West Coast beers notably opened his eyes to the possibilities of brewing.
“I remember trying Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and thinking, ‘whoa, this is really good.'” Dibble credits beers like this and Green Flash IPA for revealing to him the world of potential complexities in the brewing world. He continued listing breweries such as Stone and Dogfish Head that expanded his understanding of the variety that can come through beer.
Dibble combined his passion for brewing with his experience around ginger. It seemed only natural that ginger beer would become a part of his arsenal and it has been a powerful asset to New City Brewery. The individual approach he has taken has paid off. In a country where a small portion of the thousands of breweries brews Ginger Beer, it has allowed New City to find a broader market for distribution in a relatively short time. With deliveries as far as Florida and California, there are not many breweries that could make that claim in their first five years of existence.
When speaking about this advantage, Dibble mentioned, “[Ginger Beer] is very versatile. You can use it as a mixer, we make mimosas with it here. We started making mules with the original Ginger Beer and people were drinking it like crazy, so we made New City Mule as its own stand-alone product line.” Ginger Beer is also a friendlier beer to the consumer, as it is a naturally gluten-free beer and is shelf-stable for much longer than the standard beer. New City reserves much of its brewing equipment specifically for making the Original Ginger Beer, ensuring it remains a viable option for the community of gluten-free consumers. Their commitment to this style of production is powerful since there are few other gluten-free options for those customers in the beer world.
“I think any brewer should find something that sets them apart,” Dibble says. “There are too many copycat beers out there, and that kind of hurts you as a brewer. This route has opened up a ton of different doors for us. Having a specialty product like that builds a lot of value in your brand.”
The Future of New City
There is no shortage of excitement on the horizon for Sam Dibble and New City Brewing. With a steady demand fueling his growth, he is looking forward to increasing production in the future and already is thinking about the possibility of shipping their beers overseas. Even thinking about international shipping within the first five years of opening a brewery is a dream scenario for many upstart microbrewers.
While the Original Ginger Beer might deserve a lot of the credit for their growth in distribution, their assortment of flavors and styles have contributed to the development of regulars coming back, again and again, to see what Dibble and his crew will roll out next. Grinding up 500 pounds of ginger for their brews, they would be remiss not to have that ginger trend carry over to other beers they serve in house.
Where their Original Ginger Beer has a strong ginger flavor that is made palatable and delicious by the hint of citrus zest, those who are not as partial to an intense Ginger Beer have other routes they can go. As previously mentioned, they have their New City Mule as a stand-alone product, a Gingerbread Spiced Stout where the ginger is more understated, and a Deep Roots Ginger Soda as a non-alcoholic option, among plenty of other beers.
With plenty of space, including an outdoor beer garden and a stage for live performances, all with the brewing space within sight, New City has an ideal area to draw a crowd and continue developing fans for the beers they produce.
Some breweries exist one hundred percent motivated on finding growth and supercharging it. While this goal is justified and completely relatable from an economic standpoint, it can sometimes come at the sacrifice of the quality they put into their products. Dibble and New City are also interested in expanding their brewing and growing the brand. With the way he and the team approach their craft and the unique style that makes its way through their products, I am confident there should be no concerns for this team compromising on quality.
After my interview with Dibble, I returned to New City Brewery later in the day to begin planning this article and sample a few of the beverages. From a man that has made his rounds of sampling top-notch breweries, I can recommend New City as a must-stop destination in the area for those looking to add Breweries to their list. For that matter, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people who are not in the area and are looking to make a journey out of a brewery visit.
With all the breweries I have and will be visiting, I find many that I enjoy and plenty that I would like to visit again. Not quite as many earn the label of a definite return, but New City Brewery has earned its place among my definites.