Buried in the hip epicenter of Western Massachusetts that is Northampton—home to progressive colleges, boho-chic shopping, wide-ranging grub, and eclectic galleries—is New England’s oldest operating brewpub, duly named the Northampton Brewery.
If you haven’t perused the rest of this blog, I should mention how big a fan I am of brewpubs—these places, usually brimming with individuality, offer the steadfast trifecta of (über) locally-made beer, hearty cuisine, and friendly atmosphere. More than a sports bar, more than a restaurant, and more than a brewery, the brewpub brings it all together. In other words, I like food with my beer and vice versa.
The Northampton Brewery is a multifaceted establishment housed in a revamped 1890s carriage house. It features a low-lit bar area, a bright sunroom dining space, and a popular rooftop beer garden. Touted as the oldest brewpub in New England, it was opened in 1987 by current owner Janet Egelston with her brother Peter (with whom she also helped open Portsmouth and Smuttynose breweries in New Hampshire, which Peter now owns).
Served atop sullied copper-topped tables, the food at Northampton is hearty, bursting with flavor and creativity, and frequently embellished with beer-featuring sauces and recipes (telltale sign of a good brewpub). My menu item-of-choice, the pulled pork sandwich, comes doused in a perfected combination of zesty spices, their Pale Ale or Old Brown Dog, and homemade barbecue sauce. Topped with tangy slaw made with peppers and red onion it accentuates the underlying flavors of my beer samples (think a warm nuttiness in the red ale, herbal character of the harvest ale, and the ever-so-slightly tangy bitterness of the IPA).
Ah, the samples. Northampton does it right. I frequently grapple with the “dilemma” of whether to go with a flight of samples (which often risk being nearly shot-size) or miss out on trying the full array by getting pints of one or two selections instead. Here the samples (choice of four) come in 8-oz tasting glasses, presented on the always-appealing paddle, which are a fair enough size to get a feel for the beer while still trying out a few different styles.
I started with the Harvest Ale, a rich amber-colored ale emitting a light caramel aroma and bursting with fall sentiments plus a hint of hop bitterness thanks to the wet-hop process. Next was the Redheaded Stepchild, deep red in hue with a tangy sweetness with a smooth, hearty aftertaste characteristic of traditional red ales. The Blue Boots IPA had a sweet floral aroma with a nuttiness and hefty hop bite and the Black Cat Stout offered a creamy, rich coffee finish—extremely smooth and robust in flavor.
With fifteen year-round varieties, nearly as many specialty brews, and comparable seasonal selections, there is plenty to choose from at the brewpub. Styles range from familiar standards like stouts, porters, IPAs, and ales, but expands to lesser-seen experimentations like a German-inspired Sticke Altbier, bitters like the Daniel Shays Best Bitter and (Snow)(Sand)(No) Shovel ESB, and ryes including Magic Carpet Rye and Jess’ Goodbye Rye P.A. Apparently with a penchant for pale ales and IPAs (and fine by me) the brewery boasts quite a few variations on this style, experimenting with different balances of the Pacific Northwest hops they use. The brewery even goes so far as to have an annual IPA Week in December, during which six different India Pale Ales are available on tap. Otherwise, there is usually a mixed selection of about ten beers on tap, plus a few guest brews to round it out. Occasionally the brewery teams up with fellow microbreweries including siblings Portsmouth and Smuttynose for special beercentric events.
Whether going for a concert at one of the many music halls in Northampton, pairing your beer with locally made ice cream at nearby Herrell’s Ice Cream, or shopping at the various boutiques, Northampton Brewery offers a welcoming pit stop or a night filled with all the entertainment you need—hit up their weekly Celtic night on Sundays for live Irish music and a St. Patty’s feel all year long. Take a growler to go and you’re all set.