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75 MInute IPA on cask for Dogfish Head pint night at Moe's

Nothing beats a night out… except maybe one with special beers, the inside scoop, and giveaways. Yeah, just when you think your favorite bar can’t get any better. Does your local beer bar do specialty beer nights? Sure, they’ve got great microbrews on tap all the time, but when a bar goes the extra step to reach out to a brewer (or their local rep) magical things can happen.

Josh Cohen at Moe’s Tavern in Lee, Massachusetts, is especially good at this, but I’m biased—that’s my bar. Check with your local craft beer bar to see if they are planning to link up with a specific brewer for a night. It’s a win-win: the bar get’s a surge of traffic and you get to try high quality or rare offerings from the brewer (like the above pictured 75 Minute IPA on cask from Dogfish Head), free swag including pint glasses, shirts, stickers, openers, and more… and often you get the opportunity to have one-on-ones with either the brewers themselves or a rep (who usually has relatively good insight into the goings on of the brewery).

Best way to find out about events is by “Liking” your local bar or brewery on Facebook or following on Twitter so you get it in your newsfeeds… or check in with sites like BeerAdvocate and Brewing News, who keep running calendars of beer-centric events all over the place.

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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.

It may be closed on Christmas, but the Old Forge in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, is definitely in the holiday spirit.

Adding Christmas cheer to their 300+ (and international) bottle list, the Forge has a sampling of the festive line from England’s Ridgeway Brewery.

Don’t be put off by the goofy names (like Reindeer Droppings or… Santa’s Butt), Ridgeway is serious about its beers. When the lauded Brakspear Brewery closed in 2002 (re-opened by Wychwood Brewery since then), master brewer Peter Scholey devoted his talents to opening his own brewery. Scholey, obviously with a wordy sense of humor, started Ridgeway, whose wide-ranging styles with themed names pop up around the holidays, imported to the States by the Shelton Brothers.

The Ridgeway holiday lineup includes:

Bad Elf (a strong, warm, 6% ABV IPA)
Very Bad Elf (a 7.5% ABV well-rounded English bitter… are we noticing a pattern here?)
Seriously Bad Elf (a popular 9% ABV Belgian tripel, banned in Connecticut apparently due to the appearance of Santa on the label… bah humbug!)
Criminally Bad Elf
(a hefty 10.5% ABV Barleywine-style ale)
Insanely Bad Elf (this 12% ABV imperial red is only available in elf-sized 330 ml bottles)
Pickled Santa (a whole-spiced 6% ABV traditional English bitter)

Reindeer Droppings (a 6% ABV English amber balancing it’s sweet with a bit of tartness, what has that Rudolf been eating?)
Reindeer’s Revolt (a low-key 6% ABV English ale for those of you protesting Christmas’s spice)
Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale (a classic 6% ABV brown warmed up for the season with extra hop and malt character, perhaps a better welcome than the ol’ milk and cookies routine?)
Lump of Coal (you may remember this from my 12 Sips of Christmas post, a dark 8% ABV holiday stout)
Santa’s Butt (a 6% ABV winter porter named for a large brewing barrel (or “butt”), not Santa’s rear)

With whimsical labels illustrated by Massachusetts artist Gary Lippincott gracing the 550-ml bottles, Ridgeway’s offerings make the holidays a bit brighter… or darker, depending on your tastes.

If you’re looking to escape from family frenzy, the Old Forge offers about five of these by the bottle, plus holiday tap selections like Tröegs Mad Elf and Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, in its rustic wood-paneled pub garnished with twinkle lights, hot wings, and gleaming beer-club mugs. (Or, if you want to spread the cheer, check out your local beer store and bring ’em home to your loved ones).

Ho-ho-hop to it.

Special Thanks to: Shelton Brothers, Peter Scholey, and Santa’s little helpers.

Talking Pints

“What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

Pint Pics

Samples with a sunny disposition at Northampton Brewery

Get Thirsty!

On Tap Soon: Lucky You

Pint by Pint

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