Southern Tier Brewery’s IPA top among local beer

By Andrew Sheridan

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Since the end of Prohibition in 1933, the brewing industry in the United States has been ruled by a few select companies. In an effort to flood the nation once again with beer, the brewers quickly consolidated into corporate giants such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors. While the long reach of these behemoths succeeded in speedily getting beer back into the hands of the people, it came at a steep cost: boring, generic beer.

The tastes and wallets of the American people, however, did not stand for this mediocrity of taste for long. Since its humble beginnings in New England and the Northwest, the craft brewing movement has been gaining both speed and support for more than 20 years running. Centering on small-batch size and high quality, these dedicated brewers have completely revitalized domestic beers in the U.S, and this June, the best of the best gathered in Boston for the American Craft Beer Fest.

The event, sponsored by Harpoon Brewing Co. and, is a two-day celebration of all things good in the world of American beer. This year it featured over 80 different brewers from around the country and filled the Seaport World Trade Center for two full days.

Popular styles at the festival included pale ales, German Bock beers and Belgian blondes; although in terms of volume, the most popular style of beer was far and away the India pale ale, or IPA.

Originally brewed for export by the East India Trading Company, these medium-bodied beers tend to be heavy on the hops and intense in flavor, making the India pale ale popular with the die-hard beer crowd that assembled for the expo.

Massachusetts was well represented as one of the hallmark regions of craft brewing, and although giants such as Harpoon and Sam Adams were in attendance, it was the smaller brewers that drew more attention.

Pretty Things Co. from Cambridge, a craft brewer that deals primarily in 22 oz. bottles, drew a serious crowd and did not disappoint. Their signature beer was the Jack D’or, a saison-style Belgian with a twist. Although it follows along with the style’s light body and summery feel, the Jack uses American hops and spices to create a citrusy and refreshing character that fits the season perfectly.

Haverhill Brewery is a name that has been quickly working its way across Massachusetts, and for good reason. While their signature HaverAle cream ale is an interesting but mediocre beer, Haverhill had on display an impressive line of quality beers including a smooth German style and a smoky imperial stout.

Wormtown Brewery of Worcester was a surprise hit for many of the attendees, with cleverly named beers such as the Be Hoppy IPA and the Blonde Cougar summer ale. The names were not the only good thing about their offerings, as Wormtown’s beers proved to be light and flavorful across the board.

Western Massachusetts in particular put up a good showing at the festival, including several breweries within the five-college area. Among them, Paper City Brewers of Holyoke stood tall with the seriously potent Hop Monster and tasty German Radler Brau. Local favorite Berkshire Brewing Co. also drew crowds with their well-crafted pales and India pales on draft, as well as a variety of quirkier beers in bottles.

Perhaps the most under-appreciated brewer at the event was a recently established company known as Peak Organic. Based in Portland, Maine, Peak’s offering was not only 100 percent organic but, more importantly, quite good. From their caffeine-infused Espresso Amber and surprisingly good Pomegranate Wheat, this environmentally conscious beer is both creative, tasty and definitely warrants a look.

Apart from New England, the Northwestern states brought in the biggest volume of malted joy. The region contains the largest number of craft brewers in the country, and some of the biggest names made the trek to Boston for the show.

The Boulder Brewing Co. was one booth that drew lots of attention, but it proved to be a mixed bag. While their brown IPA was a creative and delicious hybrid, other offerings, such as their over-the-top dry-hopped beer, were decidedly less praise-worthy.

Sierra Nevada is a name that is recognized across the country. Their signature Pale Ale is one of the best on their market, and while it was certainly available to taste, Sierra also came armed with their biggest guns: the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Bock. Available only in 750 ml bottles, this German-style beer is smooth and delicious, and it easily rated as one of the most refined beers at the festival.

While there was no official polling and no awards were out, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s top pick of the festival goes to the Southern Tier Brewery’s Oak-Aged IPA. This N.Y.-based brewer had several quality beers available, but it quickly became evident that this particular brew was their pride and joy. Much like fine liquor, it is aged for several months in Bourbon whisky barrels to deepen the flavors. The result is an earthy beer far mellower than a standard IPA, with a complex and incredibly well rounded flavor.

These, of course, are only a small fraction of the craft brews available at the festival. And while the American Craft Beer Fest is the largest beer event on the east coast, its offerings only scratched the surface of beer culture in the U.S. Add to the equation brewpubs, microbrewers and amateur home-crafted beer, and there is virtually no end to the possibilities. So keep your eyes peeled and your taste buds ready, and until next time, bottom’s up.

Andrew Sheridan can be reached at [email protected].