Western Massachusetts Breweries

Those familiar with the area around Northampton, Easthampton, and other places around might notice quite accurately that I haven’t visited nearly all of the breweries in the area. I really wanted to visit Tree House to bring back some of their legendary juicy IPAs but their limited hours didn’t work with my trip. Similarly, I had hoped to visit Big Elm brewing but they are only open 12-4PM on Saturday. With what I was left, my local friend recommended I visit Element Brewing, The People’s Pint and the 3 new breweries in his town of Easthampton. The 3 breweries in Easthampton are called New City Brewing, Abandoned Building Brewing, and Fort Hill Brewing. Each has been open only about a year.

Element Brewing

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I have visited a lot of breweries in the past few years and have tasted a lot of different beers and my visit to Element is the first time that I have ever left four of six tasters on a flight more than 3/4 full because I was not enjoying them in the slightest. There are disappointing San Diego breweries that I have found at least to be competent enough that I still finished their flights of mediocre beers. This is even more disappointing because Element is one of the breweries in the area that is somewhat well known and popular and somehow has regular fans.

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The closest thing I can compare Element to is Reckless Brewing in San Diego, mostly because both breweries have a science theme and claim to brew whatever the hell they want with no attempt to brew to style (meaning they don’t really bother to make sure their dark beers taste like stouts or that their IPAs taste like IPAs, etc). I might not have cared so much that the beers were average if the brewery wasn’t in the middle of no where and charged $20 for a flight of six tasters, something which only makes sense if you are brewing sours the traditional way. Two of the six beers actually tasted like beer, and those two I will describe here. The rest aren’t even worth mentioning.

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If you still want to go to Element, please limit your exposure to the Extra Special Oak and Dark Element. The Extra Special Oak most closely resembles a Belgian Dubel style with flavors of dark fruit and caramel. The beer is smooth and not overly sweet despite the high ABV and finishes nicely with a mellow oak flavor. The Dark Element most closely resembles a black IPA though it does not have any roasted malts that typically give a stout its roasty flavors, nor does it have any body to speak of. But it does manage to showcase the strong hop flavors without knocking you out with bitterness.

Top 2: 
Extra Special Oak (oaked dubel)
Dark Element (black IPA)

The People’s Pint

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Not too far from Element is the popular brewery called The People’s Pint, where beers were a massive improvement and some were quite impressive. I tasted the Training Wheels Session IPA, Farmer’s Lunch Belgian Pale, Oatmeal Stout, and Double IPA. The Training Wheels was a solid session IPA, good and smooth with a solid mix of tropical hops and pine. The pine dominated a bit much for my tastes and the finish was a little more bitter than necessary but otherwise it was a tasty session IPA.

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The Farmer’s Lunch, though described as a farmhouse ale, is really more like a light Belgian style IPA, meaning it is not a traditional saison. The beer showcases some delightful tropical and citrus hops with some smooth Belgian spice under it all. The Oatmeal Stout was probably the most complex and delicious stout I have had at that alcohol level. The beer does a fantastic job of mixing chocolate, roast, coffee, and caramel in a very smooth easy-drinking stout. My husband really loved this and I quite enjoyed it as well. The Double IPA was a very delicious beer that mixed dankness, resin, citrus, and pine for a very smooth low-malt double IPA that hides its alcohol well and is not very bitter.

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The People’s Pint is primarily a brewpub and has a full food menu available as well. Their oatmeal stout is widely available around the area and reasonably priced as well. I would easily stop in for a pint if I happened by the area again in the future.

Top 2:
Double IPA
Oatmeal Stout

New City Brewing

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The first of my 3 breweries in Easthampton, New City is almost next door to Abandoned Building Brewing. I tried a flight of their Ginger Beer, Pale Ale, ESB, IPA, Rye IPA, and Dry Stout. The Ginger Beer is a delicious 8% alcohol ginger beer that has a smooth light body and spicy ginger kick that balances nicely with some mild sweetness. I can see why this beer has gotten them to be quite popular. The pale ale was quite smooth and balanced with with a bready malt base and a light but present hop kick. The ESB is quite smooth and malty and has a nice prominent apricot flavor from the hops. It was also the most bitter of the bunch.

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The IPA is also quite balanced with a solid malt base and light citrus hop notes without being overly bitter. The Rye IPA was similarly smooth and balanced with super light bitterness and peppery kick at the finish. The IPAs here are not West Coast style but also not Northwest style with unbalanced bitterness and overwhelming malt flavors. They are some of the most subtle and delicious versions of the styles I have had outside my typical preference. The Dry Stout was a solid dry stout with a good mix of roast and dark fruit malts. While not as flavorful as the People’s Pint Oatmeal Stout it was still quite solid. New City isn’t making any crazy styles but they are doing a fantastic job making balanced IPAs that are not malt bombs.

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New City is in a massive abandoned brick building and has a combination of bar seating and other indoor seating. They sometimes have live music on weekends as well as the occasional food truck.

Top 2:
Ginger Beer
Signature IPA

Abandoned Building Brewing

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I was recommended Abandoned Building mostly for the stout, which was not available on tap when I came by. I went for the IPAs instead, which after New City were disappointing and fairly average. I did bring home a few bottles of the barrel aged stout from Abandoned Building though and I hope to try these soon.

The Pennhurst Pale was fairly balanced with prominent bitterness, some fruity hop notes, and a bitter dry finish. The Hydra Pale was also fairly standard pale though slightly less bitter and more citrus forward. Dirty Girl IPA was surprisingly less bitter than the two pale ales but otherwise very similar malt background with some apricot notes from the hops. The Double IPA was the closest to the West Coast style and presented a good mix of citrus and dank flavors. It didn’t really stand out that much from the rest though. In all the beers seemed pretty similar and focused on bitterness over aromas. Still, it might be worth stopping by if you are in the area so you can try the stout.

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Abandoned Building is also interesting because of their location inside a similar massive brick building to the one where New City is located. To get inside you have to come through an entrance way that looks abandoned and through a door that would not normally suggest a brewery. They have no windows inside so it can be a nice way to escape the sun.

Fort Hill Brewing

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Fort Hill is the largest of the three breweries I visited and according to my friend has the most money behind them. Most of their beers focus on lagers, so I tried their King Mark Vienna Lager, Hera Pils, Lagerhaus session lager, Session IPA, Rauchbier (smoked beer) and Dopplebock. At this point in my day, I didn’t really distinguish much between the Vienna Lager, Pilsner, and Session Lager other than the Pilsner was the most hop-forward of the bunch showcasing some delicious German hops. Hera Pils is probably one of the best pilsners I have tasted and really impressed me. The Session IPA didn’t stand out much either, aside from being the most bitter of the bunch. It wasn’t really bursting with hop aromas.

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My friend insisted that I try the Rauchbier and I thought it was smooth and balanced between a light smoke flavor and a sweet back end. The Dopplebock was also quite smooth, sweet, and tasty with notes of plum and a very light body. If you are a West Coast beer drinker who generally shys away from lagers I would recommend going straight to the Hera Pils because it was the most delicious of the bunch. I probably would have ordered a pint before we left except my phone had indicated a storm might be on its way. I think that was ultimately a false alarm but it got us to leave.

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Fort Hill is inside a massive farm house and has a nice homey feel inside. When we visited they had live music playing as well, which was the main reason I was quick to leave when the storm warning showed up on the phone. You can find their cans of beers around town and I greatly enjoyed drinking a six pack of their Hera Pils the following day in my hotel room.

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Top 2:
Hera Pils
Session IPA

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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