HOPPY TRAILS…TO ME!
Let’s consider beer. I like it. Quite a lot, actually. So as I considered the suddenly large number of craft breweries that have popped up seemingly all over Western Mass, I decided that as a blogger (and fan of all things foamy) it was my duty to take a late winter weekend and check out as many as I possibly could. I visited the Greater Springfield CVB and found their website’s Beer Trail a perfect resource to plan an adventure.
As an aside, while it’s not technically on The Beer Trail itself, I’ve enjoyed quite a few local and regional brews at The Delaney House during their aptly titled “Drink Like A Pro” events. Check out their schedule for beer related happenings and then head to the trail for more ‘research’!
In the interest of science, I enlisted a tasting companion. It’s always a little more fun to share a sip or two, compare notes, issue opinions, agree (or disagree) and so forth.
And of course, in the interest of safety and good citizenship, I also enlisted a designated driver. While I would’ve gladly spent the whole weekend quaffing hither and thither, we did not have completely unlimited time, so the visits would need to be scheduled at a brisk pace. And thus, I wanted a steady and sober hand on the wheel.
In that same vein, I suggested we begin our day by heading for the northern reaches of our “beer-itory,” and soon enough we arrived at Berkshire Brewing Company in Deerfield, one of the oldest in the region. This is a true brewery, with no pub, but the tour is fun and straightforward and we did get the chance to sample a taste. I stuck with my favorite: Steel Rail Pale Ale. It’s crisp and lively, and since it’s on a lot of regional menus, a dependable go-to. My companion opted for Drayman’s Porter, which I also enjoy greatly, so things began peacefully.
Our next stop was Brew Practitioners, a cozy, pocket-sized microbrewery about 20 minutes south in the village of Florence MA. Here, they’ve named the beers in simple, direct ways: Blonde, Red, Black, etc. My Blonde (an IPA) was nicely hopped (I think the heavy-handed hopping so in vogue these days is overly done) and my partner in crime opted for a Brown: it’s malty sweet number that we both loved. So far, no controversy.
With our appetites rising, we made our next stop the Northampton Brewery. Lots of beers plus soups, salads, sandwiches and more, here. All hands ordered burgers, and in a fit of swigging sympatico, both of us beer tasters ordered a pint of Maggie’s Wee Heavy to wash them down. No arguments here, either!
Smack next door to Northampton lies Easthampton, which I’d heard described as one of the most brewery-dense places in the US, rated on a per-capita basis. We had time to hit two: Abandoned Building and New City, a virtual stone’s throw apart. With “abandon” (ha!) we entered the tasting room, where I had to sample the intriguingly-named Farm To Trail Ale, and found it outstanding. The co-taster didn’t care for it, but quickly fell in love with the Temporary Sanity IPA. Finally, some discord, albeit with a happy ending.
Pressing on to New City, we homed in on the alcoholic ginger beers this brewery is known for turning out, along with more traditional brews. I was instantly ga-ga for the New City Mule, offering a nice ginger bite. My pal couldn’t get enough of the Pioneer Valley Porter, which for me was just a touch on the rich side. To each his own!
Time was drawing short, but we wanted to complete the rounds of the up-Valley operations, so we made a dash across Rt. 9 to Amherst and the Amherst Brewing Company. Along with Berkshire, “ABC” represents the other of the regional old guard, and their brews have been popular for decades. In terms of sheer volume, we’d definitely saved the biggest menu for last, as Amherst Brewing listed over ten choices on the day we visited. After much debate, we decided to order some wings to accompany our beers. Massatucky Brown Ale was spot-on for me, while Honey Pilsner won the heart of my co-conspirator.
Heading home, we realized that despite our valiant effort, we still had five more breweries to experience. Romantically named operations like Swing Oil, Back East, Wormtown, Vanished Valley Brewing, Iron Duke and White Lion still beckoned. Sighing happily, with the driving in the good hands of our dependable water-sipping third wheel, we knew that we’d be back out on the Beer Trail soon.