The Best Craft Beer in New England

Best Craft Beer in New England

Photo by Sam Kaplan

1. Farmhouse Ale/Saison: Jack D’Or

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, Somerville
Traditional saisons are rustic “farmhouse” beers: unfiltered, dry, and way too easy to drink. While Jack D’Or isn’t meant to be the spitting image of its European counterparts (the brewer calls it a “saison Americain”), with a bright-but-not-bitter hops flavor, crisp mouth feel, and subtle tartness, it captures the spirit of its Belgian predecessors impeccably.
Runner-up: Mystic Brewery Saison

2. Imperial/Strong Ale: Audacity of Hops

Cambridge Brewing Company, Cambridge
With its potent 8 percent alcohol content and generously piney nose (owing to the 10 hop varieties used), this Belgian-style IPA has a name that rings true. At the same time, it’s surprisingly subdued. Bonus: Though CBC has long been draft only, they’re now bottling this ale for sale at other retailers.
Runner-up: Long Trail Brewing Company Double Bag Ale

3. Pale Ale: Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale

Berkshire Brewing Company, South Deerfield
Though mild and light-bodied, it has just a bit more heft than a session ale — in other words, we’re as likely to sip it fireside at a ski lodge as we are to gulp it on a sweaty summer day. With moderate hops, a faint citrus aroma, and a bit of breadiness, it’s a beer you can pair with practically any cuisine.
Runner-up: Maine Beer Company Peeper Ale

4. Porter: Porter Square Porter

Slumbrew, Somerville
The experimental branch of Somerville Brewing Company, Slumbrew teamed up with its neighbors at Taza Chocolate to create this complex porter loaded with coffee and chocolate flavors. (They use Taza cacao nibs in the conditioning process.) Skip dessert and order one of these instead.
Runner-up: Otter Creek Brewing Stovepipe Porter

5. English Pale/Bitter Ale: Old Thumper

Shipyard Brewing Company, Portland, Maine
Fun fact: Bitter was a term used in ye olde England to differentiate pale ales from their sweeter, less-hoppy counterparts, such as mild ales and porters. This beer, originally created by Ringwood Brewery in England (the brewer there mentored Shipyard’s Alan Pugsley), has a malty backbone with a fruity nose.
Runner-up: Redhook ESB

6. Belgian-Style Tripel/Quad: Baby Tree

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, Somerville
Though Pretty Things stopped using dried plums in its Baby Tree recipe last summer, its burnt-sugar aroma, smooth taste, and notes of sweet, dried fruit on the finish are still hallmarks of this incomparable abbey-style ale. Peppery top notes, a medium body, and a dark, coppery-brown color add to its delightful richness.
Runner-up: Allagash Brewing Company Tripel

7. Brown Ale: Dark Ale

Ipswich Ale Brewery, Ipswich
If you think you don’t like brown ales — or that you can’t drink them in the summer — pick up a sixer of the Dark Ale from Ipswich Ale Brewery, a.k.a. Mercury Brewing Company. Totally smooth with a medium body, it has toffee and dark-fruit flavors that make it the perfect companion to anything char-grilled.
Runner-up: Wolaver’s Organic Brewing Brown Ale

8. Stout: Mean Old Tom

Maine Beer Company, Portland, Maine
A jet-black American stout that’ll knock you off your feet, Mean Old Tom is one of the finest stouts we’ve tasted. Nano-brewery Maine Beer Company (run by two brothers working in a small rented space) ages the beer with vanilla beans, turning out a round, soft brew that’s surprisingly easy drinking despite its 6.5 percent ABV.
Runner-up: Wolaver’s Organic Brewing Oatmeal Stout

9. White/Wheat Beer: White

Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, Maine
It’s a classic witbier: cloudy and showing hints of clove, banana, citrus, and ample amounts of visible yeast. But while beers with this many flavor elements can get out of whack fast, Allagash’s version is balanced by its super-smooth, creamy texture, so the last sip is as subtly complex as the first.
Runner-up: Slumbrew Happy Sol

10. Amber Lager: Fisherman’s Brew

Cape Ann Brewing Company, Gloucester
Like most good Bostonians, we drink Sam Adams like it’s water from an endless stream. Cracking this amber lager, then, was a reminder that the style can take many tasty forms. Toasty, malty, and just a bit sweet, Cape Ann’s version is a lovely break from our routine.
Runner-up: Samuel Adams Boston Lager

11. Session Ale: Pamola Xtra Pale Ale

Baxter Brewing Company, Lewiston, Maine
Easy drinkability is paramount in a session ale. This bubbly, crisp brew starts out caramelly and malty, but thanks to the dry finish, it’s refreshing rather than cloying. That makes for a beer that’s almost too easy to throw back in large quantities — and we’d like to consume Baxter’s version by the barrel.
Runner-up: Smuttynose Brewing Company Star Island Single

12. India Pale Ale: IPA

Smuttynose Brewing Company, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
If you avoid beers with bite, this isn’t your brew. But for lovers of IPA — a style defined by the ample use of hops — this version is downright craveable. Five different hop varieties lend it lip-smacking bitterness and a tannic finish, while a lemony, herbal aroma keeps it from being one-dimensional.
Runner-up: Maine Beer Company Lunch IPA

13. Amber Ale: Red Rock Amber

Opa-Opa Brewing Company, Southampton
After drinking far too many amber ales with just a single flavor — malt! — Red Rock was a pleasant departure. It’s nicely balanced, with a good kick of hops to balance out the inherent sweetness. We’d crack one open on a brisk night, just to ward off the cold.
Runner-up: Baxter Brewing Company Amber Road

14. Pilsner/Light Lager: Session Pils

Notch Brewing Company, Ipswich
Bright and crisp with grassy, citrusy notes (and delicious ice cold), this pils is made for drinking on a porch (though a South End stoop will do). Toasty malts keep it from feeling harsh on the palate, and the low alcohol content justifies going back for another…and another.
Runner-up: Narragansett Lager

15. Fruit Beer: #9

Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, Vermont
Some samples tasted like Jolly Ranchers; others, blueberry muffins. Why do most fruit beers seem designed for 14-year-olds? Then there was #9: a faintly nutty pale amber with a dried-apricot aroma.
It’s beer first, fruit second — the way it should be.
Runner-up: Wachusett Brewing Company Blueberry Ale

  • http://www.BeerNationShow.com Seth @BeerNationShow

    There are a bunch on this list that I have to make sure to find during my next trip up to Boston. August takes me to Maine, so a visit to the Maine Beer Company looks like a must.

    • Scott Lewis

      If you are going to visit Maine and you are a craft ale enthusiast, you must visit the Allagash Brewery in Portland. They have truly outstanding ale and provide an excellent tour.

  • http://www.baublesandbeer.com Kristen Leonard

    CBC’s Audacity of Hops, Pretty Things Jack D’Or and Slumbrew Porter Square Porter are all in my regular rotation. Great to see strong representation from Cambridge/Somerville. Drink local!

  • Fivemicsmax

    Wow. Magic hat? Not craft beer. Owned by labatts people. Thanks for giving Vermont love. Heady topper? Double sunshine? Fayston maple imperial stout? Edward? Abner? Everett?

  • jeremy

    this list is pretty weak. how do you not have anything from sam adams or harpoon, both of whom are responsible for reinvigorating the craft beer renaissance in new england. poor form…

    • jeremy

      or lawson’s, hill farmstead, the alchemist. dig a little deeper people

  • John

    I’m really curious how you selected the 33 beers to evaluate. Because based on this list, I’m having a hard time believing the authors have explored the world of New England craft beer much at all. Some of the inclusions are as staggering as the omissions.

    • Julia

      33 breweries, not 33 beers.

      • John

        Oh, oh, 33 breweries not 33 beers? Thanks for attention to detail on semantics but not the beers brewed in New England.

        That still doesn’t excuse the complete omission of anything by Hill Farmstead or the Alchemist’s Heady Topper (probably the best 2x IPA in not only New England, but the entire *country*.) Or how about Ghandi Bot?

        Why do I get the impression that this list was compiled based on what’s available in Davis Square?

  • Jay

    The Alchemist Heady Topper, Lawson’s Finest, Hill Farmstead, Mystic Brewery, Backlash Declaration. I know some of these are not easy to get but they should at least be mentioned.

  • http://beer411.blogspot.com Tony

    Any reason why nothing from CT is on this list?

  • HDQ

    How could The Alchemist Heady-Topper not even be on this list? You look at reviews, people are saying it’s the perfect IPA if there ever was one and stores can’t even keep it in stock. There is so much demand for that beer and it’s so good!

  • Steve A

    To not include Hill Farmstead (who has 18 of the top 50 New England beers according to beeradvocate) and Alchemist’s Heady Topper (which is reviewed in the top three IPA’s in the country alongside Pliny The Elder and Pliny the Younger from Russian River in California) is just a shame. Also no mention of the illusive Lawson’s Finest Liquids? I know that the three breweries are tough to find stuff from, but having something illusive just adds to the challenge of finding brews listed, and makes the experience far more rewarding.

  • ? Walt

    Snarky comment on Peak’s Organic’s Simcoe Spring Ale. Every word of their comments are true. It’s the true best in class. Omitting Peak was a major oversight. It offers the best in class in several categories.

  • Davis Parker

    It’s hard for me to think that most of the Smutty Nose brews did not make the top 15 beers. Their Old Brown Dog to me is the finest brew, especially on draft at the Portsmouth Brewery. Who are the people that chose these brews?

  • http://barriobites.wordpress.com/ Brendan

    Hate to say it, but this is why San Diego has Boston beat by a mile in terms of craft beer. You don’t need to leave the state, let alone the city, to enjoy a truly amazing beer from a truly amazing brewery. Boston needs more breweries within city limits, not elsewhere. I’m not discrediting the quality of the beers; I’ve had a few of those on the list and they are excellent. But I love how I can bounce quickly from brewery to brewery in SD without driving more than 20-30 minutes (and some breweries are so close I can just bike from brewery to brewery). This is why SD is the best craft beer area in the US.

    • Drink Craft Beer

      Hey Brendan, bikeable from Boston are Night Shift, Idle Hands (they’re actually right next to each other), Mystic (down the road from the first two), Cambridge Brewing Co., Beer Works, Trillium, Harpoon and John Harvard’s. Plus I know of at least one more in the works. If you want to add a 30 minute car ride, you can hit Jack’s Abby in Framingham. If you want to add all the breweries in Western MA (still in the state afterall) you’ve got a ton more awesome brews. Plus there are a bunch of great beers made up in Ipswich at the Mercury facility or down in Westport.

      Beyond that, Boston is a small city geographically, which is very different from cities out west. Most brewers can’t afford to have space in the city. That said, places like Night Shift are as far from city center as many breweries that are in the city proper out west. We just have a smaller area called “Boston” so we have to include some of the surrounding towns.

      Cheers,
      Jeff
      Co-Founder
      Drink Craft Beer

  • Guest

    Nothing from Night Shift in Everett? I’m honestly shocked. Their brews are so unique and tasty I can’t believe they didn’t make the list at all!

  • poop

    I agree with most of these posters. And where’s the love for my boys at Clown Shoes?? Hoppy Feet, Vampire Slayer, etc. Absolutely amazing beers.

  • erik

    agreed Heady Topper is the best beer EVER and not even mentioned? Blasphemous.. and as someone who does enjoy the Audacity of Hops, to see it 6 spots in front of Lunch, which is as amazing of a beer as heady topper? BS this is list is SHIT!

    • erik

      whoops thats not even Lunch in the 8 spot! my bad, saw the label and just assumed it was there as it should be #2 next to heady topper..

  • CrowS95

    One word: Geary’s. It HAS to be on this list. Period.

  • Keith Rogers

    Real top 15:

    1. Heady Topper

    2. Hill Farmstead Abner

    3. Hill Farmstead Flora

    4. Lawson’s Double Sunshine

    5. Jack’s Abby Barrel-Aged Framminghammer

    6. Hill Farmstead Edward

    7. Hill Farmstead Everett

    8. Jack’s Abby Kiwi Rising

    9. Allagash Coolship Red

    10. Hill Farmstead Double Citra

    11. Allagash Resurgam

    12. Pretty Things Jack D’or

    13. Hill Farmstead Ann

    14. Hill Farmstead Susan

    15. Maine Brewing Lunch

    • KC

      Hill Farmstead Everett is alright, and the rest of their beer is mediocre at best. Snobbery for the sake of it does not make it good.

  • SkinnyPete

    Yeah, no Hill Farmstead brews and no Heady Topper doesn’t just put this list into question – it exposes the author as obviously not having the knowledge to compile such a list. If you exclude Heady and all Hill Farmstead brews in a Best of New England Craft Beer list – you’ve never had them. They’re that far above and beyond what other breweries are doing right now.

  • Elizadeath

    I’m ashamed nobody has mentioned Earth Eagle Brewings. Get off your IPA high horse, get yourself to Portsmouth, and go drink some.

  • Chris Cross

    Check out our documentary on the craft beer movement (http://www.facebook.com/brewland) or at (brewlandfilm.tumblr.com)!

    We will be speaking some of the greatest brewers in Vermont and Massachusetts including The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Samuel Adams, and many more…

  • Chris Cross

    Check out our documentary on the craft beer movement (http://www.facebook.com/brewland) or at (brewlandfilm.tumblr.com)!

    We will be speaking some of the greatest brewers in Vermont and Massachusetts including The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Samuel Adams, and many more…

  • Nancy Columb

    Vermont only got credit for one beer, and it was Magic Hat?! I mean I know we tend to specialize in a bajillion breeds of IPA but we do have other good stuff! I’m rather sad and a little offended. =(

    • Janet Miller

      I think Magic Hat has a number of good beers. But sadly, as I mentioned in my comment above, it’s no longer considered a craft beer. I’d love to know what the other “good stuff” is.

  • Christopher Jeffrey

    no heady topper? not legit

  • Janet Miller

    I came across this site because I was searching for a good New England craft beer. I was surprised to see Magic Hat #9 (which I LOVE) on the list. I’ve been a huge Magic Hat fan, but Magic Hat is NOT a craft beer, which I found out recently, AND they aren’t US owned. They’ve just gotten too big. It may be brewed in Vermont, but it’s now owned by a company called Cerveceria Costa Rica!! Magic Hat has fallen off the craft beer train. I was surprised to see it on the list here.

  • Lisa

    Totally agree John. Although many of these beers are fantastic and I drink them regularly, others have had their day in the sun and have been surpassed…Magic Hat #9? No.