Drink This Now: Festbier by Castle Island Brewing Company
It might surprise you to learn that Castle Island Brewing Company is not even a year old. The Norwood company distributes its beer at 700 Massachusetts accounts and counting, with 16-ounce cans of its flagship ales, Candlepin and Keeper IPA, readily available at most liquor stores and many bars in Boston. Demand is so high that Castle Island increased its brewing output by 50 percent just seven months after opening.
Despite the popularity of the brewery’s core styles, founder Adam Romanow knows drinkers want a break from the hop-heavy beer roster.
“Ever since we opened, we’ve had a ton of people say, ‘I love Candlepin and Keeper, but I want something not hoppy,'” Romanow says. “We’re pleased to release Festbier and answer that call.”
The brewery’s marzen-inspired ale debuted in mid-August, just in time for this year’s Oktoberfest season. It’s the first beer in Castle Island’s growing lineup that doesn’t flaunt much hop character. In fact, Festbier stays largely in line with a traditional marzen, though at 4.6 percent ABV, it is a bit lower in alcohol than a typical example. Oh—and it’s an ale, rather than a lager.
“One of the comments I love to see on Untappd, which I’ve seen a number of times, is, ‘I can’t believe this is an ale,’ which we’ll take as a feather in our cap,” Romanow says.
Other than that discrepancy, the marzen style beers isn’t something Romanow wants to put a major spin on. Even the name “Festbier” is a more straightforward approach than Castle Island usually takes. The brewery recently released an apricot DIPA called Swipe Ripe, and Chuck, a dry-hopped cream ale brewed with water from the Charles River.
Festbier is expected to stick around through October, until it’s brewed again next year, which is something Romanow says is likely to happen.
“Festbier is our contribution to the Oktoberfest scene,” Romanow says. “It’s a little bit fuller, doesn’t have quite the level of crispness that some of the lagers do, but it’s a little maltier, a little rounder, and comforting for the chillier temperatures of fall.”
If you want to drink it now, head to the nearest liquor store: Castle Island is already sold out of Festbier at its taproom, and has brewed, packaged and shipped out all of the rest. All the beer that remains for the year is in 16-ounce cans out in the wild. Romanow knowingly sent the majority of Festbier out to their distribution market, rather than hoard it at the Norwood space, so it would be as accessible as possible to drinkers.
But the beer is guaranteed to be at Coppersmith tonight for the official Festbier launch party. To celebrate the new release, the Southie restaurant will have Festbier on draft, as well as Candlepin and Keeper. A few themed eats, like pretzels and sausages, will also be available. If throwing back pints with the Castle Island crew isn’t cool enough, the first 50 people to arrive also get a free half-liter stein, branded with the brewery’s logo.
If Festbier’s coming is any indication, Castle Island is on the rise in the Boston area. Romanow says he’s fielded calls from distribution markets in neighboring states wanting to stock his beer, but has had turn them all down so far. To him, Castle Island’s focus should be on the local market right now. The brewery recently reached into markets around the North Shore, Worcester, and the South Shore.
“As much as our growth may look explosive, in some senses, we’ve really tried to be smart about it,” Romanow says.
While that growth likely means more Castle Island around Boston in the future, the jury’s still out about how, what, and when. Romanow says most of Castle Island’s beer requires an “irresponsible amount of hops,” which makes it hard to dial up production. Given the circumstances, he says that could mean more malty releases this winter.
“What I can say is that a couple of the beers we had last time it was really cold out are coming back,” Romanow says.
We’ll know for sure soon enough. For now, hoist a stein and enjoy some malty Oktoberfest beer while you can.
Castle Island Brewing Company, 31 Astor Ave., Norwood, 781-951-2029, castleislandbeer.com.