10 Essential New England Beers

4 minute Read


My cat is unemployed, and Hill’s Science Diet Savory Minced Chicken Entrée doesn’t pay for itself. I am very fond of the cat; therefore, I will write just about any damn thing I’m paid to. However, there are two genres of booze article I’ve resisted so far. I’ve turned down a few requests for “What Your Drink Says About You,” because those always seem to either lean on the same tired clichés (“Vodka is for finance bros and gutter drunks!”), or else they’re transparent exercises in personal score settling (“Tequila and sprite with a splash of grenadine is for people who never even loved you in the first place.”)

The other big one I’ve been dancing around is “The 25 Best Breweries In America.” Near as I can figure, the only way to do that is to either bust out a spreadsheet with aggregated rating site scores (fine, but boring), or just make things up as you go along. There may be a few people out there who have tried enough beers (at least six, say) from enough breweries (at least 250, and the right 250) to make an educated guess, and bully for them. But for the rest of us, the blessed overabundance of beer options and the cursed limits of beer distribution combine to keep us in the dark.

I worry sometimes that I write too much about New England beers, simply because that’s what I have the most access to. But even in my home region, it’s tough to get my hands on the really high-end stuff: I assume that active beer traders in Utah drink a lot more Heady Topper than I do. And that’s cool, because there is so much good beer everywhere these days that you simply don’t need to wait in long lines or deal with the sometimes-scummy aftermarket for rare beers. Here are ten very good, easily obtainable beers to look for on your next swing through New England.

Relic Tropicale


This is a 7.8-percent alcohol-by-volume IPA from Plainville, CT, that features extensive dry-hopping, as is the rule in New England these days, and also orange blossom honey, which just might become the rule when I’m in charge. It tastes like grapefruit and honey in perfect bitter/sweet balance.

Foolproof Raincloud Robust Porter


The world needs more 6.5-percent ABV porters. We have plenty of easy-drinking dry Irish-style stouts and way too many gigantic barrel-aged monstrosities, but there aren’t enough options in the approachable-yet-complex middle ground occupied so gracefully by Foolproof Raincloud, from Pawtucket, R.I.

Notch Saison


This 3.8-percent ABV spring seasonal from Salem, MA, might be New England’s finest saison. I feel insane typing that sentence, given that Allagash makes saison in New England, but the funky, peppery, refreshing Notch version is truly outstanding.

Rising Tide Cutter


New England is filthy with top-tier double IPAs these days, and this resinous, tropical 8.7-percent ABV masterpiece from Portland, ME, is one of my very favorites. Weird note: This beer used to be called Calcutta Cutter, but Rising Tide had to change it so as not to mislead customers who might think it was shipped in from India. Yeah, beer regulatory bodies are weird. Waiting in line for double IPA is weird, too, especially when there’s plenty of Cutter around from October through March every year.

RiverWalk Uncle Bob’s Bitter


Newburyport’s RiverWalk has recently expanded their bottling and distribution, which is great news for Massachusetts drinkers who appreciate old-school Belgian and English-style beers. Sure, RiverWalk will throw a mountain of hops at you from time to time—their cats don’t have jobs, either, and hoppy ales simply sell better than other styles—but they’re at their best when they let the malt talk, as it does in this quintessential session beer. At 4.5-percent ABV, Uncle Bob’s is further proof that complexity needn’t be accompanied by booziness.

Wormtown Be Hoppy


The newest breed of New England IPAs tend to be thick, hazy, tropical hop showcases that, while often delicious, often lack the bitter component that made us all love IPA in the first place. The 6.5-percent ABV Be Hoppy, from Worcester, MA, is a throwback to an earthier, more resinous time, with traditional West Coast IPA characteristics balancing the grapefruit and mango notes.

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog


Smuttynose has been making great beer in New Hampshire since 1994, and one of my primary goals for the summer is to drink this rich, velvety 6.5-percent ABV American brown ale at their new brewery in Hampton.

Long Trail Limbo


I think of this as somewhat akin to Vermont’s version of Wormtown’s Be Hoppy: a thoroughly modern IPA that avoids veering too far over into the pineapple-nectar territory. I’m not qualified to claim that the 7.6-percent ABV Limbo is just as good as the more sought-after Vermont trophy IPAs, but I am confident that its combination of great flavor, broad availability, and reasonable price make it one of the most downright useful beers to come out of the Green Mountain State.

Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter


There is some seriously impressive beer being made in Rhode Island these days. I’ve liked just about everything I’ve tried from Proclamation in West Kingston and Revival in Cranston, but Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter is my choice to represent Big Rhody in the imperial pale ale category. Rich mango, pineapple, grapefruit, and pine resin notes make this 8.5-percent beauty from Westerly one of my favorite easy-to-find New England pale ales in any weight class.

Jack’s Abby Leisure Time


Hell yes, you need a wheat beer brewed with lemongrass, coriander, orange peel, and chamomile. Now that we’ve got that settled, may I recommend this one from the lager savants at Jack’s Abby in Framingham, MA? Jack’s Abby is best-known for their hoppier offerings, because everyone is, but Leisure Time strikes me as one of their most essential contributions to the War on the War on Lager.


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