Cape Cod, a northeastern peninsula with beaches on both sides and weathered-cedar houses, used to be a wasteland when it came to drinking. Because a large percentage of businesses are seasonal, craft brewing and distilling movements were slow to develop on these shores. As a result there were very few options outside of dive bars and coolers filled with overpriced macro lagers from convenience stores. (Not that we hate dive bars, or even the occasional macro lager.)
Now, with the craft industry booming, Cape Cod is becoming one of the hottest places in New England to pop into a tasting room, grab some craft beverages to go (or stay for a taste), and hit the sand and surf.
“[The drinking scene on the Cape] is changing all the time,” says Kristen Roberts, owner of Truro Vineyards and South Hollow Spirits in Truro. “Drinking local kind of got a late start, but people are coming around to when they visit a place they want to drink what’s local. They want to taste what’s produced there and what’s grown there.”
The Cape Cod Beverage Trail outlines the breadth of tap and tasting-room opportunities. And it’s linked the breweries, distilleries, and wineries together, according to Roberts.
“It’s been fun,” he says. “It’s great to band together and look at best practices and see what works or what doesn’t for people, and do some cross promotion.”
Building a successful business on Cape Cod is not just about the summer months. It’s about enduring lonely, tourist-free winters. By linking up with other businesses within the same industry, there’s opportunity to network, share industry secrets, and, ultimately, survive.
“It used to feel like we had 10 weeks to make a year’s worth of money, and that’s changing a lot,” Roberts says.
There are four distinct sections of Cape Cod: Upper Cape, Lower Cape, Mid-Cape, and Outer Cape. While the area is just 65 miles long (plus 400 or so miles of coastland), Route 6 is the only major artery connecting its tiny little coastal hamlets. Visitors should always plan ahead: Your GPS could tell you a spot is seven miles away, but with summer traffic on the sometimes-single-lane Route 6, you could be on the road for an hour.
Ready to jump in? Here is your guide to the drinks culture in one of America’s most storied coasts.
(Note: All drinks producers mentioned in this article have tasting rooms unless otherwise stated.)
Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich, and Woods Hole
In Mashpee, newcomer Naukabout Beer focuses on “small batch, hop-forward beers,” as is showcased on its New England IPA-heavy tap list. If you like what you have at the tasting room, grab a crowler to go.
Aquatic Brewing is scheduled to open in Falmouth this fall, according to owner Greg Horning. In East Falmouth, there’s Cape Cod Winery. Founded in 1994, the winery was purchased in 2013 by the Orlandellas, an Italian expat family from San Sossio Baronia. Its line of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and rosé pairs beautifully with local seafood.
Trevi Cafe and Wine Bar in Mashpee has the best wine list on the Upper Cape, pouring nearly 30 Old World and New World wines by the glass, plus chalkboard specials. Franco-Italian-accented food menus are available for lunch and dinner and include salads as well as local clam chowder (of course) and Sardinian chicken under a brick.
When it’s time to hit the beach, make sure to catch a great view of Buzzards Bay from your beach chair at Old Silver Beach. It’s accessible from two parking lots, one of which is reserved for members. The general admission lot has a daily parking fee of $20, making a $70 weekly pass seem like a bargain.
Now is as good a time as any to explain some drinking-on-the-beach rules. At the Cape Cod National Seashore, the golden rule is “take in what you take out.” Will officers bust you for drinking? Depends. Flaunting it, drinking out of bottles, and acting like an inebriated fool? Yeah, expect a fine. Otherwise, you will likely be left alone with your cooler or crowler.
Being respectful and cleaning up after yourself is the best policy in any situation. The Cape is no exception.
Brewster, Chatham, Harwich, Orleans
With a wink and nod, Roberts says that getting away with enjoying some drinks on the beach is a little easier on this part of the Cape. “They’re not gonna do anything,” she says. Here, no one is out to bust anyone having a good time as long as they are being respectful to their neighbors and environment. Again, however, being cool is key.
Located on the bay side, the Lower Cape is home to First Crush Winery, an award-winning winery in Harwich that sources its grapes from Northern California. Tours and tastings are offered every day but Monday.
Hog Island Beer Company is celebrating its third full summer on the Cape in Orleans. The family-friendly destination has a Bavarian beer hall-style ambiance inside and lawn games and picnic tables outside. Offerings include a “West Coast meets New England-style lineup of beers, and a surfer’s influence,” Mike McNamara, owner/co-founder of Hog Island, says. He believes the Cape drinking scene is getting better because its breweries, wineries, and distillers “all kind of complement what the other one does.”
Those seeking to pair their Hog Island brews with some of the local bounty can take a few to go and head to Breakwater Beach, about five miles away on the bay side. Locals come here to dig razor clams, a New England delicacy. You’re encouraged to do the same.
Surfers head to “Eastham, Wellfleet, Orleans” to catch a wave before or after grabbing a pint, McNamara says, though his main goal is to “stay out of the way of the sharks” off Nauset Beach. (Remember: Where there are seals, there are sharks.)
Barnstable, Hyannis, Dennis, Yarmouth
The Mid-Cape has become the de facto mecca for craft beer on Cape Cod. There’s the stalwart Cape Cod Beer, whose beautiful hefeweizen, Cape Cod Summer, has been a favorite of beachgoers since 2004. Cape Cod Beer is located in Hyannis, but its beers can be found all over the Cape.
Less than three miles away is Barnstable Brewing, a newcomer with a varied lineup of New England Double IPAs, stouts, and pale ales. Check its social media feeds for weekly availability.
Devil’s Purse is a brewery out of South Dennis specializing in the sort of offbeat beer styles craft lifers tend to love. Its most popular beer, an English-style bitter, is bready and light. Other options include a smoked saison and oyster stout made with locally farmed oysters.
Cleat & Anchor, the Cape’s best beer bar, is in Dennis Port. It will net beer lovers a ton of local brews, spanning Cape Cod labels as well as some of the most sought-after breweries in the Northeast. Jacks Abby, Fiddlehead, Fox Farm, Finback, and Evil Twin all pour at the Cleat & Anchor.
Like many places on the bay side, Skaket Beach is a great place to bring the kiddos. Low tide stretches for what seems like forever, allowing mom and dad to watch them safely explore tidal pools. Plus, remember those lax drinking regulations!
Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown, Eastham
Roberts, whose Truro Vineyards and South Hollow are both on the Outer Cape, sings the praises of the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, a restaurant and nightclub housed in a 19th-century lifesaving station. “The little necks [clams] at the Beachcomber with a Painkiller is what summer is,” she says. The institution is buzzy most evenings, so Roberts recommends going on a Sunday “when it’s a little less crowded.”
Roberts’ Truro Vineyard hosts its own Sunday Funday, a family night at the winery with live music and a food truck from Truro’s Blackfish restaurant. Spirits are courtesy of South Hollow Spirits, which plans to debut a rosé gin this summer. They’re also working on a canned rosé, “for the beach,” says Roberts.
A little down the road, in Provincetown, is Shoal Hope Ciderworks. There is no taproom, but its specialty ciders range from tart and fruited ciders to American whiskey barrel-aged offerings, and many are available in stores from Falmouth to P-Town. If it’s beer you’re looking for, the Nor’East Beer Garden on Commercial Street features New England legends like Allagash and Oxbow. It’s just two miles away from the bay side’s picturesque Herring Cove Beach.
Bees River, at First Encounter Beach in Eastham, is an Outer Cape hidden gem. Head due south of the parking lot with a chair, some Wellfleet oysters, and cooler loaded up with a selection of Cape Cod’s finest. Bees turns into a lazy river that brings you right out to the bay without any work on your end. Just sip, daydream, and float away. It’s one of the finest ways to pass a summer day on Cape Cod or anywhere.