Merrimac Valley newcomers

By Donald S. Gosselin

As the microbrewing phenomenon continues to wrest the consumer from the grasp of bland beer, new microbrewers are popping up all over the place. Fans of hearty ale are rejoicing up and down the Merrimac Valley with several local additions to the microbrewing ranks. The Wachusett Brewing Company has opened shop in Princeton, Massachusetts where it brews Wachusett Country Ale. The copper to amber colored brew, self-described as a 'country ale', is round and robust from use of a lively top-fermenting ale yeast. This beer's slightly cloudy appearance comes from using an all-natural method of clarifying beer, rather than using filtration or heat pasteurization. When breweries filter or pasteurize their beer, some flavor is inevitably lost. Not so with this brew, its medium-bodied maltiness gives way to a sharp hop tang in the finish. I found Wachusett Country Ale on tap last winter at the Wachusett Mountain Ski Resort where it appeared to be selling quite well. According to a Wachusetts Ski Area manager, the concept of fresh-brewed local ale fits in well with the resort's image as a high-value local enterprise. I certainly agree with that assessment, and enjoyed a pint or two of Wachusett Country Ale after each evening of schussing.

Lowell Brewing Company brews Mill City Amber Ale. When first released, I found a rather clumsy balance that was on the bitter side. However, Lowell brewers have fine tuned Mill City into a decent ale of medium body. Beer drinkers will find Mill City Amber Ale to be fairly balanced, fruity and a fresh, local alternative to Young's Special Ale or Bass. Visitors who wish to tour the Lowell brewery will soon find a new tap room replete with comfortable pub decor.

Old Harbor Brewing Company, brewer's of Pilgrim Ale, once housed under the same roof as the Ipswich Brewing Company, has struck out on their own. Now located in Hudson, Massachusetts, Old Harbor's brewhouse has been quickly brought on line without sacrificing quality. Old Harbor Brewmaster Lou Amorati firmly believes in the "local" brewery concept -- so much so that he plans to use locally grown hops in some of his rustic ales. Old Harbor's ales are also unfiltered.

Pilgrim Ale, Old Harbor's flagship beer, is available in the now-ubiquitous 22 ounce "bomber" bottle, is a top fermented medium to full bodied ale. Due to its unfiltered state, consumers may find it to be somewhat cloudy and sedimented by brewer's yeast. Don't be offput by the beer's appearance. In fact, you may find it just a tad more robust than beer subjected to microfiltration or pasteurization. Pilgrim Cream Ale, also unfiltered, drinks light and bubbly, making it a "beer drinker's beer". Try one after mowing the lawn and you'll see what I mean.

A recap of this month's Yankee Brew Review: Ratings range from * poor to ***** excellent

Mill City Amber Ale - Medium bodied ale, balanced and fruity. Continues to improve. Reminiscent of Young's Special Ale or Draught Bass. ** 1/2

Wachusett Country Ale - Copper to amber colored brew, top fermented, round and robust. Medium to full body. Slightly cloudy but packed with flavor. The medium bodied maltiness of this brew gives way to a sharp hop tang in the finish. *** 1/2

Pilgrim Ale - A top fermented medium to full bodied amber ale. Due to its unfiltered state, consumers may find it somewhat cloudy and sedimented by brewer's yeast. Rough hewn and robust. ***

Pilgrim Cream Ale - Golden colored and effervescent. This ale has a pleasant hoppy spicy nose with a hint of honey. Clean with a pleasant malty spicy finish. A "beer drinker's beer". ***