Enjoying a mix of small batch coffee, craft beer, and local history at a couple’s new business
It’s so logical, you instantly wonder why more people aren’t doing the same thing: a brewery and taproom that also roasts and serves its own coffee. Brilliant. And perfect.
When I ran across an upcoming launch of a new brewery and coffee roaster launching in Marlborough, Massachusetts, it made so much sense from a business standpoint: the facilities are largely the same, so you’re only paying for the coffee-specific equipment and supplies, and some added staffing costs; it’s nicely efficient. Plus, the customers who appreciate you for one side of your business are probably going to check you out for the other side as well, or at least pass along word of mouth.
I’d been keeping my eye out for this place to open, and it seemed to go on forever, until I wondered if it actually would ever launch. In fact, I stumbled across it only by accident, based on other plans falling through and finding myself bored on a Saturday and fishing for something to do. It’s been a while since I’ve been as happy to have misfortune smile down on me.
As I read more about the new business, the backstory became more interesting and a genuinely nice story. The owners, JP and Melynda Gallagher, are trying to carve out lives for themselves. They’re not frat buddies who just want to drink for free, or some international brewing conglomerate bankrolling a a new subsidiary. They’re a couple who grew up in town. He home brewed but has tried to learn to do this at scale by attending the American Brewers Guild. She’s just as passionate about coffee, putting in time at the Coffee Lab International School of Coffee, passionate about her own niche rather than, for example, just doing the books for his business.
Their familiarity with their roots shows up heavily in the business. There are paintings of the town’s factories from her grandfather, Curtis Whitney, a WWII veteran and painter; Whit’s Way, one of the beers, has gotta be named after his grandfather; Downtown John Brown, another beer, is named for John Brown. His famed abolitionist raid on Harper’s Ferry in the run-up to the civil war took place in Virginia. But after an odd series of events, the town’s bell, referred to as “the second most important bell in America”, eventually ended up in downtown Marlborough. And the business itself is an ode to the town’s previously numerous shoe factories.
However, it took tremendous perseverance to ever open. The coffee roaster added more permitting, which was of particular concern to the town because of some prior challenges with a previous roaster that caused bad odors to hang over downtown. While the town was just looking out for its broader citizenry and business base, it still added more hurdles for a small business and new entrepreneurs trying to get something exciting started.
Despite being there on opening day, things were going surprisingly well. Lines weren’t bad, despite the place being largely filled late in the afternoon. With any new launch, there are stresses and unforeseen gaps to address. But we weren’t seeing any breakdown or problems. In fact, not only were the customers all smiling, but the owners were as well, as they flew around tending to everyone. So, too, were the staff, looking happy to be a part of an exciting moment.
The vibe of the place was casual and friendly, with some interesting accents. There were also parents there with kids, and adults from their 20’s to their 60’s, and some games available for patrons. The beers, too, were solid. The lineup will almost triple from the initial six offerings, but starts off with something for everyone, from a kolsch to an IPA to a brown ale to a coffee stout, and a couple more. Coffee options also start out limited, but include a refreshing cold brew and espresso, in addition to a couple of hot coffee options, and will grow in the future. My favorite was the New Pair of Brews stout with their coffee, which made it pleasantly difficult to tell whether I was having a beer or a cold brew. They don’t sell food, but you’re free to bring your own; a couple of snacks will be coming soon.
All in all, this place is great. It’s a feel-good story about a younger couple trying to make a go of things and chasing their dreams while supporting each other’s. It’s a fresh, one-of-a-kind option for morning or mid-day coffee, and a tasty after-work or weekend beer. So, if you find yourself in Massachusetts’ MetroWest region, walk in, check it out, and get off your feet for a couple of hours of casual fun.
Would've paid more attention in high school science class if they taught about distilling!
During a day trip out to the Berkshires in southwestern Massachusetts, we took a break from visiting antique shops and museums to visit the Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD). Having read that was rated as having the best craft gin in the country, it seemed worth checking out.
A few years back, they grew and consolidated their operations to their current location. Their store is large, casual, with a diverse set of offerings between their large lineup of spirits, bitters, swag, and some added items from local businesses. The display’s theme of rustic wood and whiskey barrels remind you that this is a distillery in the mountains.
We found a decent-sized group sampling at the counter, along with other couples. We had signed up for a tour, and found that we were the only ones for that hour, so we headed out back with Michael to begin our personalized session.
Michael, one of the distillers, walked us through a progression of BMD’s spirits, from rum to vodka to gin to whiskey. He explained the science and terminology behind distilling. Since BMD also has an ever-evolving setoff infused gins, Michael discussed how they limit these to a single release and challenge themselves to constantly finding new options. Current examples include one with hibiscus, lime, and lavender; to one adding cubeb and allspice; to one aged over a year in whiskey barrels. The diversity of the ethereal gins allows any gin fan to find an unusual version for their own preference. Since these are routinely rotating, it further makes for a version to be savored and appreciated while it lasts.
Similarly, they use scotch barrels to diversify their rum and whiskey lineups as well. BMD’s bourbon also has several options using beer casks from craft brewers, to add an interesting twist on an already-high quality product.
After Michael had finished the tour, answering a number of our questions along the way about the science, the production process, and the growth of the business, we adjourned to the tasting room. This allowed us to consider which ethereal gin and which bourbon worked best for us. The woman helping us was as knowledgeable as Michael, and helpful in filling in some additional details; other than the rum that requires sugarcane from down south, they source all they can from local farmers and their own garden. We wound up choosing one of the ethereal gins along with their bourbon. Their regular bourbon was so deliciously smooth, with great vanilla, caramel, and rye notes, so we opted for it over their cask-flavored choices. Perhaps it was so great because it sources water from a protected granite spring that served as a health attraction to city dwellers a century ago. Or, maybe after a decade in business, they’ve perfected their craft. But we can honestly say that the combination of taste and cleanliness led to BMD’s bourbon passing a couple of other brands as our preferred bourbon. Coupled with their coffee bitters, we were walking out already looking forward to an Old Fashioned that night.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers is definitely a fun, interesting place to visit, and you’ll likely walk away with at least one souvenir. Some of their more standard products are available in larger liquor stores near us, so you may find an ability to re-stock, depending on what you’re looking for. Between the tour and sampling, our visit lasted about ninety minutes. So if you’re not local to that area, it may be best visited as part of a day filled with a few stops. However you choose to do it, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your time there.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Hours: 12pm-5pm (Mondays close at 4pm, Saturdays open at 11am)
Tours: $10/person, plan for an hour
Happily chipping away at visiting the New England wineries
Sharpe Hill produces a number of wines, with a mix of whites and reds, as well as rose and dessert wine. There is also a mix of grapes, from more traditional Chardonnay and Riesling to less common St. Croix and Dornfelder. Offering some as blends allows for a more diverse lineup, and all grapes are estate except for what’s obtained in nearby Rhode Island.
The tastings can be done based on your choice of six wines, or you can try the entire suite of wines. The summaries of the wines helpfully lists how many awards each wine has garnered, as well as the food that pairs well. This very helpfully allows you to think about the wine in the context of broader meals that you might be creating.
Each wine was presented very knowledgeably, not just repeating the details on the write-ups, but with added information about the vineyard, grape, and winemaking process. Those conversations provided a deeper understanding of the wine and its unique production, and details on grapes with which we were less familiar were helpful in growing our knowledge.
Our favorites were the Ballet of Angels, an interesting white wine comprised of ten different grapes. It was light, but with a nice mix of citrus flavors that would be particularly delicious on a summer’s day, but was still great even in the dead of winter. While we also enjoyed the Cabernet Franc, a medium bodied wine more flavorful than many we’ve sampled in New England, our favorite red was the Red Syraph. We found this to be unusual and wonderful, building on the Cabernet Franc with Dornfelder and Gamay grapes for a complex wine. It was unlike most wines we’ve had, particularly for a New England red. While it would pair well with meats or Italian, it’s unique enough that we’d expect to savor it by itself.
It was impressive to see so many estate-grown offerings, and helpful to be served by such knowledgeable staff. With a quiet atmosphere and bucolic setting, Sharpe Hill was a delightful visit. This was a good winter alternative to skiing, given it was a rainy day. But in summer or during foliage season, with the beautiful surroundings, it would also be part of a wonderful day. Unless you’re fairly local, it’s probably best to incorporate this into a broader day trip, such as visiting the nearby Putnam Antiques District, and perhaps adding Taylor Brooke Farm’s wine tasting as well. The tasting room is only open Friday through Sunday, but as part of a (long) weekend, that won’t cause a problem for most people. Overall, this is definitely a local winery carving out a well-earned niche for itself.
Appreciating the local coffee and community
Coffee shops of all kinds have exploded nationwide, now estimated at over 50,000. A trade association estimated that almost half of all coffee was consumed outside the home, and over half of that was specialty coffee. The increase in people working from home, with more gourmet coffee being consumed by people under 30 years old than by other age groups, and with specialty drinkers averaging three cups per day now, and you have all the statistics that reinforce the business opportunity. However, that doesn’t work if you can’t develop and execute a business plan that appeals to customers.
Bolton Bean has joined this fray, as a family-run business nestled in the central Massachusetts town of Bolton, with a slew of apple orchards in the surrounding towns. Driving there from almost anywhere can be scenic and coupled with other pit stops along the way. Aside of apple picking and homemade ice cream, some ideas include lunch at Battle Road Brewing, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, intermittent activities at the Bolton Fairgrounds, and kayaking in Concord.
Bolton Bean sits in a newly renovated building, combining a new feeling with classic colonial style. It has a comfortable, fresh, and friendly feel. This is very much in keeping with the broader gourmet coffee movement.
We found the place happily packed when we entered on a rainy day. There were different zones, from leather seats to tables to pub seats lining the front windows, along with the expansive counter and an area with ready-to-go food and drinks. Despite the crowd size, the staff offered cheery smiles and kept the lines moving.
That trend about increasing coffee consumption and more people working from home means that these sorts of places become meaningful as interesting social hubs, part of the communities, or unique settings and producers of gourmet coffee. Bolton Bean certainly meets this need. The mix of couples, friends, and families, from high schoolers to senior citizens, created a diverse crowd. A woman played guitar and sang in the corner of the coffee shop, adding to the enjoyable ambiance.
Back to the foundation of Bolton Bean, they serve George Howell coffee, roasted locally in the nearby town of Acton. Whether drip, cappuccino, espresso, or however you wish to consume it, this small batch coffee will hit the spot. However, the selection of teas, chai, lemonade, iced tea, and smoothies round out their ability to meet the preferences of kids or others who seek to enjoy the vibe but with something aside of coffee.
The food creates further reason to linger: in addition to the baked goods and breakfast sandwiches to start your day, the lunch menu is nicely varied. We saw a variety of salads, such as creative kale or fall harvest options. A large array of paninis offered something for any palate (meatloaf with a jalapeno aioli is worth trying). Interestingly, you can also build your own poke bowl. These are traditional Hawaiian dishes served cold over brown and white rice and two examples include sweet chili chicken and raw Asian tuna along with other toppings such as sprouts, avocado, coconut, wasabi, pineapple, and more. Gluten free lunch options are appreciated, allowing those with dietary restrictions to still have choices.
The only critique is actually a compliment: it closes at 3:00 on Saturdays and isn’t open on Sundays. This precludes some afternoon or weekend opportunities to reinforce its community and social value, and, since I hadn’t looked ahead of time, is why it took a couple of attempts to visit.
That being said, the ambiance, gourmet coffee, quality food, and cheerful service are all reasons why Bolton Bean is establishing itself as a community hub. Those are all reasons for locals to frequent it, and others to visit when in the general area. As always, the disclaimer is that we aren’t getting paid or anything, so when saying that Bolton Bean will be worth your time and money, it’s solely because we very much felt that way from our own time there.
· Website: https://www.boltonbean.com/
· Free wifi
· Open Mon-Fri, 7:00-4:00, Sat 7:00-3:00
Enjoying the local revolution in craft brewing (see what I did there???)
Just based on the key ingredients, you almost don’t even need to keep reading to know Battle Road Brewpub (https://www.battleroadbeer.com/ ) is worth visiting: refurbished in an old mill, with a feeder pond abutting it; outdoor seating to enjoy the view, or indoors amongst old wood and exposed brick; comfort food and quality barbecue, and of course a quality beer lineup. But it’s worth reading on for the details.
Battle Road Brewing started off as a brewery in 2012 before expanding to add the brewpub along with a 15-barrel brewery in Maynard, a small mill city in central Massachusetts. The vibe is casual and fun, with different seating zones and some games such as darts and shuffleboard. It can be fun for an after-work drink, weekend fun, and can be enjoyable for both grown-ups and families.
The beers features a lineup of regulars, from the rich and malty 1775 Tavern Ale to the Stow’s Farms Session Ale, a light but flavorful and less alcoholic beer. Despite the proliferation of hops-intensive beers, the lineup is also nicely diverse. For example, the Sustenance Breakfast Stout features coffee from the local Hogan Brothers; the colonial era Midnight Porter includes molasses, maize, and hints of chocolate. But if it’s an IPA you’re after, the Lexington IPA features a mix of five hops, and the General Haze Double IPA is heavily hopped with Azacca, Calypso, Amarillo, and Columbus hops. With flights and growlers, any beer fan can certainly find something that will work for you.
The accompanying menu complements the beers. There’s classic pub fare such as chili, nachos, wings, burgers, and sandwiches. But Battle Road added unique offerings such as chicken fried pickles, street corn, and veggie burgers, as well as fantastic barbecued brisket, pulled pork, and dry ribs.
But along with the traditional beer and pub food, Battle Road is conscious of all potential customers. So those in your group who might prefer wine or cocktails have their own choices, and that extends to the menu with its salads, veggie burgers, flatbreads, and some vegetarian appetizers.
Given the success of Battle Road, along with being somewhat unique for the immediate area, it’s not a surprise that Battle Road is expanding to a second location at Patriot Place in 2019. Once again, it will fill a niche, despite Patriot Place’s already robust offerings. With the quality beers, food, and service, it’s well worth putting on your itinerary for either location and in any season.
The Good Life...
can't exist alone. Places form the setting for your memories. People around us allow experiences to be shared, enriched, and leave us feeling connected and loved.