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Local brewing scene puts craft and home beers to taste test

An active local brewing scene puts craft and home beers to the taste test in area contests

Katie hunt for the boston globe Andris Veidis at Blue Hills Brewery, a microbrewery in Canton, where he is both brewmaster and CEO. The company currently offers six varieties of beer. Katie hunt for the boston globe
Andris Veidis at Blue Hills Brewery, a microbrewery in Canton, where he is both brewmaster and CEO. The company currently offers six varieties of beer. (Katie Hunt for The Boston Globe)
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / March 27, 2011

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Something is brewing south of Boston — beer. Lots and lots of beer.

The region is home to up-and-coming microbreweries including Blue Hills Brewery in Canton and the Mayflower Brewing Co. in Plymouth, specialty brew pubs like Hingham Beer Works, and brewing supply shops such as The Witches Brew in Foxborough.

There are events brewing here, too, like South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week, being held for the first time May 9 through 14.

And there’s also a vibrant home-brewing scene. Area residents who brew beer as a hobby will soon compete for bragging rights in the South Shore Brewoff, a contest held annually by the South Shore Brew Club.

“We’ve been doing this for 16 years,’’ said Rick Rodriguez, a Weymouth home brewer who is helping to organize this year’s contest, scheduled for Saturday.

Home brewers will battle for titles in a dizzying array of categories and subcategories — 98 in all. Think of a beer, any kind of beer — oatmeal stout, Belgian pale ale, Irish red ale, German pilsner, wood-aged beer — and there’s a place for it in the brewoff.

The club, whose playful slogan is “In Search of the Perfect Pint,’’ accepted entries through Friday. The challenge was open to anyone who brews his or her own beer; entries flow in from all over the country, says Rodriguez.

The official taste-testing will take place in a private barn in Mansfield. Each entry will be tasted by two certified judges who will rate the beer on its appearance, aroma, flavor, mouth feel, and overall impression. Ribbons will be awarded to the top three winners in each category.

Rodriguez says he learned how to brew beer at home a few years ago, under the tutelage of his uncle, and he’s been brewing ever since. India pale ales, perhaps better known as IPAs, and stouts are his styles of choice; he’s also made spiced beer and spiced barley wine. He brews the stuff in 10-gallon batches in his garage, using mainly malt, malt extract, hops, yeast, and water. Each batch is ready for consumption in a few weeks; the hard part is in sterilizing the equipment and bottles, cooking the ingredients, getting the liquid to ferment properly, then bottling and allowing it to ferment some more before it becomes drinkable beer.

“I used to do it in the kitchen until my wife kicked me out,’’ Rodriguez said with a chuckle.

The South Shore Brewoff is intended for home brewers only — only beer that’s brewed at home, without any commercial equipment, is eligible — so you won’t see beer companies entering the contest.

Home-brewing a few gallons of beer at a time can be a fun hobby, but running a commercial brewery is a different business entirely, say brewmasters.

Just ask Canton resident Andris Veidis, brewmaster at the Blue Hills Brewery. He can usually be found working with his sleeves rolled up in the production area of the microbrewery, which is tucked away inside a one-story industrial building on Route 138. Veidis is not only the brewmaster, he’s also the chief executive officer of the company.

The microbrewery has the capacity to make 20 barrels at a time, or roughly 620 gallons per batch. It opened its doors in 2008, and its first bottle landed on local shelves in January 2009. The company currently offers six beers: India Pale Ale, Anti-Matter (an American pale ale), Imperial Red IPA (9 percent alcohol by volume), Black Hops, (a dark hybrid ale), Wampatuck Wheat, and Winter Wheat.

The front lobby area of Blue Hills Brewery includes a bar with taps, and tastings are held on Fridays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m. The tastings typically draw a good-sized crowd of thirsty fans who enjoy relatively cheap beer and friendly conversation. (During tastings, the beer is sold at wholesale prices — a 22-ounce bottle costs $3.)

Veidis has 17 years of experience in the “craft beer’’ industry, having studied at the American Brewers Guild and installed breweries in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Florida.

Microbreweries, by definition, are small. The Brewers Association, a national trade organization, uses that term to describe a brewery that produces fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer per year; a regional craft brewery is defined as an independent brewery that produces between 15,000 and 6 million barrels of beer annually. A giant like Anheuser-Busch, however, sells more than 100 million barrels of beer per year.

Veidis describes his brewery — which he co-owns with friends Peter Augis of Westwood and Martin Grots of Jamaica Plain; his son, Talis Veidis; and his father, Mikelis Veidis, of Hillsborough, N.H. — as a company making “community-based, community-minded beer.’’ It recently donated beer for a fund-raiser to benefit a Sharon farmer who had lost his barn in a fire.

It’s a small operation, with a small staff. All the beer bottles are washed, labeled, and capped by hand.

“It’s a labor of love,’’ said office manager Jim O’Neil.

And it’s one that’s growing. In 2009, the microbrewery produced 600 barrels; the following year, output increased to 1,400 barrels. For 2011, Blue Hills expects to produce 2,300 barrels, according to O’Neil.

The company has big plans: It has expanded its lineup, and it just bought a new fermenter and is shopping for a fourth. It is also growing its sales team to get its beers on more shelves on the North Shore, Cape Cod, and in central Massachusetts.

O’Neil said one of the company’s main goals is to become a recognized brand name. The next step to broadening the company’s reach is to expand into Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, another microbrewery south of Boston has just begun distributing out of state. Mayflower Brewing Co., a craft beer maker in Plymouth whose brews can be found in bars, restaurants, and package stores all over Massachusetts, just started selling in Rhode Island this year.

Founded in 2007, Mayflower is also relatively new to the scene, making small batches and small inroads against well-established breweries like Sam Adams and Harpoon, both based in Boston.

But it apparently has the pedigree: The company was founded by Drew Brosseau, who says he’s the “10th great-grandson’’ of John Alden, the beer barrel cooper on board the Pilgrims’ vessel Mayflower. Emblazoned on each Mayflower beer bottle is a quote from another Mayflower passenger, William Bradford, recounting the Pilgrims’ hasty decision to land at Plymouth: “We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.’’

Mayflower’s line of beers includes Pale Ale (its flagship), Golden Ale (its mildest), India Pale Ale (its hoppiest), Porter (its darkest), and a line of limited-edition seasonal brews (the latest: Mayflower Spring Hop Ale, which was introduced last month). The beer is sold in kegs, six-packs, and big glass jugs known as growlers, which get filled to order with 64 ounces of beer from the brewery’s taps.

Brosseau said the company’s venture into Rhode Island was going well so far.

“It’s the first new state for us,’’ he said. “Up until January we were just distributing in Massachusetts, on our own. In Rhode Island we’re using a distributor. It’s our first time with a distributor and our first time in a new state. It’s required a bit of extra work.’’

The first shipment of Mayflower beer landed in the Ocean State during the last week of January, and was delivered to package stores and restaurants across most of the state.

Like Blue Hills Brewery, Mayflower’s facility at 12 Resnik Road is also open to the public for tours and tastings. On Thursdays and Fridays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., visitors can belly up to the shiny wooden bar in the lobby and sip free samples of beer from tiny glasses emblazoned with the company slogan: “Taste the History.’’ Brosseau said Mayflower will hold additional tastings on Saturdays in the summer.

At 6,000 square feet, Mayflower’s brewing facility is twice the size of Blue Hills’. The bottling operation is automated, and Brosseau said he plans to bring in a new bottling line that will quadruple the current bottling speed.

In its first year, Mayflower produced 1,000 barrels (one barrel contains 31 gallons); in its second year, 2,000 barrels; and last year, production was up to 3,500 barrels.

This year, Brosseau is shooting to brew 6,000 barrels. “We’ve been growing fast,’’ he said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

Craft beer brewing
100,000
Estimated number of jobs craft brewers provide — including serving staff in brew pubs — in the country
Craft brewers are defined as small (annual production: 6 million barrels or less), independently owned, and traditional (brewing mainly all-malt beers)
9%
Growth of the craft industry in the first half of 2010 by volume
12%
Growth by retail dollars
Craft brewers sold an estimated 9,115,635 barrels of beer in 2009, up from 8,501,713 in 2008.
One barrel = 31 US gallons
Source: The Brewers Association
Home brewing
750,000
Americans brew beer at home
$80
A basic beginner equipment kit,which typically includes a fermenter, bottling bucket, tubing, hydrometer, bottle-cleaning brush, bottle capper, and caps
$25 to $45
Cost of ingredients per 5-gallon batch, enough for about two cases of 12-ounce bottles (24 bottles per case)
Beer is made with malt extract, malt, hops, yeast, and water. Herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, sugars, unmalted grains, and other ingredients can be added to alter the taste and style of beer
Four weeks
Approximate time it takes to brew beer, depending on the variety
May 7
National Homebrew Day
Source: American Homebrewers Association