With more than 100 breweries in Massachusetts, it’s safe to say that the craft beer revolution that began in the ’80s with the likes of Sam Adams and its founder Jim Koch is flourishing. Bay State beer lovers have never had more ways to drink local, whether at home or at one of the state’s many recently opened taprooms.
But which breweries are putting out the best beverages?
To find out, we used data from BeerAdvocate, the national beer reviewing site based in Boston that also produces a monthly print magazine. We looked at the site’s “Beer Average” — the combined average of every rating left for every beer made by a given brewery — to determine the breweries putting out the best suds, and added a few rule tweaks to reach our final list:
— A brewery has to be currently independently operating to qualify. Enlightenment Ales, a nanobrewery from former Idle Hands brewer Ben Howe, would have made the top 10, but the brewery is on “indefinite hiatus” while Howe works as a head brewer in Denmark. Similarly, Clown Shoes Beer would have made the list, but the brewery was acquired by Harpoon in October 2017.
— We omitted any breweries with fewer than 50 reviews and 100 ratings on BeerAdvocate. Most of these were breweries with only one or two reviews, but Vanished Valley Brewery, a small-batch brewery that opened in the central part of the state in 2016, fell victim to our cutoff, falling a bit short of qualification with 39 reviews. Because the brewery would have tied for third place on our list with an overall rating of 4.2 out of 5, feel free to consider this an honorable mention.
For each brewery on the list, we also selected a “beer of choice” using a combination of the beer’s popularity (its overall rating) and its prevalence (how often it was reviewed compared to other beers from the brewery).
With those provisos in mind, here are the top-rated breweries in Massachusetts.
1. Tree House Brewing in Charlton
Nestled away in Charlton, about an hour’s drive from Boston, Tree House may be unfamiliar to your average beer drinker, if only because its beers are only available at the brewery itself. Nevertheless, thanks to its incredible reputation — the brewery has seven of the top 25 beers in America, according to BeerAdvocate reviewers — fans line up outside the brewery’s retail shop hours before the owners open its doors.
Rating: 4.43 (out of 5).
Beer of choice: Julius, an IPA.
2. Trillium Brewing in Boston
If not for a sign on the sidewalk of Congress Street in Fort Point, it would be easy to miss Trillium. Inside the brewery, a small, thin bar offers just enough space for drinkers to buy growler pours or four-packs of whatever the brewery has available that day. But with a lineup of IPAs that inspire a dedicated fanbase among the most discerning beer drinkers, a recently opened taproom in Canton, and seasonal pop-up beer gardens at the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Roslindale Substation, Trillium is growing both physically and in recognition.
Beer of choice: Double Dry Hopped Congress Street, an IPA.
3. Mystic Brewery in Chelsea
Mystic Brewery has continued to make a name for itself since opening its taproom in 2013. The brewery specializes in Belgian-style saisons, but has branched out to other styles popular among beer snobs, including double IPAs and the extremely high-ABV barleywines. Keep an eye out for its new Malden brewery and taproom in late 2018.
Beer of choice: Flor Ventus, an American wild ale.
4. Building 8 Brewing in Northampton
Most small breweries frequently test out new batches of beer or brew a variety of styles to satisfy the diverse tastes of its clientele. But when the Northampton-based Building 8 opened for business in 2015, it offered just one beer, simply called “The IPA.” By now, the wife and husband founders of BLDG8, Meghan and O’Brian Tomalin, have brewed a few more beverages — The Session and The Double both earn high marks on BeerAdvocate — but their beer strategy remains the same: small batches, simple names, and quality craftsmanship.
Beer of choice: The IPA, an IPA (obviously).
5. Brick and Feather Brewery in Turners Falls
Another brewery from the Pioneer Valley region beginning to make a name for itself is Brick and Feather Brewery. Opened by head brewer Lawrence George (formerly of Cambridge Brewing Co. and Berkshire Brewing) and his wife in 2015, the brewery offers a range of pale ales, IPAs, and Double IPAs. Much like other breweries on this list, Brick and Feather sells the majority of its beer in-house, but occasionally sends beer to a small number of bars listed on its website.
Beer of Choice: In Absentia, an IPA.
6. Flying Dreams Brewing in Worcester
Worcester’s Flying Dreams Brewing is the brainchild of Dave Richardson, who spent years as a master brewer at the Gardner Ale House. Flying Dreams is still a relatively small operation, but the company has a series of highly-rated double IPAs as well as lighter fare, like Dreaming of Summer, a saison.
Beer of Choice: Nightcrawler, an India dark ale.
7. Idle Hands Craft Ales in Malden
Idle Hands owner Chris Tkach told The Boston Globe that the brewery feels at home in Malden, where the brewery moved in 2016 when its Everett location was torn down to build an access road. While Idle Hands has long specialized in Belgian beers, it has broadened its horizons, selling its year-round Four Seam IPA as well as occasionally producing a stronger Six Seam and a lower-ABV Two Seam.
Beer of Choice: Proéme, a farmhouse ale.
8 (tie). Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing in Framingham
After Framingham brewery Jack’s Abby moved to bigger digs across town, longtime brewer Matthew Steinberg started his own line of beers with Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing. Though the company has only been selling beverages since 2016, Exhibit ‘A’ has earned raves for its Demo Tape series of beers and launched a barrel-aged program in October 2016.
Beer of choice: Briefcase Porter, a porter.
8 (tie). Notch Brewing in Salem
In 2010, at a time when the only trend in craft beer was hoppier, higher-ABV brews, Notch founder Chris Lohring went the other way, introducing the Notch Session Pils. Session beers are around 4 percent alcohol by volume, but have a more complex flavor profile than lagers and light beers with similar ABVs, and more and more brewers are starting to make them. Notch is reaping the benefits of the beer’s popularity: The brewery doubled its production in 2016 and announced plans to expand its recently opened taproom in 2017.
Beer of choice: Infinite Jest, an American pale wheat ale.
10. Backlash Beer in Boston
Lagers, pilsners, session ales, and other traditionally low-alcohol beers won’t be found on the menu at Backlash Beer. According to BeerAdvocate, only one of the Boston brewery’s 22 current beers has an ABV below 6.4 percent. Instead, you’ll find a bevy of imperial stouts, IPAs, and double IPAs with names like Hostile Takeover and Death.
Beer of Choice: Resurrection, a Russian imperial stout.