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 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.
— 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 Brick and Feather Brewery, a small operation that opened in the western part of the state in 2015, fell victim to our cutoff, just missing qualification with 47 reviews. Because the brewery would have placed third on the list with an overall rating of 4.27 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 Monson
Nestled away in the small town of Monson (population: 8,560), about a 90-minute 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 three of the top five beers in America, according to BeerAdvocate reviewers — fans line up outside the brewery’s retail shop hours before the owners open its doors.
Rating: 4.41 (out of 5).
Beer of choice: Good Morning, an imperial stout.
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 and a newly opened taproom in Canton, Trillium is growing both physically and in recognition.
Beer of choice: Double Dry Hopped Congress Street, an IPA.
3. 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).
4. Clown Shoes Beer in Ipswich
A bottle of Clown Shoes, brewed in Ipswich, looks almost as good as it tastes. That’s because each new beer is bottled with a beautiful comic-style illustration on the outside, telling the story of fantasy heroes like “Genghis Pecan” on the Pecan Pie Porter or the planet-hopping “Miracle Mike” and his canine sidekick, Bionic, on the label of the Space Cake Double IPA.
Beer of choice: Breakfast Exorcism, an American imperial stout.
5. 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 been selling beverages for less than a year, Exhibit A has earned raves for its Demo Tape series of beers and launched a barrel-aged program this past fall.
Beer of choice: Briefcase Porter, a porter.
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. Night Shift Brewing in Everett
The Everett brewery that started out as a small-time operation in an industrial area of the city now routinely fills its gigantic Santilli Highway taproom on weekends. The company also hired a former Boston Beer Company executive to be its CFO and has plans to double its production. Not bad for a brewery that just turned 5 in March.
Beer of choice: El Lechedor (Apple Brandy Barrel Aged), a milk stout.
8. Mystic Brewery in Chelsea
Just more than two miles away from Night Shift, 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.
Beer of choice: Flor Ventus, an American wild ale.
9. Castle Island Brewing in Norwood
Despite a name and logo that suggest a location deep inside Fort Independence in South Boston, Castle Island is actually based in Norwood. The brewery offers beers with names that will bring a smile of familiarity to a Bostonian’s face—think Candlepin and Causeway—and has become increasingly ubiquitous at Boston-area bars and liquor stores.
Beer of choice: Big Ern, a double IPA.
10. 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 last year and announced plans to expand its recently opened taproom.
Beer of choice: Infinite Jest, an American pale wheat ale.