Local craft breweries become important destinations
By Doug Karlson
It’s Saturday afternoon and the tap room at Devil’s Purse Brewery in South Dennis is buzzing. Craft beer enthusiasts sample popular beers like Handline Kölsch or Surfman’s Check ESB, while others dash in to pick up a growler (or two) to take home. For many, it’s become a weekend ritual.
“We like to check out local craft breweries,” says Bobby Bishop, visiting from South Hadley. “I think it’s great.”
Greg Menafo, a home brewer visiting from Lunenberg, agrees. Wherever he goes, he seeks out local craft brews. “I like beer, and this is one of the best.”
According to Jeremy Duffy, co-founder of Isle Brewing in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the first wave of the craft beer movement included breweries like Anchor Steam, Harpoon, and Sam Adams. He says we’re now experiencing the next wave of craft beer. It’s a craze driven by consumers, and their desire for three attributes in their beer: quality, local, and fresh.
Devil’s Purse, which recently celebrated its second anniversary, is just one of a number of craft breweries now thriving on the Cape and in Plymouth County. Cape Cod Beer, the first craft brewery on the Cape, opened in Hyannis is 2004. Others include Hog Island Beer in Orleans, Mayflower Beer and Indie Ferm in Plymouth, and Farmer Willie’s Craft Ginger Beer in Truro.
“Back in the ’90s, we were beer geeks,” says Beth Marcus, co-founder, with her husband Todd, of Cape Cod Beer. “Now it’s become a mainstream thing. Breweries have become like wineries.”
So, could beer be to Cape Cod and Plymouth what wine is to Napa Valley?
Perhaps to a degree. With multiple breweries crafting a variety of quality brews and flavors, Cape Cod is becoming a beer destination.
According to Matt Belson, co-founder with Mike Segerson of Devil’s Purse, “People are now accustomed to really good beer from local craft breweries. Whenever they visit someplace, the top of their list is finding out if there are any local craft breweries.”
When he started his Chatham restaurant, Red Nun, 14 years ago, Mike Giorgio says there wasn’t much demand for craft beer. That’s no longer the case.
“The craft beer movement has exploded,” he says. “People want local beer, it’s an easy sell.”
To meet demand, when he opened his second location in Dennisport three years ago, Giorgio had 20 taps installed. He now serves Cape Cod Beer, Devil’s Purse, Hog Island, and Farmer Willie’s.
“It’s a pretty easy call for us, we sell a ton of it,” says Giorgio. He notes that Devil’s Purse IPA sells “like crazy,” but rather than stick to a single favorite, he prefers to vary the selection because customers like to sample different flavors and one-off or seasonal brews. “They also like funky varieties,” he says.
Devil’s Purse brewery is located nearby in an industrial park on Great Western Road. That allows the brewery to easily deliver experimental batches to be tried by customers at the Red Nun at special pint nights and cask nights.
Belson thinks the farm-to-table and local food movement are feeding the craft beer craze. Devil’s Purse embraces that movement by collaborating with local farmers and growers. They use a variety of local oysters, most recently from Cotuit Oyster Co., to flavor their Intertidal Oyster Stout, and purchase Japanese shiso leaf, thimbleberries, and raspberries for flavoring from Punkhorn Farm in Brewster. (The farm, in turn, accepts compost material from the brewery.)
Paul Nixon, co-founder with Rose Forbes of IndieFerm Brewing in Plymouth, has also tapped into the local food movement. The malts and hops he uses are grown locally, and he recently began growing his own hops on two acres of farmland protected by Wildlands Trust.
Like many craft breweries, IndieFerm began as a kitchen hobby.
“It became an obsession,” recalls Nixon, a former environmental engineer at Mass Military Reservation. Spurred by demand for his home brew, in 2014, after obtaining the necessary permits, Nixon and Forbes began brewing in the basement of his barn, and selling his beer.
A year and a half later the brewery moved to its present location at Camelot Industrial Park where it now produces 400 barrels a year, in eight varieties. The brewery has a tap room and services about 30 draft accounts and 25 stores. It’s looking to expand to a new location and increase production to 1,000 barrels.
Similar to IndieFerm, Devil’s Purse has its origins in the kitchens of its founders. After several years of experimentation and attending craft beer conferences and conventions, Belson and Segerson opened Devils’ Purse two years ago. Their beers have become so popular (last year they produced 750 barrels, and this year expect to increase to several thousand) the brewery added more brewing equipment, and also partnered with Isle Brewers Guild in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to produce and can greater quantities of their most popular beers.
Now able to meet demand, in April Devil’s Purse signed with a distributor, Colonial Wholesale Beverage. That arrangement has allowed them to expand their footprint. Devil’s Purse is now available in more than 100 stores and pubs on the Cape, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Bristol County and most of Plymouth County.
“Every week we’re adding new accounts,” says Belson.
In addition to focusing on superior ingredients, Segerson says the brewery is committed to experimentation, which has helped generate interest in their beers. “It’s fun for customers to come back to the tasting room and say ‘OK, there are four different beers I’ve never had.’”
“We strive to make very approachable styles that appeal to both first-time craft beer drinkers and die-hard aficionados, a broad range of people,” adds Belson.
The most well-established brewery on the Cape, Cape Cod Beer produces 6,000 barrels per year, and self distributes to about 525 liquor stores, restaurants and pubs from Provincetown to Duxbury.
“Business is great,” says Marcus. But she says the field is getting more crowded. “There are a lot of brewers out there,” she says, noting that there were just about 1,000 craft breweries in the country when they started. Now there are about 6,000.
“There’s a lot of beer out there, but people want to try local things,” she says.
Cape Cod Beer makes 100 percent of their beer in its brewery on Phinney’s Lane. It produces four year-round brews, Beach Blond, Cape Cod Red, IPA, and Porter, as well as a number of seasonal beers, like a Summer Ale and OctoberFest beer.
One-offs are increasingly important, says Marcus.
“One of the challenges we have as a 13-year-old brewery is that people love our beer just the way it is, but everyone wants new stuff too. So how do you keep everyone happy?”
The solution is to offer local collaborations and monthly pilot releases like CentenniALE for the JFK centenary, Hoppy Cream Ale made with Plimoth Plantation corn, or Beekeeper’s Honey Saison for the Barnstable Beekeepers Association.
Despite the increasing number of breweries in the region, competition is described as friendly, and the craft brew industry has a strong sense of community.
When they were first starting out, other brewers were generous with advice and encouragement, say Belson and Segerson. They, in turn, are happy to “pay it forward.” When Hog Island was starting up at the Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans, Segerson says, they were happy to help them by providing both advice and grains.
Marcus agrees. “Everyone is doing their own thing, but we’re cordial. The industry has a general attitude of collegiality, especially in the production process. One of the reasons we got into this industry is because we like the way craft breweries treat each other.”
Still, she says, it’s not an industry without challenges. “Eight out of 10 people still buy Bud, Coors, or Miller, and craft beer is fighting for what’s left.”
“The beer market as a whole isn’t growing. Some of the big guys aren’t going to sit around and watch their slice of the pie shrink, so they’re buying craft breweries,” notes Marcus.
In its most recent statewide analysis conducted in 2014, the Brewers Association, a national trade organization headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, reported that craft beer’s economic impact in Massachusetts totaled more than $1.4 billion, and ranked 14th in the nation.
Nationally, in 2016, beer sales totaled $107.6 billion, and craft beer accounted for $23.5 billion. Measured by barrel volume, craft beer makes up just 12.3 percent of the market. While overall, total beer sales in the U.S. did not increase year-over-year in 2016, craft beer sales grew 6.2 percent, and imported beer sales increased 6.8 percent.
With the growth in craft beer’s segment of the market, says Nixon, “tap lines have been noticeably harder to get.”
In addition, says Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Mass Brewers Guild, “pay to play” practices can give large breweries unfair advantages, depriving small craft breweries from access to store shelves. Fearful of losing market share, large breweries have also begun introducing new products to compete directly with small craft beers.
According to Stinchon, there are now more than 122 craft breweries in the state of Massachusetts, with 30 more slated to open soon. The craft beer landscape is expanding so rapidly, she says, that the guild’s soon to be released Beer Trail Map is available only as a mobile app, so it can be easily updated.
Despite the growing number of craft breweries, Stinchon says there’s no shortage of beer makers willing to start a new craft brewery. “I think there are a lot of people who have been home brewing for a very long time and they’re incredibly passionate about it. They’re seeing the growth in the industry and thinking it’s a great time to jump in.”
Municipalities see opportunity as well. The guild’s mission is to promote craft beer, educate new and fledgling brewers, and represent their interests in state government. As such, Stinchon says that towns and cities throughout the state regularly reach out to her organization for help attracting craft beer start-ups in order to help stimulate distressed neighborhoods.
“They can see the direct impact it has revitalizing a downtown community or bringing employment opportunities,” she says. To help new breweries succeed, the guild also offers “new brewery boot camps” and ongoing training.
Helping the local economy is a concept that has guided Cape Cod Beer, says Marcus. Cape Cod Beer employs 20 full-time year-round employees, and 10 full-time summer employees, and Marcus says Cape Cod Beer is committed to helping the local economy, and providing good local jobs.
“I want to see us grow the economy here, so more people have year-round jobs. When you buy a case of Budweiser, that money goes to Belgium,” says Marcus.
Belson would like to see craft beer continue to impact the local economy, and maintains there’s still room for growth.
“Not just for us but for other breweries as well,” he says. “Think about it, how many pizza joints are there in New York City? How many fried fish and lobster places are there on the Cape? There’s certainly room to grow.”
Ultimately, that growth will come down to the people who actually drink craft beer.
Mark Stallsmith, the president of the Cape Cod Lager and Ale Makers Society, a club dedicated to home brewing that meets regularly at Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis, says his club has seen a marked increase in new members.
“Emphatically, there’s definitely a growing interest in craft beer. Every time I go into the liquor store to see what’s there, I see something I didn’t see before.”
“As craft beer becomes more out there and people are exposed to it more, they’re starting to realize that there are a lot of different flavors and experiences over and above what has been available,” says Stallsmith.
He noted that the bulk of the beer for decades has been limited to light Pilsners, but now the variety has exploded. Just as wine experienced a surge in interest, now it’s beer’s time for people to realize there’s more to it.
“Some of us are saying, ‘It’s about time!’”
According to Duffy, it’s a craze that’s here to stay. “It’s just too ingrained in our DNA now.”
Craft beer’s secret weapon: Isle Brewers Guild
Craft breweries are, by nature, small operations. With demand for craft beer on the upswing, these businesses often lack the resources to fully meet demand. For Jeremy Duffy and Devin Kelly, co-founders of Isle Brewers Guild, high demand and limited capacity equaled a business opportunity.
“We were amazed by the exponential growth of craft beer,” explains Duffy, noting that there are now more breweries in the United States than at any time in history.
With backgrounds in the alcoholic beverage industry, Duffy and Kelly decided to establish a partnership brewery in a 131,000-square-foot facility in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. They built in 2016 and opened earlier this year and are now one of the largest craft breweries in New England.
Isle Brewers Guild offers state-of-the-art equipment and packaging, and work with five craft breweries including Narragansett Beer’s craft beer portfolio, Devil’s Purse, and Farmer Willie’s.
“Our job is replication,” explains Duffy. “We work together with their brewing staff, exactly to their specification.”
For Devil’s Purse, he says, “they’ve absolutely exploded and have become a favorite on the Cape, they needed to get more out there.”
What do they look for in a brewery?
“The liquid has to be great. The story has to be great. They have to be good business partners.”