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New England’s Top Five Craft Beers

MET’s Sandy Block on the best regional brews


Summer, in the words of that great philosopher Nat King Cole, is “those days of soda and pretzels and beer.” Sandy Block knows a lot about that last option. A Metropolitan College gastronomy lecturer and vice president of beverage at Boston-based Legal Sea Foods, Block has taught the Foundation of Beer and Spirits class since 2012. He knows people’s palates are different, and so his following list of the top five New England brews is more about style than quality, he says. He personally prefers malty and rich beers—though in summer he does gravitate to crisper-tasting beverages. “I don’t like waiting on line with an empty growler,” he says, “so I’ve never actually tried some of the cult local brews that are released in miniscule qualities.”

Can of Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Photo courtesy of The Boston Beer Company

1. Samuel Adams Boston Lager (Boston, Mass.) “The granddaddy of craft, it’s one of those beautifully balanced beers that tastes so consistently good we tend to forget it in the rush to experience the latest and greatest new flavor every week. I’m a big fan of the more understated central European noble hops that they use, and there’s a grainy, caramel note that harmonizes nicely with the delicate spice. Reliable doesn’t do it justice, but it is.”

Bottle of Allagash White

Photo courtesy of Allagash Brewing Company

2. Allagash White (Portland, Me.) “What I love so much about this Belgian-style witbier is its creamy frothy texture (imparted by the high percentage of unmalted wheat in the mash bill) and subtle lemon and coriander notes. It’s got a savory undertone of tartness that screams summertime and makes it a great foil for fish or seafood.”

Can of Notch Session Pils

Photo courtesy of Notch Brewing

3. Notch Session Pils (Salem, Mass.) “For pure refreshment value during the dog days, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than this light, fresh, crisp pilsner-style lager. It has good, pronounced bitter notes and strong carbonation, which combine to refresh your palate. Chill this down and have two; its low alcohol content (4 percent) makes it a fine choice to serve at a party.”

Bottle of Jack’s Abby Bourbon Barrel–Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter Ale

Photo courtesy of Jack’s Abby Brewing

4. Jack’s Abby Bourbon Barrel–Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter Ale (Framingham, Mass.) “I absolutely love the Baltic Porter style: rich, malty, with dried fruit, chocolate, and roasted espresso notes. It’s not exactly a typical summer brew, but this one is really delicious. Aging in used bourbon barrels adds a toasted vanilla character that makes this lush, dark, fruit-flavored beer even more irresistible.”

Bottle of Berkshire Brewing Coffeehouse Porter

Photo courtesy of Berkshire Brewing Company

5. Berkshire Brewing Coffeehouse Porter (South Deerfield, Mass.) “This ale is rich and intense, with organic coffee added to the recipe. Its flavors impart a little bit more of a bitter kick to the slightly sweet maltiness. Medium-to-full-bodied, it’s great at the end of a meal with some dark, bittersweet chocolate. But then again, what isn’t?”

Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

17 Comments on New England’s Top Five Craft Beers

  • David Somers on 07.18.2017 at 5:21 am

    The best beer on this list is not even a top 50 New England Craft Beer. Treehouse, Trillium, Maine Beer Company, Hill Farmstead, Bissell Brothers and Clown Shoes each make multiple beers that are better than any on this list.

    Allagash and Jack’s Abby are excellent craft brewers and those two beers are solid choices. Just nowhere near the top 5.

    • MG on 07.18.2017 at 10:25 am

      Excellent list, David!

    • Frank on 07.18.2017 at 10:29 am

      My thoughts exactly…Sam Adams a top “craft beer”, ha.

    • John White on 07.18.2017 at 10:41 am

      Thanks David. I’ll treat you to a pint any one of the 100+ local beers that are clearly better than Sam Adams Lager. Many of these can be found within 2 miles of campus.

      • Shelby-Lynn on 07.21.2017 at 11:55 am

        I am in total agreeance with this comment. I work for a local brewery which has opened my eyes to the amazing local craft beer we have in Boston. This list falls short especially when Sam Adams (which is mainly brewed out of PA now) is on the top of the list.

    • Jon on 07.18.2017 at 1:07 pm

      Totally agree with your comment. Second ‘top NE beers’ list I have seen this week that is way off mark. Not to say that the beers listed are bad… just not the Best.

    • Caleb Hellegers on 07.20.2017 at 7:28 am

      I agree with David here. The best beer I’ve ever had is a fresh Maine Brewing Co. “Lunch.”

  • Ian on 07.18.2017 at 7:16 am

    Kudos for reaching past 495 to BBC, but if you haven’t endured the 90 minute wait at Treehouse Brewing (Monson/Charlton), then you can’t even begin to discuss top 5!


  • Alternate on 07.18.2017 at 7:17 am

    This list is amateur hour.

    How about an IPA? Night shift has a few. Have you been to Cisco brewery? Amazing beers, indie is great, locals only even better.
    How is harpoon not on this list? Notch should be cut.

  • Larry Kohn on 07.18.2017 at 7:42 am

    Hi Rich,
    Please try something/anything from Trillium Brewing and Tree House in Monson/Charlton and then see if anything changes on your list. I’ll try yours.

  • MV on 07.18.2017 at 10:11 am

    <3 Smuttynose

  • Phil Harmstead on 07.18.2017 at 10:28 am

    Great list for 2001!

  • Also a Beer Nerd on 07.18.2017 at 12:49 pm

    Wow, I love a good and hard-to-get NEIPA as much as anyone, but I don’t take issue with someone who might not know about them yet. If someone loves Sam Adams, then great. LET PEOPLE ENJOY THINGS!!!

    • let them drink on 07.20.2017 at 7:14 am

      I totally agree with your sentiment as I think all of the beers listed are fantastic on their day. However the author is inviting these comments by calling an article the “top 5 craft beers” and then listing 3 beers that are found in gas stations across the northeast. 5+ years ago it would have been a much more fitting title.

  • Tyrone Porter on 07.18.2017 at 9:33 pm

    In addition to an exhaustive IPA list the dark beers at Trillium are amazing (Pot & Kettle is rated as one of the best Porters money can buy) and they have a barrel aging program that is first rate. Moreover they have a beer garden on the Greenway this summer so you don’t have to wait in long lines for growler fills to sample their amazing brew. In addition to Nightshift I suggest trying anything from Mystic.

  • Dean Cycon on 07.19.2017 at 10:56 am

    Thanks for the shout out to BBC Coffeehouse Porter. We were the first coffee porter on the market 21 years ago and still put out a great beer. Drink deep, me hearties!

  • LarryO on 07.19.2017 at 4:11 pm

    Right up front in the article, Sandy says his list is more about the different styles of beer that he prefers, and he is intentionally ignoring cult beers that are hard to find, or so small that you can’t easily find them.

    That said, maybe IPAs are not his style. I know that I can’t drink them, even though I tend to enjoy just about every style of beer out there. I grew up in the era where the most exotic beers available were Beck’s and Heineken. Back then, you had a 50-50 chance that either of those two would be skunked.

    When beers like Pete’s Wicked Ale, and Sam Adams showed up, I quickly developed a taste for good beer, and have never looked back since those early days.

    Sandy’s picks are a good start for somebody who has never had anything other than the beers in the Bud/Miller/Coors families.

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