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Brewery Taprooms


Throughout New England, brewery tasting rooms are transforming into taprooms. Visitors have the option of ordering beyond sample tasting sizes; some brewery taprooms even serve food, closely resembling brewpubs. While legislation differs state to state, a growing number of breweries are opting for permits that allow them to pour full pints. 

During construction of Harpoon Brewery’s new tasting room in late 2012, owners Rich Doyle, Dan Kenary realized the law wouldn’t allow customers to order full pints of beer. Working with local legal council, Harpoon’s owners helped to clarify Massachusetts’ Farm Brewers legislation. 

The Farmer Series Pouring permit, which came into law July 2013, allows brewery tasting rooms in the state to function more like taprooms; it allows them to sell full pints of beer as opposed to only 4-ounce samples. 

At Harpoon, the roomy 5,000+ square-foot taproom can hold 300 people – most of them seated at tables and benches made from Vermont butternut trees. 

“The owners have always wanted a German-style beer hall,” said Eric McGowan, Harpoon taproom bartender. “It’s a gathering space for people to come and be social.”

Floor to ceiling windows frame the Boston skyline on one wall, while plexiglass panels allow patrons to watch the kegging production line on another. A small kitchen serves up three varieties of fresh pretzels; the not-so-secret dough recipe including spent grain and IPA in place of water. 

In Framingham, Mass. Jack’s Abby Brewing began pouring pints in January. According to Sam Hendler, one of three brothers and co-owners of the brewery, the ability to pour full pints makes the 45 minute commute from Boston more worthwhile for visitors. 

Taproom bartender Josh Aldenberg said that a combination of both locals and out-of-towners visit the brewery.

“Wednesday through Friday, it’s mostly locals or people that work out here meeting up with co-workers for a beer,” he said. “Saturdays, it’s all walks of life: young, old, college kids, families. It’s definitely our busiest day of the week.” 

The recently renovated 850 square-foot taproom features a bar with 5 stools, and bourbon barrels placed throughout the room act as table tops. An elbow-high side rail runs the perimeter of the room and offers additional surface to rest a pint of beer. Aldenberg described the space as being warmed by the wood and copper accents throughout the room; reminiscent of European abbey-style pubs. 

Variations of the Farmer Series Pouring Permit exist in Massachusetts’ neighboring states. Permits in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York were introduced just within the last few years – a testament to the growing trend in brewery taprooms on the East Coast. 

With a Second Class License, the taproom at Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater, Vermont, has been pouring pints since the 1990’s. Although the taproom is impressive, Manager of Retail Operations at Long Trail and Otter Creek Brewing (Middlebury, VT) Garrett Mead, says the best vantage point is from the catwalk above the bottling line on brew day. 

“It’s really a show,” said Mead. “The guys are working, the bottling line is going. Kids go up there with their parents and get a bird’s eye view of the whole place.” 

“We’ve definitely become a destination,” Mead added. “In the summer, there’s a deck with outdoor seating. In the winter, we have a heated tent next to the river and a fire pit. It’s geared toward people who want to check out the brewery, but also for people who want to come and have lunch.”

Long Trail’s kitchen is open 11 – 7 daily, and offers a menu of traditional pub fare. It’s not a license requirement for the brewery to serve food, but Mead says offering it is “good hospitality.” 

In Orono, Maine, Black Bear Brewing Company is working with a local business to supply its patrons with wood-fired pizza. Luckily, owner and brewer Tim Gallon has a good relationship with his pizza supplier and former employer, Bear Brew Pub. 

“I started at the Bear Brew Pub 10 years ago as an alternating brewery proprietor. 6 years ago, we moved the brew house and opened Black Bear Brewing Company. As it got more popular, people wanted a tasting room,” said Gallon. “People wanted to come here, sit, and have pints.” 

If a brewery in Maine wants to sell full pints on-site, it must apply for a Restaurant License. Essentially, the brewery’s taproom could operate as a fully functioning restaurant; the requirements being that food is available, and the brewery is entirely separate from the taproom. However the only beer visitors will find at Gallon’s taproom is Black Bear, pouring from eight taps. 

The taproom is a cozy, communal space complete with a 15-stool bar, 5 tables with chairs, and a small stage for live music. Local bluegrass/folk band Old Time Machine is considered the “house band,” and plays on Thursday nights. The Bear Brew Pub, located around the corner from Black Bear, supplies the taproom with pizzas, which are sold at $1 a slice. The 10-barrel brewery creates one-off brews only available at the taproom, and has a mug club with 40 members. 

Black Bear’s regulars include students and professors from the nearby University of Maine. There’s a pull-down projector screen in the taproom for whenever there’s a UMaine hockey game on. 

Similar to the law in Maine, New Hampshire breweries can only sell full pints on-site if they also offer a food menu. The license is called a Nanobrewery/Restaurant Permit, and so far, Portsmouth-based Earth Eagle Brewery is the only one who has it.

“You can only get our beer here. We don’t have bar accounts and we’re not in bottle shops. The idea was, if we’re selling everything on property, then why shouldn’t we try to sell full pints?” said Alex McDonald, co-owner and brewer at Earth Eagle. “We’re growing in the direction of being more of a brewpub.” The 2-barrel brewery obtained its license to sell food and full pints in February 2014. 

“We have an awesome synergy with restaurants around us,” said McDonald. Popper’s Artisanal Meats in nearby Dover, NH supplies hotdogs, brats, turkey breast, duck pastrami, and various fermented vegetables for the brewery’s kitchen. Chef Evan Mallet from Portsmouth’s Black Trumpet Bistro makes soups and stews. Earth Eagle’s sandwich menu is on par with some of the best restaurants in town. 

In Connecticut, pieces from two different licenses were combined to amend the state’s full liquor license, and Broad Brook Brewing of East Windsor is one of the newest breweries pouring pints because of it. 

“It used to be either you were a manufacturer and could only give tastings, or you had a brewpub license and you had to have a liquor license and sell food,” explained co-owner Eric Mance. “Now with a full liquor license, we can sell for on-premise consumption with or without food.”

Broad Brook opened in October 2013 and brews on a 15 barrel system. And although they’re not required to serve food, several different restaurants cater with appetizers for “Thirsty Thursdays”, when the brewery runs pint specials. Co-owner Tim Rossing said the taproom goes through roughly 40 barrels a month by way of a growler-filling machine and 8 to 10 rotating taps. 

Other breweries in Connecticut with the liquor license include Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Half Full Brewery in Stamford, and Firefly Hollow Brewing in Bristol. 

On the Eastern tip of Long Island, Greenport Harbor Brewing is one of several newly-licensed farm breweries in New York state. The Farm Brewer License, which went into effect January 2013, is available to brewers who utilize at least 20% of New York-grown ingredients to be considered a Farm Brewer. Farm brewers can sell their product for on-site consumption. 

In addition to sourcing local ingredients, Greenport Harbor’s co-founders John Liegey and Rich Vandenburgh are growing 4 acres of winter malting barley across the street from the brewery. About two months ago, they obtained a Farm Brewer’s License and began serving full pints. 

“I don’t think there’s a better experience than having a beer at the place it’s made,” said Liegey. “And because we’re small breweries, we’re really all about that experience. It’s nice to be able to offer it [pints].”

The 5-year-old brewery is preparing for an expansion, and Liegey said it will put them on course to produce 54,000 barrels annually. The taproom at the new space will be significantly larger, and there are plans to eventually build a kitchen. 

BREWERIES IN RHODE ISLAND ARE ANTICIPATING THE APPROVAL OF A FARM BREWER’S LICENSE. Senate Bill 2110 and companion House Bill 7718 aim to closely mimic Rhode Island’s Farm Winery License, which allows for on-site sales and consumption. Matthew Richardson, co-owner of Rhode Island’s first hop farm, Ocean State Hops, and brewer of the up-and-coming Tilted Barn Brewery, worked with Senator Dawson Hodgson to draft the bill. 

The bill is similar to New York’s Farm Brewer’s license, and stipulates that for a brewer to qualify as a farm brewer they have to utilize a percentage of ingredients from Rhode Island. However, the amount of arable land in the state is a fraction of what New York has, and as a result, the breweries that could qualify for the license would be nano in size. 

“With the percentage requirement, the size that the farm breweries would be able to be would be relatively small, which is what i think they want to be anyway,” said Richardson. “You’re not going to see 60-barrel breweries. Its going to be more like 10 to 15-barrels.” 

Regardless if the Farmer Brewer’s bill passes, Tilted Barn Brewery is planning its debut this summer. The brewery will be housed in a barn built in the early 1900’s situated on Ocean State Hops farm. The brewhouse will occupy the first floor, and the tasting room and retail space will overlook the brewery. Brewery tours would begin in the hop fields. 

“The idea of the farm brewer’s license is to promote agricultural enterprises and small businesses,” said Senator Hodgson. On-site sales and consumption of beer not only provide the biggest profit margins, but brewers agree: a pint of beer is best enjoyed at its source. 


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