We spent this past weekend exploring towns in the heart of Western Massachusetts and had the BEST time. "The Other Side of Massachusetts" as their tourism board nicknames Hampshire County, swooped in like a breath of fresh air to claim my affections. I came to the conclusion early on after we'd checked into our hotel on the quaint Amherst Square and set off biking on the picturesque Norwottuck Rail Trail that I'd been missing out all this time.
Along the former Boston & Maine Railroad The Norwottuck Branch Rail Trail is an 11-mile path linking Belchertown, Amherst, Hadley and Northampton. It weaves through beautiful green farm land with grazing cows and poignantly crosses the Connecticut River via a massive steel lattice truss bridge. We biked the trail for 8 miles and then a mile through Northampton streets where we stopped in for lunch at Northampton Brewery, scoring a seat on the sun-drenched top tier of their spacious beer garden. Our lunch was solid - we shared beer battered Catfish Bites ($9), the Green Mountain Burger ($12.25), and a beautiful Chopped Kale + Cranberry Salad ($10) with cabbage, green apple, garbanzo beans, blue cheese and bacon, alongside thirst quenching pints: Spring Fling IPA, Blue Boots IPA, and a Deckbier Pale Ale.
Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail connects to Northampton’s city system and the Norwottuck Rail Trail so from here we continued the journey with ease for another six miles to check out Easthampton's brewery scene. Located in a 1910 historic mill building - Abandoned Building Brewery was a challenge to find. In thinking that keeping it hidden / underground was the point - we were assured by the lovely Kimaya who poured our beers that it's actually the landlord who has been stalling to put a proper sign out front for the last year. Thankfully there is a sign in the back parking lot and the brewery entrance doors are just around the main vestibule. Entering into a dimly lit - open concept interior, a mismatch of furniture from upholstered couches, futons and even a papasan chair lends a college apartment feel to the lofty space. A small reclaimed wood tasting counter fronts the shiny brewery tanks.
Incorporating hops from their own local hop yard, barley malts from Valley Malt in Hadley, plus the high quality Easthampton drinking water - brewer Matt Tarlecki specializes in crafting Belgian farmhouse ales and hoppy American beers. We were big fans of the Dirty Girl IPA, Lola's Saison and the spring seasonal: Trap Door Tripel. Fun Fact: Matthew named his brewery prior to locating the space after his love of exploring abandoned buildings. I guess it all worked out well for him, these old mills are about as abandoned as you can get (the space next to them is a recording studio, but the five floors above are empty.)
You encounter quite a few buildings like this out here in Western, MA - driving in from off the Pike and along certain parts of bike trail - the deserted, mysterious, Walking Dead type vibe really transports you.
I had spotted New City Brewery from the Manhan bike trail so I knew our next stop was a just across the parking lot. Here, in a game changing effort Brewmaster Sam Dibble crafts a flagship alcoholic Jamaican-style ginger beer. We arrived to the bustling, light filled, exposed brick tap room and snagged two stools in the corner of the reclaimed Fenway Park (!) bar, where manager Devin hooked.it.up. The signature ginger beer mimosa flight really took our day to the next level: ginger beer straight up - orange - grapefruit - passionfruit - lemonade - and a mule (lime). The distinctive zip of ginger lends a spicy, effervescent bite, complimented by subtle notes of pineapple, lemon and molasses with a clean, crisp finish. New City's crown jewel is a fantastic brew. With an increase in demand, look for bottled four packs now being distributed throughout New England.
We had a delicious beer flight as well: Connecticut River Kolsch - Minuteman Pale Ale - Signature IPA, Fenway Froth - King Phillip's Imperial Stout - and Hand Crafted Ginger Soda (non Alcoholic). My favorite was the CT River Kolsch - a light bodied and true easy drinker with a pleasant bitterness lent from German noble hops. We also loved the Fenway Froth - a single malt, single hop (S.M.A.S.H.) bright, golden ale featuring Golden Promise Scottish Barley and Equinox Hops.
We had such a happy, gorgeous day discovering The Other Side of Massachusetts! Hampshire County makes for an easy day trip from Boston and surrounding suburbs. I was glad we decided to stay longer though - more on our overnight up next!
11 Brewster Court
Northampton, MA 01060
142 Pleasant Street
Easthampton, MA 01027
180 Pleasant Street
Easthampton, MA 01027