If there is such a thing as craft beer royalty on the North Shore it is Ipswich Ale. Founded in 1991, the brand rode the wave of the first microbrew explosion. A quaint time when as Denis Leary profanely ranted, Pete’s Wicked Ale and its variants were seemingly everywhere. Thankfully Ipswich Ale had more staying power than Pete. The brand withstood being sold, brewed out of Baltimore, the microbrew market crashing, being reacquired by current owner Rob Martin, production moving back to Ipswich, and a protracted move to their new facility.
In the past Ipswich Ale’s beers didn’t necessarily all taste the same, but when you had one you knew it was from Ipswich Ale. As with other older New England craft brewers like Geary’s and Shipyard, Ipswich Ale’s beers all had a very strong English influence. The flagship Ipswich Ale is an English Pale Ale, the IPA is malty like an English IPA even though it is hopped with American hops, and Ipswich Summer is essentially an English Golden Ale. In a marketplace obsessed with hop-bombs or what’s rare, Ipswich Ale’s beers were starting to become under-appreciated.
Now that Ipswich Ale has finished the move and has settled in to the new brewery, they have focused on releasing several new beers in recent months. The Route 101 IPA is a very good and unmistakable West Coast IPA. They have also jumped on the lawnmower beer bandwagon by coming out with S.I.P.A, which is one of the most flavorful and full-bodied session IPAs I have had. The Hop Harvest is at the fore of an emerging trend I wholly support of breweries coming out with hoppy ales in the fall as opposed to pumpkin beer. My only regret is that they didn’t call the beer something else and offer it year-round. If they can have two IPAs, why not two pale ales?
We visited the brewery on Valentine’s Day for a tour and tasting of Ipswich Ale’s new spring seasonal offering, a saison called Revival. Whereas the last few releases by Ipswich Ale were definitively American, Revival has a similar flavor profile to Ipswich Ale’s older offerings while still being a departure for the brewery as their first Belgian-style ale. Aggressively hopped, it has the same Williamette/Fuggle-like hop flavor and aroma I associate with an Ipswich Ale beer. This is nicely accenuated by the phenols from the yeast which give Revival plenty of authenticity. Saison is a broad style open to intrepretation. Revival is the saison I would envision Ipswich Ale making.
The tour of the brewery and learning about the brand was interesting. If you go on enough brewery tours, and know how beer is made, the mystery is already gone. Now when I go on brewery tours I look for things like what ingredients are lying around, what temperature the beer ferments at, or what yeast is in the fermenter. The facility in Ipswich is quite large as Ipswich Ale does a fair bit of contract brewing. When the long-awaited brewpub finally opens I hope they have all of the beer they brew under contract on tap like Clown Shoes, Notch, and White Lion, as well as Ipswich Ale products.
This was the fourth or fifth event in the past year I have been to either at the brewery, or where the tabmobiles were pouring. Not only has this given me a chance to try Ipswich Ale’s new products, but also to circle back to the older stuff too. At the Newbury Bonfire I tried the Winter Ale for the first time in two years. Having it again it reminded me a little of another personal favorite, Geary’s HSA. Having several pints reminded me of the folly of judging a beer based on a two ounce pour. Sometimes you have to spend more time with a beer than just a small sample. For a winter beer it was quite drinkable and only got better as the night wore on.
My inspiration as a brewer and beer lover is the importance of finding the right balance between drinking and/or brewing what you like with stepping out of your comfort zone. Ipswich Ale previously would experiment with one-offs through the 5 Mile series, but recently they have branched out beyond their traditional English-inspired offerings. As a brewer I know I have probably swung too far the other way in the past, but my last three batches have all been re-brews. My hope is that the improved focus will help me grow as a brewer.
As a beer drinker I have made it a point to circle back to old favorites like Ipswich Ale. This week I couldn’t find two beers I was looking for and instead bought two beers from Pretty Things I was overdue to circle back to, Saint Botolph’s Town and Jack D’Or. Too many beer drinkers are caught up in the hype of what’s new or what’s rare that they look past excellent beers that are available every day.