The new “king” of the tap rises in Lowell
Matt Siopes is Cobblestones’ brew master. Photo by Tory Germann.
By Scott Plath
More years ago than I care to admit, when pop’s chilled beers were stocked so it was less likely he would notice one gone missing, I recall knowing what the brouhaha was all about — that cold, refreshing quaff, the bubbly reward to match the rush created by my “pick.” What I do not recall, however, was noting any difference between the Schmidt’s, the Rheingold or the Ballantine.
Armed with crappy fake IDs, the same issue was evident when high school friends and I debated Heineken vs Michelob before a night of mischief and ballyhoo.
At UMass, we mulled over so many more “good” options: Bush, Coors, Natural Light, Keystone for a minute…and for special occasions like Toots and the Maytals, St. Pauli Girl. I remember voicing preferences “just cuz,” ignorant even to what a pilsner actually was. Hell, did we know it was “yellow” back then? It was all good enough, especially for a guy who liked solving the Haffenreffer puzzles and thought MD 20-20 was an amazing bargain for an early evening aperitif! Seriously, would Hendrix, Dylan or The Stones have sounded less excellent, with better, more slowly consumed beer?
I think not.
Lowell craves the creative flavors and artisan touch of beer made in smaller batches.
Nearly ten years after college, my wife, Kathy, and I opened Cobblestones restaurant in a city where it was pretty much impossible to simply find beer in a green bottle. In 1994, we were the first to introduce the world’s very first Pilsner — Pilsner Urquell — locally, along with beers from the then yet-to-become largest American-owned brewery, Sam Adams, and the Brooklyn Brewery which was just getting warmed up. As fax machines and mobile phones became rigueur, a brewer’s revolution was just beginning to ferment.
I’ll never forget my first sip of Tremont Ale at Salem’s Wild Horse Cafe´. What the…?! Hops? Roasted Malt? Ale? For all these years I had believed the only difference between beers was the skunk-factor! Tremont, sadly, is now defunct but its brewer, Chris Lohring, has resurfaced with Notch American Session Beer brewed in Ipswich.
At the same time, The Shods were giving an adrenaline shot to downtown Lowell’s music scene and Boston’s Harpoon owned the local IPA market while Tim Stone, co-owner of the former Smithwick’s Tavern on Middle Street, introduced us all to the now legendary rolling of Julius Echter’s yeast-rich bottles on top of the bar “to get all the good stuff out.”Mill City Brewing revived the Harvard Lager recipe, originally brewed in Lowell in 1898 — a recipe that survived prohibition and more than 100 years. Though Mill City was ahead of the local curve, they have also since shuttered. But thanks to the Daniel brothers of Rapscallion, Harvard lives on.
And look at us now. Our collective heads spin with so many options without ever having to leave New England. Home brewers epitomize the beverage ideal of “local,” while gypsy brewers create Fuzzy White Rabbits, Happy Sols and Arrogant Bastards! Bourbon barrel-aged ales are hot while black lagers, smoked porters and new sours are peaking the interest of the American palate. Meanwhile, 17th Century-inspired stouts grow in both popularity and status alongside their legendary Irish cousin, Guinness, while roasting and boasting styles from milk to chocolate, oatmeal and oysters.
Peak Organic Pale Ale at Cobblestones. Photo by Tory Germann.
IPL’s, IBU’s and ABV’s detail menus, the “large format” has officially replaced the “40”, and young ladies strive to become Cicerones!
In Lowell these days, Fuse Bistro on Palmer St. regularly features locals like Slumbrew from Somerville and Baxter from Maine (not your father’s can of beer!), Ward Eight sports an ever rotating draught selection ranging from hoppy West Coast IPAs to hybrids such as Jack’s Abbey Double IPL from Massachusetts, and Cobblestones’ own Matt Siopes waxes poetic on the magical properties of roasted malts, the many hop varietals and yeast strains out there, as well as the intricacies involved in home brewing. Dude knows what the ale is going on!
As the market gloriously trends away from giant, corporate brewers and towards the imagination of the independent, crafted options — more gratifying even than swiping beers from Dad — there still remains those times, when life calls for simplicity. Calls for us to turn off Skype, step away from the computer and say plainly, while visiting the old-world inspired Old Court on Central Street, “Bean, a pint please,” lest we forget those pioneers who paved the way. And you can be damn sure it will be a perfectly poured Guinness that Bartender Bean places before you. Cheers mates.
Scott Plath is the owner of Cobblestones of Lowell and Moonstones of Chelmsford, along with, Kim Mello, Bar Manager at Moonstones and Aislyn Plath of Chicago’s famed Maude’s Liquor Bar.