Heading down countrified Route 91 a few miles South of Amherst, NORTHAMPTON BREWERY & GRILLE remains the oldest Northeast brewpub, operating since 1987 and bottling for on-site distribution only. I first visited this enchanting bar and grille April ’05.
Located near the center of town inside a yellow brick building next to an auto repair shop, the rectangular-windowed freestanding lodge offers a cozy ground-level horseshoe-shaped oak bar, right side Sun Room dining, an enormous outdoor Biergarten, exquisite wooden furnishings, detailed oak-set cork ceiling tiles and a spacious loft level.
Besides offering good sandwiches and burgers, head brewer Chris O’Connor crafts a nice assortment of stylishly diversified elixirs in the glass-encased brew tanks behind the bar. On my initial family visit, the cordial brewmeister joked with us after lunch.
Dry caramel-malted, apricot-skinned, grape-estery, floral-twanged Daniel Shay’s Best Bitter, Munich-malted, citric-centered, prune-finishing Spring Bock, and softly citric St. Patrick’s Day hybrid lager ‘celebrator’ Steamer had notable fruity auspices. These were welcomed choices to begin my journey.
Honey nut-roasted, hop-oiled dark ale Old Brown Dog, harshly currant-embittered, nut-roasted, raspberry-seeded Raspberry Brown Dog, and soft-toned, chocolate-powdered, cocoa-resinous, maple-sapped, oat-toasted Black Cat Stout were nourishing digestifs.
Moderate-bodied coffee-beaned crossover Hoover’s Porter draped molasses across oaken black cherry souring, ashen cocoa powdering and leathery red grape esters, finishing closer to a sour ale.
Bottled brews quaffed afterwards included unorthodox, peat-soiled, sour-fruited, fungi-vegetal Paradise City Gold Ale; caramel apple-fastened, orange-twanged, barley-roasted, tin-foiled Unquamonk Amber Lager; bitterly sharp-hopped, orange-peeled, butterscotch-corned, syrup-sweetened Northampton Pale Ale; and malt-heavy, bubble-gummy, peach-cherry-fruited, Sangria-toned Maggie’s Wee Heavy Ale.
During subsequent October ’07 quest, new rooftop beer garden was in operation. Munched delicious honey-glazed salmon while quaffing sweet raspberry-splurged, lemondrop-candied, wheat-biscuit-y Raspberry Gold Lager and sensational cherry-pureed, banana-bruised, raisin-plum-soured, hazelnut-speckled, alcohol-doused Dunkelweizen.
On the way home from two-day post-Thanksgiving ’11 journey, rediscovered the quaint atmosphere and ambitious brews of Northampton Brewery. My wife and I kicked our feet up at newly designed lounge area next to main bar, watching the pre-game Monday night football show on side-walled TV.
Three previously untried India Pale Ales crowded a large menu featuring many of the above-mentioned beers plus a nifty chocolate cookie-styled dark ale.
Dry-hopped Humbug Holiday Ale, an adjunct IPA, brought buttered apple warmth to acidic grape-skinned esters and astringent iodized salting. Better was ‘hop-hammered’ Imperial-styled Mean Green IPA, an approachable medium body easier to drink than Humbug. Its piney bark dryness contrasted oats-sugared grapefruit and orange zest. Not as aggressively hopped but probably besting its in-house rivals, Pucker Power IPA danced gently on the tongue as polite crystal malt sweetness embedded mild floral-hopped grapefruit-orange rind bittering.
For dessert, the delectably-dubbed Milk N’ Cookie Milk Stout layered lactic cacao nibs and cocoa beans inside chewy oats-toasted chocolate-vanilla sweetness, heavenly cookie dough likeness and dewy peat-tobacco nuances.