Craft brew culture is off to a strong start here in the Worcester hills. So much so that if you’re reading this article, the chances are good that you live within 10 miles of a local brew pub. Industry numbers show that nationwide, demand for craft beer has more than doubled in the past seven years. Local support for this craft is unlikely to slow down any time soon, and many of the city’s night life hotspots are riding this wave by featuring locally produced beers.
Local brewers and their promoters are banking on this trend, too. This winter, we’ve seen both the re-launch of Wormtown Brewery in its spacious new Shrewsbury Street location and the Ninety Nine Restaurant Pub’s agreement with the Wachusett Brewing Company to feature its Horseshoe Ale at all its New England locations. And in 2015, Worcester will play host to a surprising number of large-scale, public craft beer events including regional tastings and a beer-themed road race with more than 100 participating small-batch brewers offering up their wares.
This November, the Wall Street Journal made the stunning observation that Americans were now drinking more craft beer than Budweiser. Slate magazine staff writer Alison Griswold talked about the fallout—that the biggest brands are suddenly watching their customer bases age and are finding themselves struggling with how to appeal to younger consumers. Griswold notes, “It would be a stretch to call this latest news the death knell for big brewers. But if you’re Bud, it can’t be very reassuring, either.”
Here on the Worcester scene, innovative non-profits, too, are capitalizing on the growing popularity of craft beer by creating beer-themed events to reach adult audiences. In the case of Worcester Academy, the social draw of sharing a beer with friends is even greater because the school is able to tap into alumni who are driving forces in the local movement.
David Howland, who attended Worcester Academy, owns 3cross Brewery on Cambridge Street. Howland’s a newcomer to the local craft beer scene and funded his dream in part with a Kickstarter campaign. Its success allowed the doors to open on his Main South brewery and taproom location in September 2014, and 75 small-brew, sold-out batches later, business is booming.
Each week, Howland and his wife Jessica pour five selections, but you have to be fast to taste them: doors open on Thursday evenings exclusively for private members; the taproom is open to the public on Friday nights (5:00pm – 8:00pm) and Saturdays (2:00pm – 6:00pm). 3cross fans – including locals, regulars, and diehard subscription supporters – get the weekly what’s-on-tap lineup via social media. The beers are usually sold out long before Saturday’s closing time.
The brewery and tap room occupy a completely renovated space, formerly a neighborhood hangout, too. Howland designed it a tribute to his love of cycling: bike hooks line the walls; vintage parts and pieces are imbedded in the décor. He’s still an avid cyclist and friends make 3cross a ride destination. Events such as this partnering with Worcester Academy are helping Howland spread the word about this Main South neighborhood gem, and are helping him proceed with plans to expand offerings and add bottling capabilities.
Worcester Academy hosts events around the world for its alumni, family, and friends. They’re hoping to draw local alums out on April 10th at 6:00pm during their local “Alumni After Hours,” during which time they’ll features Howland’s custom-crafted brew named after the school on the hill, “Hilltopper Blonde.”
Howland tells us more about the tribute beer he created with friend and alum, Luke M. Vaillancourt (Luke’s fair-haired wife inspired the “blonde” in the beer’s name). Hilltopper Blonde is a slightly cloudy, sunny yellow, simple barley malt that begs to be smelled before you sip it. There’s a distinct citrus note on top. “A tiny bit of sweet orange peel is amping up the flavor, but the overall taste is coming from the yeast. Yeast can produce a whole array of flavors and smells.”
During the brewing process, Howland invited a small group for an exclusive first-tap taste. Without exception, tasters were pleased. “I am biased, but the Hilltopper Blonde is a sensational beer. True to form of an unfiltered Belgian wheat, you taste the complexity of the beer without being overpowered by the alcohol or citrus tones,” Vaillancourt says.
That’s good news to his alma mater’s Director of Alumni Relations, Greg Cappello, who explains why the school is on a quest to host more events like these that build grassroots support for local businesses with ties to the school on the hill.
“More than 70 percent of our alums reside in the Central Mass area and these days, they’re looking to connect in more fun, casual ways. They want to see their friends, celebrate their successes… maybe share a drink. Hosting this event right in the 3cross taproom is our way of creating a win-win for the alumni community and the venue.”
Howland says local brewers are grateful for the attention they’re getting from local organizations, and brewers like Howland are spreading the love among their peers, too. “This brewing community is very supporting. We are the Worcester scene, and we all want each other to succeed. It’s good for business.”
Says Howland, “It’s great to see Worcester has an appetite for craft beer. Ever week, we’re serving new people who are seeking really good flavored beers. And they appreciate that we’re making them locally.”