Local craft drinks kombucha, mead and sake are in Massachusetts, here’s where to get them
Beer, cider, wine and spirits aren’t the only liquids being crafted locally. There are a number of other beverages, alcoholic and not, that are being brewed, canned and bottled right in eastern Massachusetts.
One of those beverages is mead, which is made by fermenting honey mixed with water, and sometimes adding other ingredients like fruits, spices, grains or hops.
Another beverage gaining popularity is kombucha, a fermented, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drink, which often has juice, spices, fruit or other flavorings added. A scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is a main ingredient used in the fermentation and production of kombucha.
And then there’s sake, which is fermented from four ingredients – water, rice, the microbe koji and yeast.
Farthest Star Sake
Massachusetts is home to the only sake brewery in New England. It’s located in Medfield.
Todd Bellomy, owner and brewer at Farthest Star Sake, said once upon a time, there were two sake breweries in the region, though both have since closed.
“I knew the region could support a sake brewery,” he said.
So Bellomy found a large industrial space in Medfield that he would eventually transform into a sake brewery, complete with a 1,500 square-foot taproom.
“One of the challenges is no one knows what sake is or how it’s made,” he said. “One of our missions is to demystify that. … We want to teach people about it and have them try sake on draft.”
Bellomy said the rice he uses to make sake is a special variety grown in Arkansas at Isbell Farms. And he orders 10,000 pounds at a time.
“It’s already polished and all the starches are concentrated in the center of the grain of rice,” he explained. “We mill it to remove the outer layers, which gives you more pure starch, in turn giving you a smoother sake.”
From there, the starches are converted to sugar, which are then fermented into alcohol with the help of a microorganism called koji.
“It takes about six to eight weeks to get from grain to glass,” Bellomy said.
For those who visit the taproom and have never had sake, Bellomy said he encourages them to try a flight so they can sample some different styles and flavors.
“Everyone’s palate is completely different and they taste different things,” he said. “And I am happy to answer any questions to help them wrap their minds around what sake is.”
Pigeon Cove Ferments
Dylan L’Abbe-Lindquist, owner of Pigeon Cove Ferments in Gloucester, said he launched his business in 2016 to make fermented food, sauerkraut in particular.
A friend in North Carolina was making kombucha, so L’Abbe-Lindquist decided to pay him a visit to better understand what the process entailed.
“I saw what he was doing,” L’Abbe-Lindquist said. “And I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
In 2019, starting small with 30- and 50-gallon drums, L’Abbe-Lindquist would make the rounds to local farmers markets to get the word out about locally-made kombucha.
“We were trying to market it as a non-alcoholic beverage option,” he said.
Just a few short years and one pandemic later, Pigeon Cove Ferments kombucha has grown significantly in popularity, and can now be found in most Market Basket supermarkets in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
“We’ve been ramping up production,” L’Abbe-Lindquist said. “We’re doing about 200 to 300 cases a week. As soon as a tank is empty, we fill it.”
With 15 fermentation tanks at the production facility, L’Abbe-Lindquist said he makes kombucha about four or five times a week on his 10-barrel brewing system.
Experiencing so much success, L’Abbe-Lindquist said he and his wife have brought in investors this year to help with increased production costs, and expects to hire a salesperson to get out on the road and promote the brand.
“I had anticipated a slow build,” L’Abbe-Lindquist said about his kombucha. “Definitely not this fast.”
Some popular kombucha flavors made at Pigeon Cove Ferments include hibiscus ginger, blueberry cinnamon, pineapple chamomile and jasmine lavender.
Owner Paul Nixon was a homebrewer for many years before launching his own brewery, Independent Fermentations, in 2013. As demand grew, so did the production facility, from a basement in a barn to a full-scale microbrewery operation on Camelot Drive in Plymouth.
Since then, Independent fermentations has grown to include a homebrew shop, and kombucha has been added to the production schedule.
“We’ve been selling about as much as we can make,” Nixon said. “We’re just trying to keep up with demand.”
Made 45 gallons at a time at the Plymouth facility, kombucha takes about two or three days to brew and 14 days to ferment before it is ready to enjoy.
Head kombucha brewer Carriann McCarthy said with people being more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies, the popularity of kombucha has increased.
“It’s more natural, and has probiotics,” she said. “I don’t drink juice or soda, but I do drink kombucha.”
Some popular flavors of Independent Fermentations kombucha are tropical, elderberry, turmeric mango, raspberry hibiscus, strawberry mojito, peach ginger buzz and flower power, which features butterfly pea flower.
Dan Clapp, owner of 1634 Meadery in Ipswich, said he discovered mead while on a trip to Denmark.
“I picked up a bottle,” he said. “And it inspired me to start making mead.”
Seven years ago, Clapp opened 1634 Meadery, transforming a two-car garage into an adequate space for his operation, which includes a tasting room and outdoor patio.
“The main purpose of having the tasting room is to educate people about mead,” he said. “I’d say 80% of people have never even heard of mead.”
However, Clapp said, “Game of Thrones” has definitely helped in that regard, piquing people’s curiosity about the ancient alcoholic beverage.
Clapp said it takes about 400 pounds of honey and 80 gallons of water to make 130 to 140 gallons of mead. And if he’s using fruit, Clapp said he adds about 300 pounds of it to each batch.
Unlike beer, which is a relatively fast process from grain to glass, mead takes much more time. It stays in the fermenter for three to four weeks and then is transferred to aging barrels, where it sits for roughly six months.
“The more time you give the mead, the better,” Clapp said.
Some of the mead flavors produced at 1634 Meadery include strawberry rhubarb; hibiscus and orange peel; cranberry; ginger pear; blackberry; orange blossom and jalapeno; plum; and apple cinnamon.
Jeff Venuti, owner of Blisspoint Meadery in Bedford, was an avid homebrewer for many years, making everything from beer to fruit wine.
“At some point along the road, I got introduced to mead,” he said, explaining that he lent his brewing equipment to a friend to make mead for a party. “Years later, I found one remaining bottle [from that batch], and I shared it with my roommate to celebrate moving out.”
Having mellowed out, the mead was much easier drinking than it had been years before; intrigued, Venuti decided to make more.
“I slowly honed my craft,” he said. “I learned what to do to bring out the good characteristics that are palatable. And four years ago, I started building a business around it.”
Though still producing at a relatively low volume – around three 50-gallon batches per month – Venuti said with so many different honeys available, as well as near endless fruit and spice combinations, an extraordinary number of mead varietals can be created.
Some of the current mead flavors available from Blisspoint include black currant and blueberry; apple, strawberry and hibiscus; white grape; orange blossom; and raspberry chili pepper.
Noting the market is saturated with beer, wine and spirits, Venuti said adult beverage drinkers could have those, or they could “have a sensory experience with mead.”
“My goal is to find something that everyone likes … to find their bliss point with mead,” he said. “That’s why I have a wide variety of options, so I can gauge their feedback and suggest other flavors. If people are willing to put themselves in my hands, I’m willing to steer the ship and guide that experience.”