As promised, we continue our brewery expedition off Exit 7 on the Mass Pike. The prior two breweries, Drunken Rabbit and Rustic, can be reached from exit 6 and 7, but Exit 7 has 2 other gems that you can hit on the way back and include in your personal tasting tour. So, pick your poison.
These next two breweries share a few things in common; both are under 10 minutes from the highway, they are relative veterans of the area, and both are going through some drastic changes in the upcoming months; we will keep you posted as these changes occur.
The first spot we would like to introduce you to is Iron Duke Brewing, located about 6 minutes from the exit on 100 State St #122, Ludlow, MA 01056 (behind the Mills). This has been a local haunt of ours from their opening, and we have yet to be disappointed. Iron Duke has been in the paper a lot in recent years, not only due to their location, but some issues with their branding. Despite these roadblocks, the quality and love of the craft keeps pouring out. Some of these disputes have inspired delicious crafts and witty names.
Iron Duke has a mug club, food trucks, that industrial factory appeal, and in most cases, you can sit right in the brewery itself. Sometimes you can experience great live music from local bands, and enjoy local food trucks from establishments like 413 Eats, Murphy’s, and Auntie Cathie’s. Also, if you wish to book an event, they do allow private parties. Iron Duke is a great community hangout, with a beer of every palate, and in my opinion they make some of the best barrel aged beers in Massachusetts!
Personally, I have tried over 72 different varieties of their brews, so here is a small sampling of few of my go-to’s, in no particular order:
156 Barrel Aged Nitro is a 12% Imperial Porter – ONLY at the brewery. There’s no doubt this has been aged in bourbon barrels with the strong bourbon nose with hints of molasses. Without being too candy-like, it has a sweet caramel and chocolate character, with a subtle Belgia-syle sweetness. It starts like a stout and ends like a dry Quadrupel. The spruce is hidden in this version, but it’s never overwhelming. If you can’t get your hands on this beast, try to try its un-aged base in bottle form or on tap.
208 is a 9.7 % strong lager, which has the name barleywine written all over it. it’s earthy, malty, strong, warming and finishes off with a satisfying mellow sweetness. It’s also very limited, and very delicious.
Wendy Peffercorn is a 4.8% wheat beer that is well balanced peppery and just a great refreshing brew, like the season it’s built for. So whether cracking a can on the deck, or sipping it fresh form the brewery, your are gonna wish this one lasts for-ev-ver!
Shoes For Louie is a 6% strong ale, but don’t let that scare you. It reminds me a bit of a wee heavy, earthy but mellow and goes down smooth. There is a complementary bite, that just seals the experience. It comes out once a year, and occasionally is altered in a barrel aged kind of way.
Eviction Notice (original and Barrel aged) is an 8.5% Dark IPA. The basic is your classic roasty malty IPA, with a bit of a twist. Hints of spruce hit your nose at first, and it abounds with bitter malt chocolate notes, with a full body.
The Barrel aged Eviction Notice just blew my mint. As with most BA’s, there’s the slightly sweet and woody characteristic in the smell. There’s a slight bite with a chocolatey dry finish. The woody sweetness prevalent throughout the enjoyable experience. This is a truly great ride for the palate.
Try a pint, half pint, or flight. While they no longer do growler fills, you can take to-go many of your favorite styles in can or bottles. On those nicer New England days, you can also take a nice walk along the Ludlow River walk, right behind their facility. For events, special releases and much more, check Iron Duke’s website before your visit, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The last spot off Exit 7 to visit is a tiny spot located behind (for now) Europa Restaurant. The name: Vanished Valley; the location: 782 Center St, Ludlow, MA 01056, and it’s only 3 minutes from the highway.
At this point in Vanished Valley’s life cycle, there is no indoor facility. They have a small cabin-like structure where you can order pours and cans. At times, weather permitting, they have tents with music and other pouring stations on their grassy lawn. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable and make you feel right at home.
Vanished valley has a wide variety of hazy New England IPA’s that can rival some of the more popular NEIPA’s in the region. The brews taste fresh, and just hit the well-rounded sweet spot you come to expect from a good brewery who care about their craft. Vanished supports local, and has special licensing with a local coffee roaster, Monsoon Roastery (future article to come), to make coffee infused beers. For can and growler fill availability, check our their website or their Twitter feed to the most up to date, by the minute posts. Currently, they are open Wednesdays from 12pm to 6 pm; Fridays 2pm – 6pm; and Saturdays 12p – 5 pm
As with any brewery, there are some beers we will favor over the others, here’s a few of mine:
Equilibrium is a 5.5 % pale ale, that sadly is no longer in production, but hopefully this description will show you the caliber of what to expect when you visit. For a pale ale, the scent is juicy with hints of tangerine and grapefruit. It’s surprisingly dank, with a cracker quality at the end, with some pepperiness.
Lost Town Stout is only a 5% stout, but packed with flavor. It’s creamy but it has a light body, a bit like a Whopper with a balanced sweet maltiness. There’s a nice smokey quality with a smooth finish.
Watershed IPA is tangy and tropical 6.7% IPA, with a ripe juicy nose. The body is lighter than expected, with a hidden ABV and a mellow, bitter finish.
Milkshake Series – Peach and Juniper Berry IPA is part of an ongoing style of IPA’s that they constantly play with. This one is a fun little 6.5% ale. The theme with their IPA’s is always that tropical nose, but this one is a bit like candy. As to be expected in the name, it has that creamy body, with a light bitterness and warming on the tongue.
Milkshake series – Strawberry Shortcake IPA is also 6.5%, and I was shocked to taste chocolate notes. It tastes a lot like those Little Debbie strawberry shortcake rolls, but not overly sweet. A tartness in the nose gives off a raspberry scent, and it has a pleasantly dry and sweet finish.
As more breweries open along these exits, and updates to locations and facilities occur, we will always try to keep you abreast. Until then, if you want to try great beer with a local experience, just take a trip off the pike!
I love the history of beer and how its made, the whole beer experience. My philosophy is, finding your beer is like finding your soul-mate, you may have a long search, and learn some lessons, but there is a beer that’s just right for you.