Contrary to popular belief, there's civilization west of Framingham. You can even drive past Worcester and not tumble over the edge into the abyss. I grew up in Connecticut, about 20 minutes south of Springfield, so Western Mass. is familiar to me. If you're a fan of good beer, it should be familiar to you, too.
Brewmaster Jack was founded in Northampton in 2011 by Mass. resident Tyler Guilmette. The company currently brews three beers: a lager, a double IPA, and a chocolate rye porter. I was recently able to find the first two in the Boston area.
Stray Dog Lager is Brewmaster Jack's flagship. In a world of big, boozy craft beer, it seems both risky and prudent to put a lager out there as the face of your company. In theory, it might be hard to make a lager stand out in a Budweiser-filled world.
More practically, Stray Dog Lager is brewed with two row barley and crystal and munich malts. Twenty five percent of the grain used in this beer is locally-sourced. A high mash temperature allows for the extraction of non-fermentable sugars and creates a thick body, and four varieties of hops are added in three steps.
The beer pours a light amber with a fluffy white head. It smells doughy, like a good baguette. The first sip packs tons of biscuity, malty flavor. You can parse the various grains on your tongue, unlike with some commercial lagers. Another very welcome aspect of this beer is the crisp bite it finishes with. There's nothing here to make a drinker grow weary, and at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume you can put away a few of these in one session (in the craft beer world the term for this kind of beer is in fact a "session beer"). Stray Dog Lager is exactly the kind of beer you wished every local bar or restaurant of yours would carry. I bought a six-pack for $10.50, though I think you'd get it for well under $10 in the western part of the state.
I also drank some Brewmaster Jack Ambrewsia, a double-IPA, on another occasion. But because it seems like all I review is IPAs, I'll give this a briefer mention. Ambrewsia is also made with locally sourced grain from Valley Malt, 100 percent in fact. It packs 7.7 percent alcohol by volume and 93 IBUs (international bitterness unit). The human tongue can't detect bitterness differences when you approach 100 IBUs or more, so just know that this beer is at the top of the spectrum.
Poured into a tulip glass, lemony hops waft from the nose of the beer into mine. I don't get as much grapefruit as in some IPAs, though five hop varieties provide plenty of citrus and floral notes. There's a beautiful dryness to this beer, which somehow manages not to taste too bitter despite carrying 93 IBUs.
Guilmette began his brewing career in his downtown Northampton apartment, and when he had his batch just right, he named the company after his great-grandfather, Jack, who was something of a "brewmaster" in southern Vermont. Guilmette's first couple of offerings would certainly make the family patriarch proud. The lager in particular is worth seeking out.