99 Bottles

Mystic Brewing finds a niche; Jim Koch weighs in on hop-bombs

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The cover story of the G section in Saturday's Globe features interviews with Mystic Brewing's Bryan Greenhagen (above) and Boston Beer founder Jim Koch. Mystic produced 300 barrels of beer in 2012. Samuel Adams produced 2.7 million.

"We definitely get a lot of the super enthusiasts, because we are sort of on that bleeding edge," says Greenhagen. "We’re doing a native beer using yeast that we got from Massachusetts. Putting that in a package and putting it out there, it’s a little bit scary in a sense. Who’s going to grab that and not really know what we’re actually doing?"

Greenhagen said restaurants are the next big frontier for craft beer. He said places serving local food ask for his beer often. He's a fascinating guy, and the Chelsea tap room is worth checking out. Greenhagen wants Mystic to be a representation of Boston, and he thinks there's a place for even the smallest brewers.

"These little tiny brands might have a real business by capturing the one percent, two percent that's being abandoned by people becoming national," said Greenhagen. "It's becoming regional. There's breweries that are branding themselves now after streets, and it's like, 'A street?'

"There's so little you can make anyway that you're not competing too much. You're not pushing somebody off the shelf with three-year old sour beer."

Both brewers were knowledgeable and gracious, giving credit to others in the industry. They were also forthcoming. Koch in particular has a problem with hob-bombs, the big, boozy, 100-plus IBU beers that have been en vogue in recent years. I asked Koch what he thought of the Alchemist's Heady Topper and other massive IPAs. In a part of the interview that didn't make the paper, Koch said, "They're big IPAs. There's 100 of them. Are they new or interesting? Not really. I mean they're good, but there's nothing I'm going to learn from tasting that. There's not a huge set of skills to make an 80-IBU beer."

"There's probably 100 really good 80-IBU IPAs, and there's probably 500 or 1,000 that are out there. It's not that they're bad. It's like drinking Bud or Miller or Coors. You know what you're going to get, you're not going to be surprised. If you're surprised it's generally a bad surprise."

Koch expanded on what he meant.

"I think you go through stages as a beer drinker. And there is an early stage where you want the hoppiest stage that you can get. And then you go past it. It's like scotch drinkers, there's a stage where you want the peatiest, smokiest scotch and think that's quality. But you get through that stage, and then you're looking at the real fundamentals of quality, which to me is not just a lot of flavor but is balance, and complexity and harmony. That's kind of where I am. Let me see what flavors they put in there and how they came together. Because that I'll learn from. There's a real purpose of the brewer's art, which is not to make strange, exotic, extreme. At the end of the day the purpose of the brewer's art is to make beers that give people pleasure."

I encourage you to check out the rest of the interview on (it's behind a paywall, though you do get several articles a month free). There's a nice spread in the print edition as well. Cheers.

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