Saturday morning I awoke inspired — for the first time I can remember in this dark and particularly malevolent winter the weather was above -20° and the birds were finally out and singing away. I don’t mean to jinx my fellow New Englanders, but the day felt like the actual start of spring, and I decided I would honor that feeling by getting outside and visiting a local brewery. This is how I found myself in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, at the little gem that is the Rapscallion Brewery tap room.
Sturbridge is a quiet town just a few miles west of me that’s mostly known for antiquing. For those of you not in the know, the ancient art of antiquing is turning what one person calls “junk” into what another person calls “an antique treasure.” The hope here is that the person who called it junk had no idea it was an antique treasure, and you can profit off of their undervaluing what they have. This idea of turning something undervalued into something better is not lost on head brewer Shaun Radzuik.
We were fortunate enough to catch Shaun as he was brewing up a batch of Acton Pale Ale, one of Rapscallion’s signature beers on tap at both its Sturbridge and Acton, MA locations. He darted back and forth between tanks, taking measurements, turning nozzles and noting down numbers. He looked simultaneously like a mad chemist and a very happy man doing what he is meant to do. Although he was definitely busy, he still had the patience of a saint as I stood there pointing at things like a five year old and asking ‘”what’s that do?”
Shaun has a very approachable personality and a passion for beer that is downright contagious. I asked him about his Coffee IPA — one of my favorite beers in the flight, I told him — and he first thanked me and then laughed a little bit.
“That was actually a batch of IPA that another brewery said was too bitter,” he told me after explaining that Rapscallion offers up brewing space for other breweries when needed.
“I wasn’t going to pour all that beer down the drain, so I went to the Sturbridge Coffee House and got two gallons of their coffee and cut it with that and 50l of our Honey Pale Ale” he said with the type of nonchalance that denotes someone who is comfortable about their craft.
The results were great. It had the classic IPA bitterness, but it also had a nice bite to it from the coffee that was added. The addition of the Honey Pale Ale smoothed the whole thing out nicely. I wouldn’t refer to this beer as “too bitter” by a long shot, at least not anymore.
Future-wife and I were very impressed to see a Sour on the menu there — normally you don’t see something like that at a local brewery. She made sure to sample it and I got a couple tastes; it was bright and clean and crisp with a sour note that was downright pleasant. This wasn’t one of those sours that tasted like a lemon Warhead. When I say I didn’t mind drinking it, that is actually the highest compliment I can give a sour beer.
This, too, was another one of Shaun’s adjustments to unwanted product.
“A bar called me up and said they had gotten a bad keg, it had a bug in it” he explained.
Side note — bug means bacteria — one of my many “what’s that” questions.
“We let it sit in there for 6 months until it got sour. Now we just refill that keg and let it sit for 6 months” he said with a hint of pride.
These minor setbacks might fluster some other less seasoned brewers, but Shaun takes it in stride. He has ten years of brewing experience under his belt, and he knows exactly what he is doing.
The tap room was alive when we got there, a good sign at 2pm on a Saturday. There were some seasoned regulars — you can always tell who is who in these places by how comfortably they sit. There were a lot of folks just dropping in, though; ordering up a growler, glass, or flight of the many beers on tap. One gentlemen was kind enough to offer us up his table so we could sit and enjoy our beers.
That’s just the type of atmosphere there. People seem polite and kind. I think it has to do with the antique beer advertisements and all wooden furniture. The decor is honest and pleasant and the people respond in kind. The great beer also helps a bit.
We both got a flight to sample. Mine: Honey Pale Ale, Coffee IPA, Munich Lager, and Smoked Pale. Hers: Blonde, Sour, Barleywine and (thanks to my goading) Oyster Stout. See, I simply can’t do oysters, I have a thing — It’s a story for another time.
The Honey Pale Ale was great, a light ale that was very tasty and drinkable, just a little bit sweet. Easily a summertime beer for me.
The Smoked Pale was pretty convincing, it had a very delicate smokey flavor to it. Previously I had only tried a smoked porter, so this was a great new experience. All the taste of a porter, but light and drinkable.
The Munich Lager I was not crazy about. It was good for sure, a deep dark flavor to it. I just am not a huge lager guy, and admittedly I got it as sort of a palate cleanser option between the other three.
The Coffee IPA was just right, not too bitter, not too hoppy. You could taste just a bit of the coffee at the end and it all just worked. The addition of the Honey Pale Ale to it seemed to balance the whole thing out, the same way a bit of honey smooths out a nice cup of tea.
Future-wife greatly enjoyed all of hers, with exception to the Oyster Stout. Not a reflection on the beer itself mind you — more a reflection on me basically daring her to drink a beer with mollusk in it.
One of the key ideas behind Rapscallion is locally sourcing their materials. They proudly use malts and hops grown in the area to produce the beers you drink there. This is a really cool trend among brewers and I was glad to see Rapscallion involved in the local and sustainable movement.
“What do you do with your spent grain?” I asked Shaun in between him tending to the machines.
“A local farm comes and picks them up once a week. It’s pretty cool, we give the farmer spent grain to feed his cattle and then when it comes time we buy his beef and use it to make meatloaf at our restaurant.”
If you find yourself in the Sturbridge area, stop by the Rapscallion Brewery & Tap Room. This goes doubly if you’re a local. They have their own kind of thing going on there, and it’s something that my words just can’t fully convey. You’re not going to find the next hop monster there. They wont wow you with their 11% ABV bourbon barrel aged — anything. It’s just not their style.
What you will find is a long history, the newest chapter being written by a man who turned his back on the corporate office environment a long time ago to do what he loves. You’ll find a beer simply named “Honey Pale Ale,” brewed with wildflower honey from local farms. The spent grains go to these same local farms to feed the cows, to make the beef that goes into the meatloaf — that goes onto your plate along with the beer.
That, dear readers, in the grand scheme of things is far better than bourbon barrel aged anything.
URL – http://drinkrapscallion.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/rapscallionbeer