A morning full of witch shop window-shopping and 18th century cemetery crawls in Salem, Massachusetts, can sure make a guy pretty darn thirsty, so I wandered ever deeper into the bowels of Witch City to partake in some home-grown witches’ brews. Off Derby Street, I found Salem Beer Works. There are actually six Beer Works locations in Massachusetts- one at Fenway Park, one in Boston’s Bullfinch Triangle, one in Lowell, one in Hingham, one in Framingham. Besides the Beer Works at Fenway, the Salem location is the oldest, pouring suds since 1996.
The Salem Beer Works is a high-ceiling, warehouse-style venue with drop lighting and sports gracing every HD TV above the bar. Besides a young couple enjoying beers and each other, I was solo at the bar. A 20-something barkeep asked my pleasure, so I ordered up a 16 ounce Fenway American Pale Ale. He came back from the tap with a cold, copper beauty. It had the scent of light malt mixed with greens, just the right choice to begin my cooldown. The taste of the Fenway was bready cut with hints of grapefruit citrus and nuances of cucumber rind. At 45 IBU, it brings a moderate amount of bitterness to the table. It was tremendously easy to drink, especially on the hot day, so I was ordering another in short order.
I also came into the establishment with lunch on my mind, hence a beer pairing was in the works. I decided on the Hanover Street Burger- a provolone and mozzarella covered slab o’ cow, piled high with roasted roma tomatoes and red onion marmalade. To wash it down, I ordered a Witch City Red Ale. It came in a regal dark mahogany with a smallish cream-colored foamy head. As I drank, I was surprised that there was as much lacing as there was; it hung itself to the glass, long and spindly like the branches of a old Salem tree at Halloween. The Witch City Red is well-rounded and medium-hopped (35 IBU). It tasted similar to its aroma, caramel malt with a bit of floral hops. The finish is the most intriguing part of this ale. On the death of every mouthful, I swear there was some peppermint hiding in the background.
Of course, I would need an after-lunch drink, so I opted for a tall glass of Curley’s Irish Stout. I had to drive a rental car in unfamiliar places yet, so the Curley’s 4% ABV was right for that occasion. I was handed a near-black brew with a two-finger, tan and densely creamy head. The Curley’s has a medium body and is mostly burnt coffee tasting with the hops adding to the charred bitterness of malt. Unfortunately the coffee is completely trampled by the bitter back. It is still worth trying a Curley’s if only to watch its crazy-thick lacing that looks like a fur coat inside your glass, waving with little indentations from each draught taken.
If I had to choose between the three, I say that the Witch City Red was my favorite.