A Piece of Mass in Every Glass
By Michael Walsh
Since its inception on Park Avenue in 2010, Wormtown Brewery has not stopped growing. As Worcester’s first operating brewery in nearly 50 years, it was important to Master Brewer Ben Roesch to keep things local.
New England has long been considered a hub of craft brewing in America, and when Roesch saw that one of the region’s largest cities was devoid of a brewery he leapt at the opportunity to start Wormtown.
He partnered with friend and restaurant owner Tom Oliveri, Jr. to plant the seeds for Wormtown, whose name comes from one of Worcester’s oldest nicknames.
A closed ice cream shop connected to Oliveri’s Peppercorn’s Grille and Tavern is where Roesch’s dream came to life. What started as a small 1,000 barrel per year production continued growing; this year, Wormtown Brewery will produce around 2,500 barrels.
“The reception from the people of Worcester has been absolutely phenomenal,” said Oliveri.
Keeping local has always been a goal of these two friends. At Wormtown, everything from the ingredients (hops, barley, wheat) to the beer names (Seven Hills, Turtle Boy, Kelly Square) is local.
Roesch, a Worcester native and UMass Amherst alum, makes sure that there is at least one Massachusetts grown ingredient in each of his brews. On special occasions, a batch is brewed using only locally grown ingredients; these special brews are known as the MassWhole series.
The relationship between brewery and restaurant could not have been stronger. Peppercorn’s offered the opportunity for immediate feedback to the brewery as all their beers went immediately to Peppercorn’s taps.
However, there was an inherent flaw in the recipe for growing a standalone brewery attached to a popular restaurant: for all the benefits Peppercorn’s offered to Wormtown, the Brewery’s name grew associated with their symbiotic partner. This meant other restaurants in and around the city viewed supporting the brewery as supporting their competition at Peppercorn’s.
“Breweries always have great relationships with one another,” said Roesch. “We can borrow or lend ingredients to other breweries with no issue. The restaurant game is a little different.”
Oliveri mirrored his partner’s sentiment saying, “While craft breweries have an ‘All for one, and one for all’ mentality, there has been some apprehension from local restaurant owners to accept Wormtown.”
Despite the public praise offered by local patrons, Wormtown has found it difficult to expand much further given their current geographic situation.
Wormtown has been actively searching for a 10,000 square foot space within the city. Though the location may change, the goals will not. Roesch’s No. 1 priority is to stay in Worcester and continue to bring people to the area.
Oliveri is a sucker for the Be Hoppy IPA, while Roesch feels the strongest connection to his Seven Hills Pale Ale. Look out for the Pumpkin Ale, hitting taps in late August. This brew is made with fresh Pumpkin straight from Czajkowski Farm in Hadley, MA.
Personally, I gravitate towards a brew named for one of the oldest parks in the U.S., the Elm Park Amber Ale ~ but hey I’m a traditionalist.