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Updated: December 12, 2022 shop talk

Q&A: Bay State Brewing Co. has learned not to chase beer fads

Photo | Kevin Koczwara Chip Jarry, co-owner of Bay State Brewing Co.

This year marks the 10th anniversary for Bay State Brewing Co. The company started when Co-founder Chip Jarry began bringing beer he brewed to a hockey rink locker room. After a few times, someone told him he should meet Shawn Rich, who imported beer from German brewer Spaten München. The two hit it off and brought some test beers to a Boston beer summit to get the opinion of other brewers. The company’s first batch of beer, the Vienna/Märzen-style lager called Sieben Lager, spoke to Jarry and Rich’s love of German-style beers. After that, they decided to put some money down and start a brewery. After years of contract brewing, they opened their own facility and taproom in Worcester at the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center in 2020, mere weeks before the pandemic hit. 

A Marzen is an interesting beer to start a beer business. Why that one?

It was a beer we both liked. If you ask both of us, I will take any variation on the German lager as probably my favorite go-to beer. It's my McDonald’s, my safe beer if you will. I like the flavor. There is a lot of residual maltiness in there that is appealing to me and always was.

We had to start somewhere, and we took a bunch of test batches to the Boston Beer Summit. It showed really well, so we decided to start with that, and then we learned that the marketplace is a nasty mistress. In 2012, it was a couple years ahead of the East Coast style and hazy IPAs. West Coast IPA was still prevalent, so we came out with Hoppy Dreams, which was our West Coast IPA variant. We did well with that at the start.

When did you open this brewery and taproom?

We officially opened on the 29th of February in 2020, and then they came and locked our doors on March 15 of 2020 with the advent of COVID. We basically had two bang-up weeks – we were on fire – and then we shut down and brought in a mobile canner. We canned everything we had, did take-out food, and take-out cans before they let everyone come in and sit down.

Then things started to ease. We were able to put the patio together outside, and we were able to ease our business back in. We were fortunate we saved our pennies, and we had enough cash to survive. As far as all that government money that was thrown around, we didn't exist as a facility for employees, so there wasn’t a lot of free cash thrown back at us.

Beer has changed a lot in 10 years. What have you taken from these 10 years of operating?

The consumers’ palate constantly evolves. That's one. Number two: You can't chase trends; be yourself. I'm going to make a beer you don't like, and I'm going to make a beer you do like. I have produced 35 different beers since we started. Some are regular and stay in rotation, and the rest are seasonal.

We started to see the palate comeback, and we've seen this with the New England IPAs and hazy IPAs. The hop loads are dropping. The bitter aspect is dropping. Now it is all flavor-focused, and it is becoming lighter and lighter and lighter.

I wonder if lager will see the second resurgence with full force. I see what we sell here, and our light lager and our blood orange – number one and number two – neither of those are my favorites and not what I would drink on a regular basis; but they do really well with the consumer, so what do I know?

What is the plan for the next 10 years?

We want to expand our distribution footprint in the state and slowly grow the brand. It is a very competitive marketplace, a very crowded marketplace. I don't think we will expand it by creating the next new craze or next new beer. We need to do it by producing a consistently good product and staying focused on what we're good at.

We may have another opportunity to expand into another footprint similar to this. We are constantly looking for locations. When the right situation presents itself, we will jump on it. We're both pretty conservative where growth is set up and not into chasing trends, but there is opportunity there. We just have to find the right one.

We're fortunate we're in the right place to do it in Worcester. It's starting to grow. It's not a crazy beer scene, but we run into people coming off the highway all the time. They see beer and food and get off the highway, and they realize there are three or four breweries within a mile, mile and a half of here. They ask, “Oh what do you think of this?” It's good, go try it. They're all different. Try them all. It's kind of cool for the city now: All of sudden we have some anchor of craft beer.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Kevin Koczwara.

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