If there’s one word that describes Medford Brewing Company’s mission statement, it’s approachability; if there’s one beer in the craft brewing world that is the liquid antithesis of approachability, it’s the IPA. This may seem counterintuitive. IPAs dominate the American craft beer market, after all, to such an extent that breweries stack their lineups with IPA variants just to compete. But not everyone likes blowing out their palate with hop bombs, or reaching their limit after one beer.
Enter Nick Bolitho and Max Heinegg, respectively the CEO and brewmaster of Medford Brewing Company, and their emphasis on accessible beer that packs as much appeal for casual devotees as it does for dyed-in-the-wool aficionados. Where most Massachusetts-based breweries focus on hop-forward libations, Medford Brewing Company would rather ease its way into the local beer scene by producing deceptively simple brews at a steady clip; their beers stress the styles they’re made in, eschewing funky monikers for transparency. They market their American Pale Ale as American Pale Ale, their American Golden Ale as American Golden Ale, and their India Pale Ale as India Pale Ale. You get what you expect.
Max Heinegg & Nick Bolitho
Bolitho and Heinegg wouldn’t have it any other way. “The way we wanted to position ourselves was actually as more approachable beers,” Bolitho told me when we met at Carroll’s Restaurant in Medford Square. “We weren’t going to go for the extremes.” This feels a bit like a gamble in a region known for pioneering a provincial twist on the IPA, the New England IPA, for two reasons: People expect breweries to make IPAs, and they expect those IPAs to deliver on big, juicy, hoppy flavors. But that’s just not Medford Brewing Company’s way. As Bolitho puts it, “It’s not about how far out we can reach. It’s more, let’s just make something tasty that people like.”
Seems like a reasonable business model. It might even be daring. The more stripped down a beer is, the less room there is for error. As much as Medford Brewing Company’s beers are stripped down on the label, they’re even more so on the tongue. That’s a selling point, though. “To make it is quite complex,” Bolitho says regarding the American Pale Ale, the company’s flagship beer, “but it doesn’t come across as complex.” Medford’s APA is light and crisp, invitingly hoppy on the nose, medium bodied, and positively brimming with flavors of stone fruits; more important, none of these elements overwhelm, so if you aren’t a connoisseur, don’t let the tasting notes put you off. This is a welcoming, well-proportioned beer.
This makes good sense. Speaking with Heinegg, I came to see Medford Brewing Company as Beer School, a brewery dedicated to highlighting the fundamentals of beer. “What we’re going to do is make a really good example of each beer style,” explains Heinegg, who has a background as a beer judge, a home brewer, and a devoted student of beer himself. “I’ve basically learned about what makes each beer style what it is, so it’s a little bit of a traditional approach.” That’s not to say Medford Brewing Company will only adhere to tradition; though, they have a double IPA of their own in progress, which both Heinegg and Bolitho are excited for. (Expect a hazier appearance, but not quite as opaque as the average New England IPA.)
This is in keeping with Medford Brewing Company’s commitment to tradition, and a way of bucking trends while acknowledging them. Double IPAs aren’t meant to pour like orange juice; that’s mostly a New England invention, which Bolitho has some misgivings about. “It’s almost fabricated,” he muses. “When you’re making beer in this sort of process, it doesn’t need to be cloudy. That milkshake look is almost designed to look that way.” At the same time, the double IPA is a true beer style, and if the aim is to brew an exemplary version of each beer style, then that inevitably means brewing double IPAs. Brewed Heinegg’s way, though, Medford Brewing Company’s own DIPA will no doubt stand out from the crowd. In his words, it’s all about having “one foot in tradition,and one foot in New England as a New England brewery.”
Medford Brewing Company doesn’t, however, have its own physical brewery; it’s a contract brand, brewed currently in Dorchester. But Bolitho and Heinegg hope to open a brewery in Medford Square, a place near and dear to their hearts as residents. They’d love to put their stamp on the area through their beer. “One of the contributions I would like to make to the city,” Heinegg mentions, “would be to give people a pleasant place to go that’s sort of family-oriented, a clean, well-lit place where people can talk to each other, have a beer, and get to know their neighbors.” Bolitho agrees. “I want to help make it more of a location, a place to go to.” If he and Heinegg keep knocking out beers as good as the ones they’ve already released, it’ll be a place worth going to indeed.
Medford Brewing Company