A Day with Untold Brewing
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
Since I picked up my first craft beer in 2003, I’ve always enjoyed learning the story behind a beer, or the story behind the person behind a beer. As the landscape of craft beer in the United States has grown and evolved, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many fascinating craft beer people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. I’ve also witnessed breweries grow beyond being purely industrial spaces to the town’s community gathering spot.
I’ve recently been thinking about the concept of “community” in craft beer. Over the past four years in Massachusetts, breweries have popped up all over the state – in urban neighborhoods, industrial parks, and small towns. So, what does it look like when craft beer is genuinely a part of the local community?
The South Shore of Massachusetts is known for its small towns and quiet seaside views, and now, a thriving and locally focused craft beer scene. On a freezing and overcast day in January, I took a day trip to visit Untold Brewing in Scituate, MA.
Untold Brewing was founded in 2016 by Matt Elder & Kristin Greene (siblings who originally hail from Scituate), and Kyle Hansen. Their home is the old Scituate schoolhouse – a 165-year-old structure which was moved from its original location and underwent a stunning restoration to become the brewery’s taproom with the production facility attached behind it.
Matt & Kyle met in Seattle, Washington when they were both working at Georgetown Brewing Company. After four years working in the brewery and the lab, Kyle was feeling ready for a change and was contemplating trying out the East Coast. He broached the subject with Matt, who admitted that HE was thinking about opening a brewery back in his home state.
Prior to Untold opening in 2017, there weren't many options on the South Shore for locally made craft beer. I appreciated that in addition to giving the local schoolhouse a new life, many of their beers pay tribute to the town and history, and appeal to a broad base of beer drinkers.
Abigail, a crisp blonde ale, and Rebecca, a rich brown ale - named for the Scituate sisters who took up a fife and drum to trick British warships into retreat in the War of 1812 - are great beers for those who aren't hop heads. Pale 143 is a nod to Minot's Ledge Lighthouse which flashes 1-4-3: "I Love You." The hoppy beers at Untold have a distinct Pacific Northwest vibe: bright and bitter, with pine and citrus notes that come from classic American hops like Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus.
Craft Beer Cellar Belmont began carrying Untold early last year. It was fortuitous timing: many Belmont customers were asking for a locally-made “normal” IPA – one that wasn’t hazy and sweet. The Belmont Beer Geeks started recommending Untold’s East by Northwest IPA because they liked the west coast-style bitterness with subtle stonefruit notes from Mosaic and Simcoe hops - and it became a huge hit! CBC Belmont now gets weekly deliveries from Untold, and the Beer Geeks love telling customers about their new seasonal offerings.
I was lucky to meet most of the Untold team on the day I visited – it’s a small crew and many have been there since the beginning. With coffee in hand, I chatted with their sales manager, Brady, about how happy everyone at CBC Belmont has been with the success of their beer. He had been in for a tasting at the store a couple weekends prior, and the store sold several cases in those two hours.
Truth be told, my visit to Untold served two purposes - to meet the team, and to see how they used PakTechs in their packaging. We're all familiar with the rigid plastic holders that adorn the top of 16 oz 4-packs of cans. PakTechs became popular with breweries because they were affordable, easy to apply, strong, and available in an array of colors. Consumers felt good that they were made from recycled plastic, and since the handles said “Please Recycle” they could simply toss them in their recycling bin.
However - thanks to a post from the Mass Brew Bros this past summer - we learned PakTechs weren’t as recyclable as they seemed. Even though PakTechs are made from recyclable material (100% PCR, HDPE #2), since they are small and light the machines that sort our single-stream recycling tend to sort them with paper and other non-plastics. Recycling facilities were built years ago accounting for the types of recyclable products that existed at the time. New “recyclable” items don’t always play well in the system and can gum up the process entirely. So instead of being recycled, PakTechs unfortunately end up in landfills.
Belmont ordered an official recycling bin from PakTech and started collecting extra handles - hoping that somehow a true recycling program could get started in Massachusetts.
I won't bore you with the details of my months-long wild goose chase - but by December we were still at a dead end, and I had fourteen case boxes full of PakTechs stacked next to my desk. I should mention, these handles are indeed quite strong: of the hundreds I sorted, only one was broken. They are very much reusable.
I had been in contact with the Massachusetts Brewers Guild about my PakTech project and they provided me with a list of breweries that also had recycling bins. Lo and behold, there was Untold! When I reached out to find out about their progress, head brewer Kyle Hansen informed me that while they had a bin, they were reusing the collected PakTechs in-house and they would be happy to take all of ours. A few weeks later when their delivery driver, Chase, came with the latest beer drop, I sent most of my boxes with him.
Getting back to my visit, Kyle gave me a short tour of the brewery and explained how they reused the PakTechs: it was as easy as sorting them by color, making sure they were intact and free of stickers, and running them through their dishwasher for a quick clean. Any colors they don't currently use are put in storage, in the event they would be useful for a canning run in the future, or if another South Shore brewery might need some. The day I visited I brought two more boxes, and Jane and Liz (who manage front of house and marketing) got a kick out of sorting through some of the more obscure colors.
Untold uses a Wild Goose Canning Line for their packaging: on one end, Pete supervised the empty cans as they made their way through the filler, and on the other, Chase grabbed the freshly labeled cans, placed them in flats, and snapped PakTechs on by hand.
After the first canning run, Kyle and I sat down to chat about what it's like running a small brewery in a town like Scituate. Historically, Scituate had a significant fishing industry, but Kyle informed me of one of the local sayings: Scituate is a drinking town with a fishing problem. Untold is certainly an easy stop for locals who take the commuter rail to Boston – only a four-minute walk from the Greenbush station, it’s not hard to imagine stopping by to grab a 4-pack or a quick beer after a day at work. The inside of the schoolhouse gets beautiful natural light, and the patio must be lovely on a day when it's not freezing outside!
Being at Untold reminded me of old-world beer culture in Europe. Originally, breweries were hyper-local, and the town brewpub was the place where the community could relax and spend time together (aside from church). This small and locally-focused brewery model has started to become a part of American beer culture, and while it may not be flashy, it feels meaningful. You can sense a real connection between the beer and the people, and it's that connection that makes you want to hang around just a little bit longer for another pint. The one comment from Kyle that summed up their philosophy and has really stuck with me: "It's about an interaction, not a transaction."
When sometimes it feels like American craft beer is defined by long lines, instagrammable pictures, and beer ratings and check-ins, being with the team at Untold was a welcome reminder of why I loved craft beer to begin with - connecting with people and hearing their stories.
As her love for beer grew from a hobby to a profession, Mary has always felt strongly about community-building in craft beer: welcoming people from all backgrounds to the fold, helping everyone find a craft beer they love, and educating all types from craft beer novices to nerds (but she has a particular love for the novices).
In addition to her work in craft beer, Mary is also an accomplished operatic soprano. She has worked professionally as a performer, administrator, and educator in the creative arts for over 15 years.
Her first beer love: Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, OH.