About a year ago Chip Jarry and Shawn Rich prepared to open Bay State Brewing Company in a space previously occupied by a pizza shop the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center.
Looking to the future, they saw a mug club, a second-floor space for parties and gatherings and special events throughout the year.
Like most everyone else, a global pandemic wasn’t part of their business model.
Bay State opened last year on Feb. 29.
Despite all that’s happened since, Jarry and Rich can still joke that it’s their quarter-year anniversary next month with a 25% club – highlighting the state’s capacity for restaurants.
“It gave us the freedom to learn without a lot of pressure, if that makes sense,” Jarry said. “Of course, it also had the added pressure of lower income.”
In the 16 days before COVID sparked a business shut down and a stay-at-home advisory the brewery in Worcester’s Canal District was a hit.
Since then, sales are down about 60% when taking into account expanded outdoor seating. During the winter months as fewer people want to sit outside, the drop is closer to 70%.
The numbers fall in line with other breweries and restaurants across the state.
“The good that came out of this, if there’s any good, is we were able to slow down and see what worked on some levels,” Rich said. “We were new to the restaurant business. We worked in it but we never owned an establishment. We were able to get a few of the kinks out.”
In its first year in the city, Bay State Brewing Co. carved out a reputation as one of the most innovative breweries in Worcester: Schrute Farms infuses beet juice into an IPA. Bling is a Bay State brewed line of seltzers introduced in the summer. The winter brought another innovation in a Ginger Bread Cookie Ale.
“I think we’re different in the sense that we don’t cater to just beer geeks. I don’t want to take away from beer geeks, we like all beer drinkers,” Rich said. “I think we hit the gamut for everyone who likes beer.”
Bay State is unique in that patrons can find themselves in the taproom without leaving their house specifically craving a craft beer.
The location inside the Fidelity Bank Ice Arena opens the door for patrons stopping in after their child’s hockey practice, a workout at a gym or after purchasing Worcester Railer merchandise.
Jarry and Rich said they’ve also seen a strong presence of customers who stopped to try a beer after noticing the brewery from Interstate 290 or looking for a place to stop as they travel south from Maine or New Hampshire.
“We’ve got a broad base of customers,” Jarry said. “Although, we’re not trying to be all things to all people, we are trying to have a product where everyone comes in and enjoys.”
The brewery currently has three new brews on tap including the Ginger Bread Cookie Ale. Described as a winter warmer, featuring hints of gingerbread, Curacao orange peel and vanilla, there is an option of including cinnamon sugar on the rim.
“We just started playing around,” Jarry said. “We needed something for a holiday beer. We didn’t want something really big and heavy. We wanted something more flavorful.”
The brewing process began with a cinnamon base.
“We tried and tried and tried to get cinnamon in there. It just doesn’t work,” Jarry said. “So we started looking at different flavor combinations and gingerbread kept coming up.”
The final product included some basic ingredients found in gingerbread cookies. A sugared rim introduced a vehicle to include the desired ingredient from the start.
“Kind of like how you would dust a gingerbread cookie with cinnamon sugar,” Jarry said.
So far everyone who has tried the ale has enjoyed it, Jarry said. It’s currently only available on tap at the brewery along with two other new brews: Cross Roads Porter and Fullers London Pride.
Cross Roads is a blend of an English and Baltic porter that’s not too heavy. Jarry took what he believes are the best aspects to both porters to create Cross Roads.
A trip by Rich to London to see a New England Patriots game inspired Fullers London Pride. The brew resembles the taste of his favorite English brew.
“A lot of stuff, whether people like to admit it or not, everything is developed from something you like and you’ve tried,” Rich said.
Despite the diverse range of brews already on Bay State’s resume, Jarry feels the brewery has only scratched the surface of what it can produce.
Jarry targeted the spring for Bay State’s next innovative brew. It combines aspects of three kinds of beers. It’s also one Jarry hopes, will continue to build Bay State’s reputation in Worcester.
“There’s so many things we haven’t touched yet,” Jarry said. “We’ll get there in due time. But you have to develop a beer, make sure it’s good. Would I serve this to my best friend? If it doesn’t pass that test, then it doesn’t’ come to fruition.”