BrewReview: Notch Brewing
By Steve Solito
BeerSeekers on the job: Steve and Bird
Notch Brewery and Taproom is located in historic Salem, Massachusetts. Ya know, the place with the witches? Don’t get me started on that topic, because, spoiler alert, the witch trials lasted only like 18 months… 329 years ago… There’s a lot more to the area than witchcraft and Halloween, and a big part of that is BEER! We live in Salem, and we're all about the North Shore craft brewing scene. That’s why we’re here after all.
Salem is home to two breweries, a cidery and a distillery, and bordering towns contribute at least another eight breweries! I don’t have the numbers on me, but I’d venture to guess Notch is one of the biggest in the bunch. Let’s dive in!
Notch Brewery and Taproom is located in downtown Salem on the beautiful waterfront, tucked away at the back of a brick building that is also home to Brothers Taverna. Brothers is what you’ll see from the street, but the back of the building is an ideal spot to sneak in a brewery. As you approach the brewery you’ll be able to see they have a great outdoor setup! Currently, their outdoor seating extends into their parking lot, but if you can get a seat on the actual patio, that’s where it’s at. Their patio seating is situated right next to Pickering Wharf for a perfect North Shore Mass. look and feel. Can’t ask for more from a patio setup in the warmer months.
Their gravel patio (complemented by a view of the water plus overhead string lights) essentially serves as an extension of the taproom too. With a big ol’ garage door right on the face of the taproom, the two areas seamlessly intertwine to really create one whole experience. The L-shaped taproom is plenty spacious for non-COVID times, but Notch has been very cautious in ramping things back up, what with all those witch-seeking tourists. It’s definitely for the best.
The inside of the taproom has an industrial feel to it with plenty of exposed brick and super high ceilings. There’s lots of cool graffiti-style wall art and even a skeeball machine (for non-COVID enjoyment). Overall, it’s a fantastic setup highlighted by some amazing indoor and outdoor scenery.
Onto the main event: the beer! Notch is ALL IN on session beers. They delve much further into Central and Eastern European styles than most, so I will say this is not going to be the place to go if you’re looking for a sampler of IPAs. They do have a couple session IPAs, but Notch, in my opinion, really differentiates themselves with a number of Czech and German lagers, some dark, some amber, and some classic, pale, crisp Pilsners.
Their year-round beers consist of one Czech Pale Lager, a German Pale Lager, a Blonde Ale, New England Pale Ale, and two session IPAs, but they offer plenty of other rotational brews such as stouts, sours, Doppelbocks and a Berliner Weiss, with many other lagers and pale ales. Hopefully this gives you a good idea of what to expect from these guys.
Tenner (Czech Pale Lager) 4% ABV
Notch seems to take some additional pride in this one. They emphasize the fact that this is a SESSION pilsner, which seems to be debated in the industry. Are all Pilsners not session brews? Well, no, they are not! Notch undoubtedly describes this way better than I do, but at 4% ABV, it’s hard not to argue that this beer is even more sessionable than the average pilsner. Tailor made for a liter stein, Tenner pours a clear straw/gold, forming a creamy head. Crisp and light throughout the sip, you’ll get a mix of breadiness, a bit of fruitiness (apple-y perhaps), with a little of that lager earthy/grassiness mixed in. Some sweet, some bitter, and all crisp! This beer is so refreshing that I am happy it’s only 4%. I want that full stein (or two)!
Paczki Stout (Pastry Stout) - 3.3%
This is a new release, so I was ecstatic to see it in cans at the taproom the weekend we went for a visit. I was dying to try this beer - it sounded so unique and something I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see in the lineup from Notch.
Paczki Stout (pronounced "poonch-key" in the U.S.) is made using traditional Polish pastries called Paczkis from Salem’s own Coffee Time Bake Shop. Who isn’t gonna love deep-fried dough filled with jelly infused into anything? This beer used raspberry Paczkis thrown into the mixer along with vanilla bean and lactose. The day we went to Notch it was 75 and sunny out - not ideal “stout weather,” but the beer itself was wildly crisp and refreshing for the style, and at 3.3% it wasn’t overbearing in any way. The vanilla, pastry and lactose were the predominant flavors, but the slight twist of raspberry helped add to its refreshing nature and drinkability.
I’m not sure how long this beer will be available in cans or at the taproom; it feels like a limited release, but I can only hope it sticks around for at least a little while so I can acquire more for my fridge at home. Usually a 3.3% beer wouldn’t get me overly excited, but this one was so good and got better with every sip. Easily recommended for all beer lovers to try. Za twoje zdrowie!
The Final Word
If you must visit Salem for witch tours and Halloween stuff, stop at Notch while you’re at it. Better yet, go during non-Halloween times so you have a little more elbow room. No matter when you choose to go, you’re in for a fairly unique beer experience, and beautiful wharf-side scenery. With a focus on session brews, you can hang out for an extra beer or two while you’re at it.
For more information on Notch Brewing, check out their website here. You can also check them out on social media @notchbrewing. Cheers!