For months after he opened Black Hat Brew Works in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, owner Paul Mulcahy drove two or three times per week to nearby Simpson Spring, loaded up his truck with 35-gallon tanks of water, and carted them back for use in the brewhouse. It was a pain in the ass and terrible for Mulcahy’s back (to say nothing of his truck’s suspension). But he says that the Simpson Spring water, which flows underground from Canada before bubbling up near Bridgewater, is crucial to the flavor and texture of his beer.
“It’s a bit hard to explain, but this is very unique water. There is a certain softness to it,” Mulcahy says. “We don’t use any tap water in our brewery; we feel like the Simpson Spring water is a huge part of what we’re doing.”
Luckily for his back and his vehicle, Mulcahey recently purchased a 600-gallon steel tank from the spring (the spring’s owners had ordered it from Italy, but it didn’t clear their building’s ceilings), saving him multiple trips. Now, that tank gets refilled every two weeks, like the brewery’s own personal water tower.
It’s the main ingredient in the brewery’s lineup of beers, which includes Belgian styles like a popular tripel as well as a newer range of IPAs. Since Black Hat’s opening last Black Friday (November 27), it has expanded its taproom hours from Thursday through Saturday, introduced a handful of single and double IPAs and cherry-picked five local bars and restaurants as draft accounts. Mulcahy is still only brewing on a one-barrel system, meaning he’s brewing six days a week just to turn out a dozen kegs of beer. (He is in talks with some equipment manufacturers to purchase a slightly larger system.) Summer visitors to the area combined with the popularity of Black Hat’s IPAs led to record sales the weekend of Memorial Day, a record that only stood until Fourth of July weekend.
“We did nine weeks at first without brewing IPAs, kind of to prove a point, but it would be a foolish business move not to do something people want,” Mulcahy explains. “So we do a couple Northeast-style single and double IPAs. We’re one of the only smaller breweries making that style of IPA around here. We pretty much chased the tails of Tree House and Trillium as best we can. It’s good to have people like that trying to push you to make beers of that style.”
Black Hat expects to maintain its small but steady clip through the summer. It’s also gearing up to organize South Shore Brew Fest in September, a second annual beer festival featuring nine or ten area breweries. And for Black Hat’s one-year anniversary party this November, the brewery plans to release a bourbon barrel-aged version of its holiday amber ale brewed with bourbon-soaked cherries and vanilla beans, as well as an imperial coffee stout. Both of those, of course, start with that soft, special Simpson Spring water.