Nothing ever seems to last in Worcester, Mass. Take the downtown mall’s slow decline after opening in 1971; it now sits partially demolished and entirely vacant. It’s status quo for New England’s second largest city, and one reason it’s earned the unflattering nickname Wormtown.
Popularized by music ’zine Wormtown Punk Punk Press—yes, two “punks”—in the late 1970s, the somewhat derogatory handle was adopted by a generation of kids who knew what their city lacked, and were determined to create something better through art and music. While their artistic legacy endures, the local economy remains stagnant: “People say Worcester sucks because it doesn’t have stuff, but when it gets something, it’s not supported,” says Ben Roesch, who opened Wormtown Brewery, the city’s first production brewery in nearly half a century. “So it’s been interesting for us, opening up in 2010 and feeling that old-school vibe that Worcester wants [something new].” It isn’t just a feeling: Roesch’s proving you can buck Worcester’s curse with plans to expand the brewery this year.
You can see Roesch’s hometown pride in beer monikers like Turtle Boy Blueberry Ale, named after a downtown statue, and Elm Park Amber Ale, derived from Worcester’s historic public park. And then, of course, there’s the brewery’s name, both a badge of honor and an acknowledgement of the city’s shortcomings. Though, he warns you should keep in mind how casually you use the term “Wormtown” around locals.
“If you say something bad about Worcester, you better be from here,” jokes Roesch. “Otherwise, someone’s going to kick your ass.”