Weekend Sabbatical: Lowell, Massachusetts for the Afternoon

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Historical Mill District from the river

Last weekend, last minute, we decided to attend the Stout Festival at the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Although we have enjoyed New England and the Boston area for four years now, we never actually spent any time in Worcester. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out both a city we haven’t enjoyed yet and one of the top rated beer bars in the world. And, yes, I did say world.

From Vermont, we usually take 89 south most of the way through Vermont and Massachusetts until we hit 93 south through Boston. This brings us through Lowell, MA which we hadn’t stopped at for a few years. Lowell is an old manufacturing center, mostly within the business of textiles. It is now, surprisingly, the four largest city in the state. The town is no longer centered on textile mills when it comes to the market, but the mills are still a major part of the town’s geography. In fact, much of the mill district has been restored, even becoming part of the Lowell National Historical Park.  Lowell is also the birthplace and burial place of Jack Kerouac, a well known novelist and poet of the beat generation.

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Upclose: Lowell Mill Equipment

We stopped for just a few hours, long enough to walk up and down the city streets, take in the old mill district, have some amazing lunch, and stop by Kerouac’s grave for the second time.

Highlights:

-History: You can learn a lot and get a better feel for the city if you take a moment to read the historical signs and outposts set up along the river, streets, and historical mill area. Having the mill as a backdrop to the city really allows you to envision it as it was in the 1800 and 1900’s.

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Jack’s Grave During Another Visit (Fall)

Jack Kerouac sites: Lowell is home to many important places in Jack’s early and later life. If you do some research before coming, you could stop by his childhood home, bars he frequented, parks he wrote in, and of course, where he is laid to rest.

-Culture and town life: When I hear of Lowell, I think of the average size Massachusetts town. However, Lowell is a city. Lowell is also a cultural hub, calling its home to many different ethnicities and cultures, evident by the different types of stores, churches, and clubs that call it home.

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Life Alive Wrap and Music

Before we left Lowell, we stopped by for music and lunch at Life Alive, located on Middle Street. This café calls a few different towns in Massachusetts home including Cambridge and Salem also.  There food is vegan and vegetarian, yet well known and delicious to all types of foodies. They infuse so much taste into every wrap, salad, and rice bowl, that it is hard to miss the meat. I heard this over and over from each meat eating foodie that stopped by. The atmosphere is also a lot of fun.

Quick Trips: Gloucester & the Cape Ann Coastline

The Fisherman’s Memorial Statue, 1925.

Gloucester is a small, coastal town that I immediately felt a connection with the first time I visited. It is one of our favorite “quick trips” within New England, and we make sure we stop there every time we are in the Boston area. Located about a 40 minute drive north of Boston, Gloucester has both sandy, pristine beaches and rocky, wavy beaches. In and around Gloucester, you can also explore six different lighthouses and hang out at one of my favorite brew pubs.

Although part of the fun of visiting coastal Massachusetts is finding different beaches on your own, one of my favorite beaches is Wingaersheek Beach. I only recommend it in the off season, however, as it gets extremely crowded and can cost a pretty penny for parking. My favorite time to visit is in the off season, when it is freely open to everyone, and most of the visitors are locals and dogs. It can be too cold for swimming at this time, but you have the whole beach to play on, including exploring every little nook and cranny. You can’t beat the views from this beach, also, including one of Gloucester’s many lighthouses.

All over town you are likely to see the town’s logo, a captain steering a boat.

My favorite lighthouses to visit are the  Twin Lighthouses located on Thacher Island. They are also referred to as Cape Ann Light Station which is where Cape Ann Brewing (mentioned below) gets its name and logo from. Not only are these two lighthouses among some of America’s oldest (erected in 1789), but they point true North when a ship sites on both towers.

Cape Ann Brewing is the local brewpub right in town. They actually grow some of their hops on Thacher Island where the Twin Lighthouses reside. They offer a relaxing atmosphere complete with shuffle board and a deck right on the water. They also always have at least 6 beers on tap. If they happen to have their Tea Party beer on tap, make sure to check it out. It incorporates all of the teas from the Boston Tea Party that were destroyed. I’ll also personally recommend both the fish sandwich and fish tacos, but only after a game of shuffle board and a beer.

Wingaersheek Beach with a lighthouse in the distance.

Lastly, Gloucester is well known for its lobster and fishing history. If you are only able to visit Gloucester once, make sure to do you research the area so that you can experience both the history of the town and the seafood. I’d recommend this site to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. If you are lucky enough to live in New England (like me!), Gloucester is the perfect reoccurring quick trip.

New England Real Ale Exhibition – Somerville, MA

NERAX Cask Ale Festival

Not everyone has heard of cask beer or real ale. For those of you who have not, real ale is different from your everyday beer because it completes its secondary fermentation in the same container from which it’s served. So, in the case of cask beer, the top fermented beer completes its secondary fermentation in the cask and then is manually pumped out of that cask without the use of any type of gas. What you get is a less carbonated beer, with more flavor and even more texture. Surprising to many, cask beer is served at a cellar temperature of 55 degrees.

One of the many reasons I enjoy living in New England is because of the diverse options that exist when it comes to beer. Each state has its own thing going when it comes to beer and, as a beer lover in New England, you can never go bored. This weekend, the New England Real Ale Exhibition held their  16th cask festival. So, on Saturday morning, Anth, Pup, and I made our way down to Somerville, MA to check out what a 100 cask beers on tap in one room looks, smells, and tastes like.

The cask conditioned ales waiting to be tapped

Somerville is located right outside of Boston and is about four hours from our home in Elmore, Vermont. Four hours is an easy weekend drive for us, so we left Saturday morning, meeting for lunch with our friend at the Yard House, before heading to the festival’s night session. What struck me most about this festival in particular was how organized and relaxed it was. Many beer festivals can be quite chaotic, with large lines and loud music. The NERAX cask festival was much more about enjoying cask beer with other cask-minded individuals. I was also impressed with how they chose their tap list. They had two categories of beer: beer from the U.S. and beer from the U.K.. However, the beer from the U.S. was all from New England! Yes, all 50 U.S. beers hailed from the six most Northeastern States.

My favorite cask conditioned drink was actually not a beer at all, but a fermented cider. It was called the Take Two Dry Cidah and hailed from Portland, Maine. The cider actually takes reactivated cider yeast, and instead of adding carbonation to feed the yeast, they add raw Maine wildflower honey and then cask condition it. The company behind this madness is the Urban Farm Fermentory. They are doing a lot of cool stuff in and out of the cider world including fermented vegetables.

The NERAX Cask Ale Festival lived up to its expectations and offered something different in the New England beer scene. I think we will definitely be heading back for future sessions. On our way home Sunday, we made a detour in Gloucestor, MA, one of my favorite coastal New England towns, to visit the beach and local brewery. It was the perfect ending to the weekend, but that’s an entirely different post!