The moment that many Massachusetts-based craft beer enthusiasts have been speculating about for the past three years may have finally occurred: the craft beer bubble may have finally begun to burst.
Last Friday afternoon, insiders and casual fans alike were shocked to read an announcement on Instagram: Chelsea’s Mystic Brewery -- long considered one of the Boston area’s hidden gems until a recent spike in IPAs gained them more general visibility -- will be shutting their doors after over eight years of business.
Mystic, founded by Bryan Greenhagen, started life as a traditional saison brewery during a time when Massachusetts breweries numbered in the dozens (the current count is over 200). Throughout the course of its eight years, Mystic has proven a hub of innovation, a paragon of quality brewing, and a training ground for new, inspired brewers: Mike Patterson, head brewer for Small Change Brewing, and Isaac Boucher, brewer at Night Shift, are just a few of the folks who earned some credits at the Mystic Brewing campus.
Despite having a bit more knowledge than the average Mystic-goer, I am relying mostly on speculation around why the brewery has decided to call it quits. I know they were plagued in many ways by their location - tucked away in a corner of Chelsea that offered little in the way of convenience, and limited by the variety of events they were allowed to have at the taproom. They also, like many current breweries, felt increased pressure to meet consumer demand to make the ever-popular New England style IPA.
To many, the transition from beers like Mystic’s esteemed Saison Renaud to a donut collab and consistent lineup of NEIPAs may have appeared seamless, but some of us knew better. For a brief period of time, the look and feel of Mystic’s marketing was wholly un-Mystic. And while many people understood that Mystic’s decision was based on the need to meet growing consumer demand, you couldn’t help but feel a minor twinge of loss: another classically-trained painter forced to make comic books.
Ultimately, Mystic’s pending closure is based on a variety of factors and is the decision of Bryan Greenhagen. I will miss the brewery’s lovely cathedral space, the incredibly friendly staff and, of course, the beer. But as we start to see the rapid growth of breweries in Massachusetts slow, the question on many peoples’ minds is: who will be the next to close?
I didn’t anticipate Mystic would be one of the first to fall, and the announcement has, and will continue to, send ripple waves throughout the craft beer community. If Mystic, a highly-regarded brewery with quality beer and respected brewers, can close, is anyone safe? I suspect we’ll hear similar announcements from a few other breweries before the year is over.
It’s scary. But it’s also business. The growth we saw in the last two years was simply unsustainable. The craft beer boom will soon be plateauing in the Commonwealth, evolving and maturing. And when the after-shock of the broken bubble settles into the new normal, we’ll be looking at a landscape of breweries that have survived by a combination of brand consistency, quality product, marketing diversity and a little bit of luck.
Like the man said, may you live in interesting times.