CraftRoots Brewing is Making History—and Great Beer
Photos by Ken Rivard
At around 5:30 on a sunny afternoon in late April the taproom at CraftRoots Brewing in Milford is starting to fill up. The early arrivals, sporting business casual, most likely work in nearby buildings. After the rainiest April on record, it finally feels like we have turned a corner. Late-afternoon sun streams through the front windows of the converted warehouse, throwing light on the hand-made and painted tables and their color-coordinated metal stools. A 24-foot-long reclaimed wood bar spans the length of the back wall, with a blackboard above the taps highlighting the day’s selections.
CraftRoots Brewing is the first 100%-woman-owned brick-and-mortar brewery in the history of Massachusetts. Owners Maureen and Robin Fabry live in Milford with their 12-year-old twin boys. They picked the location, in an industrial park a stone’s throw from Route 495, in large part because of its proximity to their home. “I can ride my bike here,” boasts Maureen, who is the company’s sole brewer. They started the business in 2014, sold the first keg in 2015 and moved to the current space in 2017.
With a focus on sustainability, Maureen makes beer using only ingredients grown on small farms in the Northeast—primarily New England. In 2017 the National Brewers Association named CraftRoots the fastest-growing brewery in the country. Which doesn’t mean it’s big. In a 4,800-square-foot seven-barrel brewery adjacent to the taproom, Maureen brewed 469 barrels in 2018, up from 308 the previous year. She expects to break 500 this year. “It’s good growth, but it’s manageable,” she says. “We know there’s opportunity in this marketplace to generate more beer, but for Robin and me also it’s a commitment to having a balance in our life.”
Maureen brews Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm. Robin is in charge of the taproom, on-site 5–9pm Wednesday and Thursday, 3–10pm Friday, noon–10pm Saturday and 2–6pm Sunday. “We don’t see a lot of each other,” laughs Maureen. But job satisfaction counts for a lot and she radiates pride in what they have created. For Maureen, brewing is “a very Zen thing. I’m in the zone. It’s so incredibly rewarding to see what you’ve done at the end of the day and to look around the taproom and see people enjoying it.”
Looking around the taproom she also sees her wife’s handiwork. A retired state trooper, Robin is responsible not only for the taproom’s vibrant decor and welcoming feel but she also made and painted the furniture and the paintings on the walls.
Like many craft beer brewers, Maureen started as a home brewer, in her case more than 20 years ago. She had moved to Boston from Chicago in 1991 to attend graduate school in theology. Though she loved the academics, she felt she needed “more life experience,” and left school after a year. She started home brewing in the mid-1990s and “quickly fell in love with it,” she says. She enrolled in the Craft Brewers Apprenticeship Program at American Brewers Guild, graduating in 1999.
When she entered the industry, at the dawn of the new century, women brewers were more of an anomaly than they are now. Maureen considers herself fortunate to have had a female brewer as her mentor at Brew Moon in Cambridge, where she apprenticed as part of her degree program. Still, she says, “You do have to prove that you can do the job. It’s a physical job and there’s a decent amount of science involved with it.” Throughout her career, though, she says she has been, “100% of the time encouraged by men who owned breweries and who trained me and who gave me opportunities.”
After graduating, Maureen worked at John Harvard’s Brew House, Boston Beer Works and Berkshire Brewing Company. In 2006, she had her twins. By the time they were 4, when they “were up and about,” Maureen started home brewing again. “I began to discover the renaissance of local, sustainable agriculture that pertains to brewing, with grain and hops grown locally,” she says. “To me it was incredibly compelling to make a beer that had a sense of place, that was so rooted in the local community.” She was drawn both by the idea of supporting local farmers and maltsters (people who convert raw grain to malt for brewers) and taking advantage of the local flavors imparted into the ingredients, to develop beers with what she describes as “Northeast-centric flavors.”
For years Maureen and Robin had planned to open a brewery once Robin retired from the State Police force. They found their current 6,000-square-foot space in July 2016 and spent the next eight months renovating it, while Robin was still working. She finally retired after 32 years and came onboard CraftRoots full-time in July 2017.
When Maureen began to experiment with local hops and malts, she says she knew others who were using them in small batches, but “not who was starting a whole brewery revolved around” using them. Now she uses hops from Four Star Farms in Northfield, Massachusetts; she sources her malts from Valley Malt in Hadley, Massachusetts; Blue Ox Malt House in Lisbon Falls, Maine; Maine Malt House in Mapleton; and Peterson Quality Malt in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont. She uses the base malt from Blue Ox for her blonde ale, one of the brewery’s core beers that she describes as perfect for people who are new to craft beer. Maine Malt House base malt is in Hop Star, the brewery’s core IPA; and Hop Mantra. One of a few rotating beers, Hop Mantra has notes of citrus and grapefruit peel. All four maltsters provide specialty as well as base malts.
CraftRoots usually has eight beers on tap: four core flavors and at least four rotating drafts. “In the beginning it was easy to pinpoint the flavor profiles people were looking for,” says the brewer. “We did a blonde ale. It’s a nice crossover, very approachable and accessible. Now IPAs are all the rage. Newer brews come along when there’s a new ingredient I want to try—either a new hop or grain, or for special events.” Every spring Pink Boots Society, a group that provides scholarships for women in brewing, encourages brewers to develop special beer on International Women’s Day. This year Maureen made a Brut IPA that she says sold out “too quickly.”
When the business was in its early days, Maureen was brewing roughly 10 gallons at a time (compared to 217 gallons now). “I wanted it to be a viable product before we committed,” she says. Also, because they were relying on local hops and malt, she wanted to make sure there would be enough high-quality supply. Happily, she notes, the beginning of the Craft Maltsters Guild has paralleled the growth of craft brewing.
After a couple of years of living and breathing CraftRoots Brewing, “I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the pressure,” Maureen says. “You never know if you’ll be accepted as a woman, if your product will be accepted. You make the best beer you can make.”
CraftRoots sells 75% of their beer in the taproom. They deliver the rest in kegs to local draft accounts. Taproom customers can bring home reusable 32-ounce glass squealers or 64-ounce growlers. Supply is, intentionally, “fairly limited,” Maureen explains. She and Robin get many more requests to supply beer than they can meet. But their focus is to maintain the community feeling they have established and to serve as a locale for events, fundraisers and live music. “We love that we can feature local musicians every weekend,” she notes with obvious delight.
Even though they have been open for two years, at least 60% of local visitors are coming in for the first time. “I feel we haven’t satisfied our local demographic yet,” Robin says. Perhaps because of its MetroWest location, CraftRoots attracts a largely middle-aged demographic, “which I think is an untapped market,” she notes. “People sit here and say, ‘There’s nothing around like this for us to do.’” The former state trooper revels in planning themed events for her audience, no matter their demographic. Though the taproom does not serve food they host popups and customers are encouraged to bring their own meals or snacks. There is also a private events room, where customers bring in catered food or local delivery. “It’s like a blank canvas,” says Maureen. “You can have any type of activity, any kind of food. I can create a one-off beer.”
And all of it, she emphasizes, “is not just brewed here. It’s grown here.”
This story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue.