Take a sip, and the foam makes way for a smooth, deep flavor suspended in delicate bubbles with a graham cracker finish. The Graham Cracker BA Framinghammer, a bourbon barrel aged lager, is one example of how unique ingredients infuse flavor into Jack’s Abby’s beers. With choices like the light and crisp Hoponius Union with its fruity aroma and satisfyingly bitter hops, the smooth easy House Lager, or the spicy-smoky flavor of the Numb Swagger, your palate is never bored.
Jack’s Abby has been creating lagers in Framingham since 2011 and moved the facility to a beer hall with long tables, high ceilings and a wood-fire oven in October 2015. Though the new facility is pretty grand, their story has modest beginnings.
But first, let’s talk beer — specifically, craft lagers. According to co-owner and brewer Jack Hendler, though lagers have longer turnaround times and less flavor from yeast compared to ales, the taste outweighs the disadvantages: “Lagers… are much harder to produce [than ales]," he says. "They take a lot more cooling. You need more infrastructure to brew them, and the beers tend to be cleaner and crisper.” Jack’s Abby incorporates other components like hops, malts, or special ingredients to add flavor to the body.
This leads to beers like Excess IPL (that’s India pale lager), which lives up to its name with an excessive amount of hops layered throughout the brewing process, a variety of sour beers like the Sour Time Lager, or beers with unique ingredients like the PB&J Barrel-Aged Framinghammer (sure beats the old school lunch staple) and the Mole Barrel-Aged Framinghammer infused with cocoa nibs, chili peppers and cinnamon. A hotbed of creativity, much of the inspiration comes from travels to other countries and local suppliers' ingredients.
But not all beers showcase intense flavor profiles. For those with more sensitive taste buds, Hendler suggests the Framingham Lager or the House Lager. “Any time we have a traditional German style beer, they tend to be accessible to most drinkers," he says. "They’re not crazy bitter, crazy hoppy, or crazy strong.”
Fermenting history in the making
Okay, let’s back up.
Brothers Jack, Eric and Sam opened Jack's Abby, named after Jack and his wife, in Framingham five years ago in a much humbler setting. Hendler chuckles as he recalls those early days. “We had essentially just an office that we put a fridge in with some taps, and we bought a used bar from someone’s house… that was the extent of our retail for the first year and a half.” Next they re-did the space to have more of a pub vibe, mounting copper ceiling tiles, painting a mural and installing a keg cooler. But it was standing room only and they couldn’t serve food, so they were on the lookout for a new location.
When Hendler and his brothers were offered a look at the building at 100 Clinton Street in downtown Framingham, they turned it down because it seemed too big; at 67,000 square feet, it was larger than a football field.
But the brothers didn’t forget about that space. “About a year later, things were growing so exponentially, we were like, whoa, you know what… maybe there’s something we could do to work with this space.” It was still available, and the rest is history.
A gustatory cheers at a hopping new location
While Jack’s Abby brews aren't hard to come by — they sell at about 1,000 retail stores and 1,000 bars and restaurants in MA, and about the same number combined for out of state sales and distribution. Still, there is definitely reason to visit the beer hall and kitchen headed by Chef Gregg Bergeron. The same care, time and creativity that’s put into the lagers extends to their food, starting with the wood-fired pizza with inventive ingredients like wild mushroom, or clam and bacon (tender and crispy toppings unite). It's not just the ingredients that are special, but the process, too. They cold ferment the dough for an average of three days using a natural sourdough starter. Hendler explains: "We’re able to really develop that flavor in the dough, which gives it the nice chewiness and also the nice crispy crust on the outside."
As for Hendler’s favorite pizza? He sticks with the old reliable. With its thin crust, soft inside and crunchy, lightly charred outside, topped with a creamy mozzarella and sweet tomato sauce, how can you go wrong?
You might be thinking that along with the pizza comes standard pub fare, but quite to the contrary, customers can enjoy entrees such as wood-fired chicken wings (finger-licking good), mussels and some German influenced foods, including braised pork shank and house bratwurst. They plan on featuring an Octoberfest menu in the fall, but for the summer, think Pilsners, says Hendler. Coming out in July will be a rye Pilsner, in addition to their Sunny Ridge. “Pilsners are great summertime style beers. They’re hoppy, they’re bitter, but they’re not over the top — refreshing.”
What does Hendler recommend in terms of beer pairings? “I have a philosophy that beer should be consumed and you don’t have to think too much about it,” he says. We can all agree on that!
100 Clinton St., Framingham, 774-777-5085, jacksabby.com