Worcester’s Tiny Brewery is Ready for the Big Time

An update on Wormtown, Ken Carman’s column on Wormtown here @ PGA can be found HERE.

Written by Aaron Nicodemus for telegram.com

Until March 2009, there hadn’t been a brewery in Worcester for 60 years.

With its two-year anniversary approaching next month, Wormtown Brewing Co. is gearing up to expand. The brewery is squeezed into 1,200 square feet — in what was once an ice cream parlor — next to Peppercorn’s restaurant on Park Avenue.

The way owner Thomas M. Oliveri tells it, he created the ice cream parlor thinking about the lines snaking around the corner at ice cream shops on Cape Cod.

And line up for ice cream they did — in June, July and August. Not so much in the other months.

So he went in another direction, using the space to brew beer. He expected to supply Peppercorns and his other restaurant, Prezo Grille & Bar in Milford, with kegs of beer — maybe a couple of other restaurants — and see how it went.

The brewery has bloomed.

Wormtown Brewing Co. beer is served on tap in about 130 restaurants across Massachusetts, he said, and its 22-ounce bottles and growlers are sold in 60 package stores in and around Worcester, Boston and Springfield.

“I could be statewide right now,” he said, as his cellphone beeped at him while sitting at a table in Peppercorns. “But I don’t have enough beer to sell to the distributors.”

Wormtown Brewing Co. is pumping out 5,000 kegs of beer a year. By microbrewery standards, that is small.

The Brewers Association, a national organization of smaller brewers with 1,300 members, defines a microbrewery as producing less than 30,000 kegs of beer a year.

What does that make Wormtown Brewing Co.? It’s a craft brewery. A nano-brewery! (I just made that last one up, but let’s see if it sticks.)

A tour of the brewery is short, and not without peril. One step down from Peppercorns and the air is filled with the smell of hops. Tubes snake around on the sticky floor, refrigerators are filled to the brim with beer and hops, and steaming vats of beer tower overhead.

Master brewer Ben Roesch of Worcester is adjusting a beer line when we enter. He buzzes around the space, checking lines and pointing out where beer flows, where it ferments and where it is poured into containers.

With barely enough room to move around, two full-time brewers and two part-time employees are elbow-to-elbow. In addition to brewing five types of year-beers and several seasonal and limited-release brews, they fill every single keg, growler and 22-ounce bottle by hand, instead of using a bottling machine. (It doesn’t make a difference in the taste of the beer, but there’s just no room for a machine in their tiny brewery space).

Mr. Oliveri said it’s time for Wormtown Brewing Co. to grow up and find its own home.

He’s been searching for manufacturing space in the city and suburbs, including a location in Shrewsbury (Wormtown in the suburbs! Egads!) and another spot in the city, near Walmart.

But Mr. Oliveri’s heart is set on Union Station. There is a 7,000-square-foot manufacturing space, just off the main hall, with loading docks.

It is vacant rough space with 30-foot-high ceilings held up by giant concrete pillars, walls of exposed brick and concrete floors. The space is jumbled up with chairs and tables, as well as various city-owned odds and ends.

There is another 3,000 or so square feet of elevated space that looks down on what would be vats of beer. There is enough space to put in a tasting bar and a small retail space, in which Wormtown Brewing Co. could sell glasses and T-shirts.

“We could give brewery tours as well,” Mr. Oliveri said.

The city and Wormtown Brewing Co. are working on an agreement, but nothing is finalized. Union Station is owned and managed by the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, and last week the board approved spending up to $24,000 on engineering to determine if the space is viable for a brewery.

Timothy J. McGourthy, chief development officer for the city, serves as the chief executive officer of the redevelopment authority. He told the authority board last week, “We need to understand what might need to be done to make this happen. What we have right now is raw space.”

He estimated that $4,900 would be spent evaluating the space, and said that the remaining engineering money would only be spent once the report confirms the space will work as a brewery.

If he can find a space, Mr. Oliveri said he would spend up to $500,000 to outfit a brewery that could produce 12,000 kegs of beer a year, and a bottling line that could bottle beer into six-packs. He’d have to hire one or two more full-time employees, and one or two more part-timers. With that capacity in place, he could take Wormtown Brewing Co. statewide.

“I think we have something pretty unique here,” he said.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@telegram.com or at (508) 793-9245. 

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