Worcester’s brewery at a hockey rink is unlike any other taproom in Mass.

When you first arrive at Bay State Brewing Company, you may be questioning what in the world you just stepped into. On one side you, have craft beer fans coming in for beer boots and IPAs. On the other side, you have kids shuffling in with giant equipment bags as they head to the hockey rink.

That’s just a typical day for one of the more overlooked breweries in Central Mass. Since setting up shop at the Worcester Ice Center in 2012, Bay State co-founders Shawn Rich and Chip Jarry have been providing a warm beer hall experience that also happens to be located at the Worcester Ice Center in the city’s Canal District.

“It’s fun to see, people are getting mixed in that are not attached to hockey at all. They’re just coming in for a beer, like, ‘What’s going on?’” Rich says.

In a bustling craft beer industry where trends are always changing and it can be hard to stand out, the folks at Bay State are plenty content to do their own thing. They’re not the biggest or flashiest. They just make good beer, with a background in classic European styles.

But Bay State is nothing but boring. In fact, the two-floor tavern provides one of the most unique taproom experiences you’ll find anywhere in the state.

Bay State Brewing Company offers a host of communal tables, in the style of a European beer hall.

One taproom, ‘four or five different vibes’

Bay State Brewing is a balancing act of several taproom experiences all at once. You just need to find which one fits you best.

The first-floor taproom is a communal beer hall space full of communal picnic tables where you can peruse their beer menu, which is one of the deepest and most varied you’ll find in Central Mass. Bay State also offers a well-rounded food menu that offers everything from nachos and poutine to burgers and mac & cheese. Their pizzas are a big standout as well.

There are TVs on the first floor, where seating options spill out into the Worcester Ice Center — and extend outside when weather permits. However, they’re usually devoted solely to showing the menus. The only exception is when Red Sox or Bruins games are on.

“The whole thing is to have downstairs just be a communal taproom,” Rich says. “Just talk to each other, set your phones down, check out, have a beer and socialize and not be stuck watching the TV or game or a Keno machine.”

The second-floor area is more of a sports bar vibe. There, you’re more likely to catch an NFL game on TV — or get a look onto the practice rink to see what’s happening on the ice.

The second floor, which offers its own bar and can be rented for private events, also has a long line of classic arcade games. That’s in addition to the small arcade space that belongs to the Worcester Ice Center on the first floor.

“It’s kind of cool because there’s four or five different vibes, depending on where you’re at,” Jarry says.

Jarry also notes that, while Bay State doesn’t advertise it, they are dog-friendly. It’s just one more factor that makes the taproom especially welcoming for families.

“I think, by design, we’ve always been family-friendly,” Jarry says. “Family’s important to us, same for all of our employees. I’d rather have a family vibe than anything. It just cuts down on the BS. It seems to be a happier place because the kids are here.”

Then there’s the hockey element.

The ice rink at the Worcester Ice Center can bee seen from the second floor of Bay State Brewing Company.

The brewery at the hockey rink

“Beer and hockey” isn’t just the theme for the brewery, it’s how Rich and Jarry got to know each other.

“I think every brewery kind of has their little thing and hockey’s is kind of ours,” Rich says. We both play hockey. We played it for years, still play it. It’s nice to be that close to the game and be around a couple of our loves.”

The Worcester Ice Center is a consistent hub of ice-based activities. It’s best known as the practice rink for the Junior Railers. It also hosts public skates, figure skating events and “Learn to Curl” classes.

So when families are coming and going from the ice center, it’s certainly convenient to grab some food and drinks at the Ice Center. Why not? They’re already parked.

“It’s a big part of who we are,” Rich says. “The parents come in, they’ll come and have a beer while junior’s on the ice for practice. Sometimes he’ll come off the ice and come in and have a burger or some pizza or mac & cheese.”

Want a big refreshing beer? Bay State is the place to go. (MassLive Photo)

The Beer: Classic roots, but always trying something new

Jarry and Rich don’t chase trends.

The two were in the beer business for years before opening up their own brewery. Their background is in European styles — and they tend to be lager-centric.

But it’s not all they do. Bay State’s Becky Likes the Smell Double IPA is their most notable beer, coming in as a surprisingly drinkable 10% ABV beer that packs a big punch of hoppy flavor.

You’ll usually find a lot of traditional beer styles on the menu, like their sweet, malty doppelbock and their smooth, balanced Off The Rails Vienna lager (the official beer of the Worcester Railers).

But you’ll also see plenty of creativity on the tap list. Their King Midas golden stout is a lower-ABV standout at 4.8%. It’s a rare light-colored stout that is the perfect malty session beer that comes in with a rush of roasty flavors that can tie your brain in a knot. The Blood Orange Lager is one of Bay State’s more successful experiments. Theirs is made from a lager base (instead of the usual Belgian wit), making it a fun, crisp changeup from the usual formula.

Bay State’s co-founders aren’t keen on making trendy IPA with wacky flavors. That’s not a knock on anyone else. They just know what they like. But Rich and Jarry also make plenty of room for creativity and experimentation. Whenever they travel the country and visit a new beer hotspot, they keep an eye out for ideas.

Then it’s back to the lab to try out those concepts.

“We’ll sit down and go one day and go, ‘Well what about this?’ So, we’ll sit down and create a recipe and work on it,” Jarry says. “That 10-barrel system is a great incubator for us. It’s so much fun to create a beer and have it come out and — you know, there’s no better way to test market any product than to say, ‘What do you think?’ So we get the feedback.”

That’s how you get fun concepts like the Schrute Farms IPA made with beets (hence the reference from “The Office”).

But at the end of the day, Bay State specializes in the classics. In the warm months, that means a light summery beer and a hot dog from their special gameday menu before going to a WooSox game. In the fall, it means checking out their Oktoberfest, which is their biggest event of the year.

Most days, it’s a spot where friends and family can come together and grab food and a drink. For the past 12 years, it’s worked out pretty well.

More stuff you should know about Bay State Brewing Company

Check them out: Website | Facebook | Instagram

What’s the address? – 112 Harding St., Worcester, MA 01604

What’s the parking situation? – There’s a full lot of free, off-street parking in front of the Worcester Ice Center.

Do they serve food? – Yes. Bay State has a full kitchen.

When are they open? – Here are the listed business hours at the time of writing.

  • Sunday: 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
  • Monday: 3 p.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 3 p.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Friday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.

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