Family Time on Tap: The Rise of Kid-Friendly Breweries

Amanda Collins Bernier

On a sunny Saturday or Sunday, it’s not uncommon for Stone Cow Brewery in Barre host a crowd of 6,000 people – more than the entire population of quiet farming town where its located. Their rotating brews are the draw for beer lovers, but suds-sipping adults are just part of their clientele.

“You’ll see strollers, babies, kids running around. We’re a family destination,” said owner Sean DuBois. “It’s sort of the ultimate kid destination, that just happens to have really great beer.”

Indeed the brewery, set on sprawling grounds of Carter & Stevens Farm – a fifth generation dairy farm – has a wide appeal. The taproom, housed in a picturesque 19th century barn, is nestled among fields of roaming farm animals. Pizza, a playground and an ice cream stand are among the brewery’s kid-friendly offerings.

The explosion of the craft brewing scene has brought small-scale breweries with sprawling taprooms to every corner of the state, and Stone Cow is just one of the many that is tapping into the all-age appeal. Since a good chunk of craft beer consumers are adults with young children, the family-friendly niche makes perfect sense, said Katie Stinchon, Executive Director for the Mass Brewers Guild.

“If you walk into a brewery on a Saturday afternoon you’ll find a group of moms and dads with their babies in carriers, or playing cornhole and giant checkers with their toddlers while they snack on a soft pretzel,” she said. “The parents are happy to be out enjoying a beer, lunch from a food truck, and having fun with their kids.”

According to Stinchon, some 60 breweries have opened in Massachusetts just in the last two years, many offering something beyond brews.

“Breweries are doing a great job tapping into their neighborhoods and turning their tap rooms into ‘community centers,’” she said. “On any given day you can find a pub trivia night, jogging club, yoga session, Pints & Pup night, paint nite, live music, food pairing class, or homebrewing workshop taking place nearby. All of this contributes to a brewery’s overall identity.”

For brewers, creating an atmosphere that appeals not just to beer loving adults, but their kids, too, is a deliberate part of their business’s character.

At Wachusett Brewing Company, which last December opened a new 3,000 square-foot brew yard, making the space kid-friendly was part of the concept.

“We really wanted this to be a pillar destination. We wanted this to be family family. We don’t serve spirits. We’re not open late,” said Wachusett Brewing President Christian McMahan. “We wanted to create a space where families were comfortable.”

Located in Westminster, just a few miles away from Wachusett Mountain, he said they wanted the brewery to be an extension of the family recreation opportunities in the area. That meant having things for kids to do (a giant Connect Four, table games, and corn hole) and to eat (their menu features kid-favorite chicken tenders and fries).

“Whether it’s weekend destination seekers, people from the Boston area or Vermont or New Hampshire -- we’re seeing a lot of groups that pick this as a meeting location,” said McMahan. “Whether they’re hiking, biking, etc., this has become a post-recreation place for families.”

The same thought went into planning a family-friendly space at Stone Cow Brewery. Not only did DuBois and his wife, Molly, want the atmosphere to be welcoming to customer’s children, they wanted create a place that their own three kids wanted to be.

“That was sort of our goal,” DuBois said. “We wanted to make a place we’d want to bring our family, or where other parents would want to be and want to bring their kids.”

Families planning their next brewery outing can check out the Mass Brewers Guild free mobile app and beer trail map “Mass Craft Beer.” It tells you which breweries are family-friendly, dog friendly, have patios, food trucks, etc., and will also give you directions to breweries nearby.