This past week I had the opportunity to spend time in Boston, Massachusetts. This was my first time visiting the city and I was not entirely sure what to expect from it. I knew, if nothing else, I’d have a good time visiting all the historical sites from the American Revolution and finally having the opportunity to see Fenway Park with my own eyes. From a purely tourist perspective, I was aware I’d have a full plate to keep myself busy. From the perspective of a Craft Beer Enthusiast, I had a whole separate agenda to occupy my nights with.
When one thinks of a craft beer mecca, Boston is probably not the first place that springs to the front of your mind. It’s very likely the first brewery you think of is Samuel Adams. After all, it says ‘Boston Lager’ right there in the name. However, this is a dramatic misconception as the craft beer scene in Massachusetts is a strong and vibrant one with close to sixty breweries in the state featuring a wide variety of styles. It is not simply a land of lagers, but home to a really diverse set of brewers who help to make the beer landscape very unique in the region.
Our first night in the city after spending all day on a plane from San Diego we decided to keep it low key and stick around the area of our hotel near Boston Common area. After getting an outstanding pizza at Sal’s on Tremont Street we walked around the corner and found Stoddard’s Food and Ale, 46 Temple Pl, emphasis on ale. We quickly found ourselves in love with the place and our new favorite bartender Alice, whose quick wit and great beer knowledge provided us with an excellent entry point to the craft beer scene of Boston. I had made a promise to myself that I’d always try new beers on this trip, nothing I could get back home. Alice helped point me in the right direction with a Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union, considered a hoppy lager, this served to get my palate ready for what was to come from brewers in Boston. I then proceeded to drink my way down their draft list…all in the name of research, I swear!
On Sunday afternoon, we made what could be considered an obligatory stop, but on a personal level was an absolute must. We stopped for a few quick beers at Bull & Finch Pub, also known as the “Cheers” bar. I grew up loving this show and had no reservations about dragging my wife who never watched a single episode to the bar that inspired the show. The taps had a few macro brewery offerings, but also a nice mix of local micro brews as well. If you plan to go, be forewarned that it’s always busy there and despite what the song has lead us all to believe, they have absolutely no idea what your name is, but at least they are nice about it.
For Sunday night we scheduled a brewery/bar tour from the Boston Beer Tour Group. This is a great way for out-of-towners to get a chance to explore city and some of its finest breweries and bars in the area with a meal included at one of the brew pubs. They offer different destinations depending on what day of the week and what time you choose. For a Sunday evening tour we got a pretty eclectic mix. Our first stop was Harpoon Brewery, 306 Northern Avenue, Boston 02210, they are located right on the waterfront which makes for a great backdrop for the brewery.
When you enter the brewery, which you can skip the massive line if you have signed up with Boston Beer Tours, you will climb the flight of stairs and find yourself in a massive beer hall. It’s an impressive sight with a lot of good energy in the room. We quickly ordered one of the three flights they offered as we waited for our 5:30pm tour to begin. It was a nice sampling of their IPA, Rye IPA, Dark and a tasty number from their barrel series called Citra Victorious, our favorite of Harpoons offerings. As for the tour itself, it’s a really nice one. Of course if you’ve done a brewery tour before there is a certain element of familiarity but it’s interesting nonetheless. What I found to be the best aspect of the tour is the private tasting room area where you get to sample everything that Harpoon has to offer and as much of it as you like in the time that you are permitted there during your tour. For the record, I had everything, and more than one pour on most of them.
The next stop on the tour was Boston Beer Works, a local franchise with two spots in the city. Ours was the location just across the street from TD Garden, home of the Bruins and Celtics. This is where we got our meals as well, a huge selection of gourmet pizzas that hit the spot. The beers they brew here were good, solid offerings, the most interesting being their blueberry ale which has actual blueberries floating throughout the beer from the carbonation, a very cool visual.
From there it was a short trip across the Charles River to visit Cambridge Brewing Company, 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge MA 02139. This spot whips up some really nice brews in a variety of styles from saisons and wild ales to big IPA’s. Some of the standouts were Flower Child IPA, Audacity of Hops and Benevolence, a American wild ale aged in bourbon barrels; boozy and delicious.
The last spot of the night was Meadhall, 4 Cambridge Center, Cambridge MA 02142, which is a truly exceptional sport for craft beer from all over the world. They have a huge tap list and an impressive bottle collection. From here we found so many unique craft beers from the region that it became a little hard to keep track of all that we had over the course of our time there. One beer that we did have that I’d like to point out was our first taste of America’s first and only trappist brewery: Spencer; a golden ale that tastes pretty damn close to its brothers on the other side of the Atlantic. And what would a visit to a place called Meadhall be without having my first taste of actual mead? Wow, if this is what Romans and Visigoths were drinking back in the day, it’s amazing they actually found the motivation to kill the hell out each other.
On Monday we toured around Harvard and found a brew pub called John Harvard’s Brew House, it’s not an overwhelming selection but there is certainly something for everyone and it’s a nice space located in a large brick basement, a nice atmosphere for a drink. We would stick around Cambridge for the rest of the evening and would make our way back to Meadhall, this time to enjoy some dinner while continuing our exploration of the dense beer menu. The food was fantastic and one of our favorite bars on the trip.
Tuesday was the day we had marked for a journey down to the Jamaica Plains neighborhood. Our Uber driver urged us to not wonder around the streets and to call for a pick-up from the parking lot of our destination. So what was this destination located in such a dicey area of the Boston suburbs? Samuel Adams of course! The Brewery is located at 30 Germania St, Boston MA 02149. Whatever you may think of Sam Adams currently, there is little doubt they played a big part of the craft beer movement of the late 80’s and 90’s and on a personal level when I was living in Maryland and first began to venture away from macro beers Sam Adams played a big part in my learning what existed beyond Budweiser, Miller and Coors. With that said, obviously they have become so large that they now have to petition the Brewers Association on a yearly basis for the definition of ‘craft beer’ to be broadened so that they can still qualify to use that particular branding with their beers. This has caused me to question their legitimacy as well as the fact that they don’t even brew their beer in Boston…nor even in Massachusetts. Most beers with the Sam Adams label are, in fact, brewed in Pennsylvania. The brewery in Boston is mostly used for R&D purposes but when you visit Rome, you obviously have to at least take a look at the Pantheon. So we ventured to Sam Adams to see what is up. Honestly, the tour was pretty fun. They have a good group of people working there who keep things fun and lively and represent the brand well. They also pour a lot of beer on the tour. My biggest complaint was the simple fact that they didn’t have a dedicated tasting room so that I could indulge in some of the beers being created there. So I was sort of frustrated with that aspect of the day. So it’s a good thing I had another idea in my back pocket, which turned into a highlight of the trip.
After getting picked up by another Uber driver we had him head to Everett, MA which is right next to Charlestown, which if you watched “The Town” you know is home to all sorts of bank robbers and a skanky version of Blake Lively. Fortunately Everett is home to Night Shift Brewing and hands down my favorite brewery of the trip. Night Shift, in many ways, reminds me of a smaller version of SoCal favorite The Bruery, with a wide variety of styles and aged offerings to choose from. Amongst my favorites were two Berliner Weisse style beers and a Belgian Quad that had been aged two years in wine barrels. Ever Weisse and the Cape Codder Weisse along with the Quad Reserve and Jojo, an American Style IPA with some very interesting fruit notes, really made this place stand out and I expect their reputation to continue to grow as they expand operation in the newly opened location at 87 Santilli Highway, Everett MA. If you happen to be in the area and you swing by I hope you see Katrina because she has some of the best dance movers ever and if you are lucky you might get to enjoy the spectacle that she creates. There are lots of fun times to be had at this fast rising regional brewer.
The next day we spent hanging around Fenway Park and seeing the Red Sox do some business against the Braves and while beers were drunk, Harpoon IPA mostly, it wasn’t anything I’ve not already mentioned in this post. We also spent a lot of time partaking in historical tours and finding time to eat crazy fresh clam chowder and lobster rolls. The lobster mac and cheese from James Hook’s is absolutely phenomenal in case you were wondering. Or perhaps I should say it’s wicked awesome.
In conclusion I was insanely impressed with Boston, if it wasn’t for the absolutely atrocious winters and abysmally hot summers I would actually consider living there. I love the history and the biggest surprise was how nice the people were to us, I expected it to be much more like New York or Philadelphia. Perhaps we just got lucky. What is even more impressive than the city is that it is nice to see another state with a strong and growing craft beer scene. That said, a east coast IPA still doesn’t measure up to what we offer here in San Diego, that is not a bad thing, it just means I’m always really excited when I get home and I know what kind of beers await me.
Have you been to Boston? Any places I need to add to my list for next time? Or if you plan to be there and you use my experiences to help drink your way around the city, let me know how it turns out for you.