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My Craft Beer Tour of Boston; How do you like dem Apples?

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!

Just one of the fine bottles at Stoddards.

Just one of the fine bottles at Stoddards.

 

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.

Cheesy? Maybe, but still essential.

Cheesy? Maybe, but still essential.

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 private tasting room.

The private tasting room.

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.

American Trappist; It's a thing now.

American Trappist; It’s a thing now.

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.

You like this or you hate this.

You like this or you hate this.

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.

Night Shift is fantastic!

Night Shift is fantastic!

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.

Last one before I get my West Coast IPA.

Last one before I get my West Coast IPA.

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.

Slainte,

Tom

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Pumpkin Beer : Two great tastes that taste great together. Sometimes.

First – I dedicate this post to my longtime friend K-Dub, she loves herself a good pumpkin beer!

I’m proud to say that I was born right here in San Diego. That said, I also have a co-hometown in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where my Father moved us shortly after he finished his term with the Navy. I spent a lot of time growing up on the east coast and many of my closest friends still reside there so I have never really left it behind, even after my most recent move back to San Diego. If there is one thing I miss about the east coast, not counting my friends and family there, it would have to be the fall season. Something about the cool crispness of the air, the changing of the leaves to shades of yellow and orange, it really does a lot to invigorate my spirit. I absolutely love this time of the year.

Which is why I’ve been holding this blog back several weeks as Southern California is mired in a brutal heat wave that doesn’t really seem to be letting up. It’s challenging to get in the fall spirit when you are standing in a cold shower trying to lower your body temperature after going for a six mile run. It would be pretty rad if I could break out a sweatshirt or something at night. Oh well. San Diegans who bitch about the weather are deservedly mocked so I’ll shut-up now.

One of my favorite fall treats are pumpkin flavored items. Pumpkin bread, and pumpkin pie are clearly at the top of that list but I’ve been known to indulge in other snacks that have been amped up with pumpkin spice, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Obviously, my favorite thing in the whole wide world is drinking beers, so for me it’s kinda fun to see what some breweries are able to come up with in the pumpkin beer area. I know it’s something of a novelty and maybe that bugs you and maybe it doesn’t. I’m pretty straight forward about what types of beers I like, but please allow me this one random indulgence. None, of these are what we would call “hoppy” beers, but as many beer drinkers will attest to, there are some that far outshine others. What we have in today’s post is a tiny sampler of what is out there in the pumpkin beer market of Southern California. I was able to find most of these at the local BevMo if you decided to go looking. My other store of choice was K’nB Wine Cellars.

I’m also not the kind of person who likes to point out negative things but here is one – The pumpkin beer made by Blue Moon is one of the worst things I’ve ever had in my life. That includes asparagus and anchovies. Do not drink it, it is not good.

Let’s start with Buffalo Bill’s Brewery: Pumpkin Ale 5.2%ABV : This beer is refereed to as ‘America’s Original Pumpkin Ale’. It has a light pumpkin aroma to go with the light orange color. Tastes good, the pumpkin is a little too sublte for me, it does not overwhelm the palette. The little lady said she couldn’t even taste the pumpkin.

Shipyard Brewing Co. : PumpkinHead Ale 4.7%ABV : Light, golden color with a fragrant pumpkin aroma and a more overt pumpkin flavor. Well balanced with the malts so it’s no too sweet. The future Mrs. compares it to pumpkin bread. This one works well for my tastes.

Samuel Adams : Harvest Pumpkin Ale 5.7%ABV : Dark, golden color with a rich aroma. Deep malty flavor, tastes like a true autumn beer – I can almost see the leaves change color. Again, I find the pumpkin to be underplayed here. If you like the pumpkin to be subtle, you may find this beer right up your ally.

Dogfish Head: Punkin Ale 7%ABV : A brown ale with a strong pumpkin pie flavor to it.A very tasty beer from the boys in Delaware. It’s slightly too sweet to my tastes but that’s not from the pumpkin, it’s from the brown sugar they dropped in this sucker. Enjoyable for sure.

Now we get to my two favorite mamajama’s

Unita Brewing : Crooked Line Oaked Jacked Imperial Pumpkin 10.31%ABV : The gang from Utah sure knows how to brew a pumpkin beer that will whip your ass! Dark brown color, strong pumpkin aroma and one of the closest tasting beer to pumpkin pie you can imagine. Minus the crust. Taking a pumpkin ale and then aging it in oak barrels might be one of the most genious idea’s I’ve heard in a while. You get a crisp yet boozy beverage that I found incredibly smooth and easy drinking. I also found it very hard to get off the couch after drinking the entire 22oz bottle by myself. Awesome beer!!

Shipyard Brewing Co : Smashed Pumpkin 9%ABV : This was my into to what pumpkin beers should aspire to taste like. It’s pretty much the gold standard in my opinion. It has a nice orange color, strong aroma of pumpkin and an excellent flavor with a slightly boozy edge to it. Not as strong as the Unita. You also have wonderful, big flavors from the malts to offset too much sweet from the pumpkin. Shipyard is one of the best when it comes to having a well balanced beer and this is another example of that. Simply fantastic.

So there is my pumpkin beer drinking experience for the fall. Maybe you’re not so much of a pumpkin beer guy, that’s OK. I can’t get mad at you. However, if the mood ever did strike for you to try one, this list is something that I hope will help.

Now if we could only figure out a beer that tastes like Thanksgiving Dinner…

Cheers,

Tom

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Camping with the Widmer Brothers and Samuel Adams (Not literally)

Camping isn’t something that I’ve done a whole hell of a lot of in my life, but when I’ve done it, I’ve really enjoyed it.

The term “roughing it” can really only be loosely applied since, as I’ve gotten older, technology has really taken the “rough” part out of the expression. Roughing it now mean your cell phone died at some point and you need to go sit in your car for an hour or two if you are getting jittery without it (This MIGHT be the reason I have no photos for this blog). I kinda feel like our ancestors would laugh at us, but screw it, I don’t like sleeping on the ground. It’s really, really hard.

This past weekend we ventured into the remote forested area of Julian, CA – yes, I’m being sarcastic, to celebrate a good friend’s 40th birthday at William Heise Park and campground. The main objective here was to have a good time and imbibe copious amounts of alcohol. A challenge I’m always up for.

The dilemma I faced was buying beer for a group of people who’s beer tastes had the potential to be all over the map. I’m perfectly happy to sit around and drink IPA’s until my eyes roll into the back of my skull, but I had a feeling I might be in the minority in this instance.

I opted to play it safe and essentially put together a variety pack. I decided this would be a good time to try some beers that I’m not uber familiar with and a chance to mix in some fall seasonal brews that have been ending up my refrigerator lately.

The brewers with the strongest presence in the cooler happened to be Samuel Adams and Widmer Brothers. I know, these are not San Diego brewers, but you got to mix things up to keep it fresh right?

I’ve been consuming a lot of Oregon beers lately and while I was passingly familiar with Widmer this was my first time buying it for home or, in this case, camping. After going back and forth on what to pick up I eventually settled on three. Grabbed a six pack of the Rotator IPA series, this was the Spiced IPA, a collaboration with a San Diego group: Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity aka QUAFF. Grabbed another six pack, this time it was the Okto Festival Ale. Finally I settled on a four pack of the Nelson Imperial IPA.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You might wondering why I bought so much IPA if I was concerned about the drinking habits of my camping partners? Well, that’s where my friend Sam Adams comes into play.
The thought of spending the weekend in the woods got me feeling a little nostalgic for my days on the east coast and autumn season with leaves falling and all that goes along with it. Low and behold I stumble on the latest Samuel Adams fall seasonal variety pack. That should cover the bases for any who are not interested in those lovely IPA’s.
We make the drive up and are instantly surprised to find the temperature here at the park is fantastic! Easily ten degrees cooler here than San Diego which was roasting already when we left at 9am. Sounds like a perfect reason to celebrate! Let’s crack open that first beer of the day.
I decided to come out of the gate hard and I open the Spiced IPA from the Widmer Rotator series. It’s a surprising IPA to say the least. Coming in at 7.0% ABV it’s got a nice kick to it. Flavor-wise the hops are up front but balanced out by the malts along with black tea, cinnamon, clove and a few other spices any baker would have in their pantry. It’s a very good brew and makes for an excellent change of pace if you still want an IPA but you want something different from it.

Next up was the Okto Festival Ale – Basically a marzen all dressed up to celebrate Oktoberfest. I’ve been on a bit of a marzen kick lately as I’m mentally preparing to go to Germany…even though I have no plans to go there in the near future. This crisp, malty treat comes in at 5.3% ABV, I liked this beer, but probably would have enjoyed it a little more if the weather had been a shade or two chillier.

The third entry in my Widmer experience was the Nelson’s Imperial IPA – I’m a big fan of the Nelson Sauvin hops brought over from New Zealand so it was only natural that I pick this beer up…and then I picked it up again and again and again. It’s really pretty fricking fantastic. Great hoppy profile with a little bite that’s rounded off by the malt flavors that are used to balance it. Really easy to drink a few and these and find yourself in some trouble. At 8.6% ABV, that won’t be hard to do.

I spent most of the day working my way through these three beers while the Samuel Adams variety pack was getting picked over pretty well too. In fact, I really didn’t get to have any of it until I snagged a lager shortly before we put the fire out for the night. My future Mrs. was enjoying the Dunklweizen quite a bit. I do have to talk to you guys about Sam Adams, but I’m saving a few things for a blog post that is about two weeks away from seeing the light of day. I will say that Sam Adams is a brewery that I have the bad habit of taking for granted sometimes, but they turn out some great beers and they are the #1 craft beer brewer in the world for a reason.

The camping trip was a big success and I’m looking forward to going again sometime soon. I’m also ready for some more flip cup…

If anyone has a recommendation for what to drink on my next camping adventure, I’d love to hear it.

Cheers,
Tom