BOSTON — This classic New England city, and surrounding area, has long been a hotbed of radical beer-making. In the 1980s the area was the launching point for Samuel Adams beer that was the first craft beer brand to truly succeed on a national level, and the city is home to Harpoon Brewing Company, one of the country's biggest and oldest craft beer companies. In recent years a variety of new breweries have opened in the Boston area, proving that the city's beer-making revolution is still alive and hopping.
Inspired by the word "beer-cation," which recently became part of our culture's vernacular, trips to breweries are a popular past-time even instate to some of the Connecticut's breweries including Half Full Brewery in Stamford, Shebeen Brewing Co., in Wolcott, and Beer'd Brewing Company in Stonington. I decided to travel to Massachusetts to pay homage to Boston's pioneering craft checking out some of the newer breweries in and around the city.
While I couldn't fit in every brewery on my wish list, I did check out four of my favorites and enjoyed an epic weekend of tastings and tours. With my fiancée as designated driver (this type trip requires one) we headed to Wachusett Brewing Company. Located in the rolling hills of Central Massachusetts, about 40 minutes outside of Boston. This brewery is a beer-making beacon in the wilderness. The brewery was founded in 1993 and has been churning out celebrated craft beer ever since. The brewery offers tours every day but Sunday.
From a visual standpoint, Wachusett Brewery is one of the more interesting brewery's you can visit. Most breweries are large warehouse spaces filled with giant silver vats; in contrast Wachusett has two levels and there's a crammed (in a good way) wild submarine, steam punk laboratory feel to the place. The tour is informative and gives insight into the brewing process, but like any brewery tour the true star is the beer. My favorite brews offered at the brewery are the Blueberry Ale, a wheat beer that is flavored by blueberry extract, and the Larry IPA, an intensely hoppy but not overly bitter beer with a let's-get-this-party-started 8.5 percent alcohol content.
Next we headed to the Southside of Boston to visit Harpoon Brewery. Harpoon is a brewing Leviathan and New England craft beer pioneer that since opening in 1986 has helped spread the gospel of good beer far and wide. Since the early 2000s the company has operated a second brewery in Windsor, Vermont at a site that was once the Catamount Brewery plant, but the Boston plant is the larger Harpoon brewing location.
Harpoon's Boston brewery is giant and has a massive tap room and party vibe. The recently renovated tap room is a hip hangout for local young professionals, and a fun place to visit and sample brews and snack on the big doughy and delicious pretzels the brewery serves. In addition to the tap room, you walk over the brewery on cat walks that tower over the factory floor below and give you a bird's eye view of just how massive an operation Harpoon is running (according to the Brewer's Association's most recent tally Harpoon is the 9th largest craft brewery in the country). As part of the tour there's an extended tasting where tour goers get extremely generous samples of Harpoon's diverse lineup of beer. Try Harpoon's UFO (Unfiltered Offering) line of beers, my favorite is the UFO Hefeweizen.
The next stop on our brewery tour (which for the record took place on day two) was Sam Adams Brewery in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. The main Samuel Adams breweries are located in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but the Boston Beer Company (which owns the Samuel Adams Brand) maintains a small pilot (for research and development) brewery in Boston. As a result, the brewery in Boston is not nearly as mammoth or as active as some visitors expect. Despite that there's many upsides to touring Samuel Adam's Boston brewery. To begin with the brewery tour is free (although donations for local nonprofits are collected at the beginning of the tour), the staff also really does a great job of introducing tour goers to the craft beer world. There's an explanation of beer's various ingredients and how these ingredients are chosen.
The tour concludes with a detailed tasting where guests get to sample some of Sam's various brews and learn how beer tasters judge a given beer. There are five categories, appearance, aroma, taste, body, and finish, and distinct methods and things to look for while judging each. For instance with regards to appearance a thick, long lasting head of foam shows that the beer has a lot of protein that comes from the malted grains.
New Masters of Lager
Our brewery tour concluded with a trip to Jack's Abby Brewing, just outside of Boston in Framingham. The new brewery was founded in 2011 and is full of innovation. Owned by brothers Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler, the brewery exclusively brews lagers. Lagers take longer to brew than ales; about a month instead of the two weeks it takes to brew most ales. As a result lagers are more expensive to brew, because they use up valuable barrel space in a brewing system. Because of the expense, smaller craft breweries often avoid brewing lagers.
The brewery has a small taproom that is a no frills area, where it's all about the beer. On Saturday tours are offered most of the day and Jack Hendler serves as the enthusiastic tour guide. On our tour he explained how he fell in love with lagers while studying brewing in Germany and at Jack's Abby his goal is to combine traditional German brewing with the innovative spirit of American craft brewing. So far it seems like he has struck upon a winning combination. Lagers generally have a smoother, cleaner taste than ales, and are less bitter, as a result many craft beer enthusiasts prefer ales. Jack's Abby, however, brews a variety of beers, some are smooth and light and easily palatable; others have some definite bite and character. My favorite was the Saxonator.
Jack's Abby was a fitting way to cap off the weekend of brewery visits. It's clear that the spirit of brewing innovation that started in the '80s with Sam Adams and Harpoon Brewery is still alive and well in the Boston area. Revolution never tasted so good.
If You Go:
Wachusett Brewing Company
175 State Road East, Westminster, Mass.
Tours: Monday through Thursday, noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. 3 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m.
306 Northern Ave., Boston
Tours: Monday through Wednesday, 12 to 5 p.m.
Thursday through Friday, 12 to 6 p.m.
Saturday, 11: 20 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
30 Germania St., Boston, MA
Tours: Monday through Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Jack's Abby Brewing
81 Morton Street Framingham, Mass.
Tours: Saturday, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., and 5 p.m.