In 1984, Jim Koch perfected his great-grandfather’s lager recipe and created The Boston Beer Company. His signature beer, Samuel Adams, was named after one of the leaders of the American Revolution, and would soon sweep across the US and pioneer the market for craft beer.
Today, there are more than 130 breweries in Massachusetts alone, with many of those operations in or around Boston. Some, like Trillium, which was named the fourth-best brewer in the world by the global craft beer site Rate Beer in 2020, have reaped accolades for their potent New England-style IPAs. Other establishments, like Bone Up Brewing Company in the nearby town of Everett’s burgeoning Fermentation District, are a must-stop for lovers of malt and barley.
According to Chad Brodsky, founder of City Brew Tours, Boston’s storied beer history runs deep. “Prior to Prohibition [1920-1933], there were 30-plus breweries solely in [Boston’s] Jamaica Plain, including the historic Haffenreffer Brewery, down the block from Sam Adams,” he explained.
Brodsky knows a thing or two about the beverage, having started his company in 2008 in Burlington, Vermont. City Brew Tours now operates in 21 cities, including Boston. On Brodsky’s tours that take in three or four Boston-area breweries, expert guides show you behind the scenes of each operation, where you learn about the craft of brewing, and – of course – taste their wares.
Here are Brodsky’s favourite breweries in the Boston area:
According to Brodsky, touring Sam Adams’ Jamaica Plains brewery is a must-do experience for any beer lover (Credit: Boston City Brew Tours)
1. Samuel Adams
Surrounded by houses in Boston’s densely packed residential neighbourhood of Jamaica Plain, the Sam Adams Brewery is hard to find, but as Brodsky professed: “It’s a must. The experience is unparalleled.”
Eye the innerworkings of the brewing process on a 45-minute-long tour, where beer lovers can smell the roasted malts (like caramel), feel the hops and then head to the tanks to understand the science behind beer making. Afterwards, you’ll be rewarded with samples, including Sam Adams’ famous Boston Lager and Summer Ale.
Still thirsty? Stop by the brewery’s tap room to try some of their more unusual offerings, like the sour Passionfruit Gose or the Something Dark, a classic German black lager known as Schwarzbier. If you can’t make it out to this industrial complex, head to their relatively new Downtown Taproom at the entrance to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, where you can savour a pint at the rooftop bar.
Cambridge Brewing Company is the Boston area’s oldest brewery restaurant (Credit: Boston City Brew Tours)
2. Cambridge Brewing Company
Located at the base of One Kendall Square, a massive multi-use building replete with restaurants, retail stores and office space, about 1.5 miles north-west from Boston Common, Cambridge Brewing Company is the Boston area’s oldest brewery restaurant. Founded shortly after Sam Adams, in 1989, it’s “one of the first breweries in America to offer the Belgian Tripel, an ale known for its darker colouring and sweet malt,” said Brodsky.
Indeed, founder Phil Bannatyne and brewmaster Will Meyers are known as revolutionaries in the industry, experimenting with sours and bourbon barrel-aged beers long before other brewers caught on. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many people under their tutelage have gone on to form their own breweries over the years, like Ben Roesch, founder of Wormtown Brewery in the nearby city of Worcester.
On tap are the classics: the medium-bodied, red ale-style Cambridge Amber and the darker, full-bodied Charles River Porter. Keep an eye out for unique offerings like Jack Straw, a barrel-fermented golden ale with Brettanomyces, a type of yeast that creates a crisp acidity. In warm-weather months, grab an outdoor table and order the fish and chips or fried chicken sandwich, which pair perfectly with Cambridge’s selection of beers.
Night Shift anchors Everett’s Fermentation District (Credit: City Brew Tours)
3. Night Shift Brewing
“Create an exceptional beer and people will show up at your doorstep, even in an industrial complex in Everett… Night Shift helped to create a whole beer-loving region, where you can walk from brewery to brewery,” said Brodsky, referring to Everett’s Fermentation District. Michael Oxton and Rob Burns, and good friend Mike O’Mara, who – like Jim Koch – started home brewing before opening Night Shift in 2012.
Today, they have a waterfront restaurant at Boston’s Lovejoy Wharf overlooking Zakim Bridge, and summer beer gardens at the Boston Esplanade and Allston. But if you want to get a feel for their roots, Brodsky recommends heading to their Everett Taproom (a 15-minute drive north from Boston Common) and ordering their signature Santilli American IPA, named for the highway in Everett where the brewery is housed. Then, wander around the Fermentation District to one of the smaller breweries like Bone Up to try their tasty Synthetic Dreams hazy IPA.
Website: www.nightshiftbrewing.com/locations/everett-taproomAddress: 87 Santilli Hwy, Everett Phone number: 1-617-294-4223 Instagram: @nightshiftbrewing
No other Boston brewer has received more recent accolades than Trillium (Credit: Trillium)
Brodsky was a bit reluctant to mention Trillium, saying that “it’s quality beer that I would definitely recommend for a high-end craft experience”. His hesitancy is probably because no other Boston brewer has received more accolades and press in the past decade.
Since opening their doors in a narrow building in Boston’s up-and-coming Fort Point neighbourhood a decade ago, when adoring patrons would line up for an hour with empty growler in hand, owners JC and Esther Tetreault have quickly expanded to satiate the public’s seemingly ceaseless yearning for their citrusy and strong IPAs. They now have summer outposts on Boston Common and Rose Kennedy Greenway, near Fenway Park, and a massive year-round campus in Canton, not far from the Blue Hills Reservation. But Brodsky prefers to stick to Trillium’s roots in the Fort Point/Seaport neighbourhood, where they opened a three-storey Trillium restaurant in October 2018. Yet, this is not your typical brewpub. Entrees include a seafood chowder, chockful of local clams found on the North Shore, and a seared skirt steak in a chimichurri sauce.
Grab a seat in the outdoor garden or on the roof-top terrace and opt for one of Trillium’s original selections, like Fort Point or Congress Street. One swig and you’ll understand the craze – a refreshing blend of fruit and hops that seems to mask the fact that you’re drinking a strong beer at 6%, 7%, even 8% ABV. Indeed, the juicy New England-style IPA has become such a phenomenon that you’ll now find it on beer lists throughout the world.
Aeronaut brewery is housed inside a former factory (Credit: City Brew Tours)
With a firm belief in local farm-to-brewing and a love of community, Aeronaut quickly became exceptionally popular in the Somerville neighbourhood after opening in June 2014. Owners Ronn Friedlander and Dan Rassi went from culturing strains of New England yeast in their apartments to hosting live brass bands and drag nights at their expansive-yet-homey renovated former factory. People will happily wait in line for a chance to enter the brewery, which is large enough to house food trucks.
“Start with A Year with Dr Nandu, which is their go-to IPA, or any of their stronger offshoots like Double Nandu,” Brodsky recommended. On a hot summer day, the lighter Tangerine Coriander Sour Planet will quench your thirst. Like Trillium, Aeronaut has expanded to meet growing demand, opening a large cannery in Everett, not far from Night Shift and the town’s Fermentation District, and a summertime beer garden in Allston. But Brosky notes that it’s hard to top the laid-back vibe at their original Somerville venue.
Notch is located inside a former 1890s horse racing track (Credit: Rob Hughes/Notch Brewing)
“Create a good pilsner and you know that brewery is skilled,” Brodsky said, and perhaps no other Boston-area brewer exemplifies that expertise more than Chris Loring, founder of Notch. Loring was the first brewer in the US to import Lukr-side pull taps, which result in a perfect pour with a nice foamy head atop that Czech-style wide-brim glass. Notch started in Salem, Massachusetts, 17 miles north of Boston, but has since expanded to the Charles River Speedway in Boston’s Brighton neighbourhood.
Here, a former mile-long horse racing track from the 1890s has recently been renovated into an open-air German-style biergarten with long picnic tables, ideally suited for a beverage after biking, jogging or walking along the nearby Charles River. Brodsky recommends trying The Standard, Notch’s signature creamy Czech pale lager; then moving on the Hefe Weiss, a refreshing Bavarian wheat beer, or Dunkel Bier, a Munich-style dark lager – all of which are sublime.
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