Brewery Travels #21: Boston Area

As I said at the end of my last article, the Boston beer scene has exploded in recent years. While many associate the city with one of the biggest names in the craft industry, gone are the days when the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) was the only major player. The growth is especially evident as you move into the suburbs. Whether you head north to Cambridge, Somerville, and Everett, or drive south to Canton and Norwood, options abound. But make sure to take time to enjoy the city itself as well. Walk the Freedom Trail, visit some museums, and go to Red Sox game if it’s baseball season. And yes, taking the tour at Sam Adams is a cool experience.

  1. Lamplighter Brewing; Cambridge
  2. Somerville Brewing (Slumbrew); Somerville
  3. Trillium Brewing; Canton (and Boston)
  4. Harpoon Brewery; Boston

Lamplighter

Housed in an old auto repair shop, Lamplighter brews some of the best beer I’ve had in the whole Northeast. They get their name from the old gas lamps that can be found in Cambridge, and stress the community vibes. Walking up to the building, you can go through the garage door on the left which takes you to an area where you can purchase merchandise and cans of beer. The brewery is also right there in your face. To the right is the taproom. Cement floors and bar top give it a cool feel, while the brick walls and the tiles on the bar break up the space. And of course, there are large windows behind the bar, allowing for more views of the brewery. A slightly raised area provides additional seating. There is also a coffee/smoothie spot located in the taproom called Longfellows.

So I tried four beers in my flight, and two of them absolutely rocked my world. Sours are my thing, and Sound + Vision is one of the best I’ve had in the style. A sour ale with raspberries, the tartness level was kicked up quite a bit, partially due to the excellent use of the berries. However, the big surprise was Easy Tiger. I’ve grown to appreciate IPAs, but they are still not my top choice when it comes to style. That went out the window with Easy Tiger. This 100% Brettanomyces IPA with Amarillo hops was incredible, and is one of the best IPAs I’ve had. A fruity nose bursts forward with mango and pineapple, and those notes follow through on the taste. The other two I had were not disappointing by any means. Lawyers, Guns, & Honey is an IPA with honey. The honey and floral mix together on the nose, and it had a semi-sweet aftertaste. Finally, House Lager is your everyday lawnmower beer. A solid, crushable lager.

Lamplighter is one of the places that I wish I could try everything they make. They have another version of Sound + Vision with cranberries that I’m sure I would enjoy. Oh, and they’re about a mile from Harvard University’s campus. Pretty neat.

Somerville

It may be Somerville Brewing Company, but they go by Slumbrew, a reference to the city of Somerville’s nickname (Slummervile). It’s a smaller brick building and inside seems a bit awkward, but they make it work. Barrels greet you as you enter, while a decent sized L-bar is the hub, with tables sitting around the outskirts. I’m not sure what the building was in the past, but an interesting (and large) hook contraption is hanging from the ceiling. I did not eat there, but I looked over the food menu and it’s fairly impressive. A quirky note is that the few TVs they had on were showing Cartoon Network shows. There is some equipment visible from part of the taproom, but the views are somewhat limited. While it is pricey to order a flight, you have 20 beers to choose from. All the choices make it hard to narrow it down to four!

Three of the four beers I had scored well above average with me. My favorite was the nitro stout #ThanksObama. Saying it was creamy and smooth doesn’t do the beer justice. Chocolate notes were the star, but really the mouthfeel is what pushed this one to the top. I enjoy pumpkin beers, but often I find myself somewhat let down by them. Not the case with Slumkin Pumpkin. Spices, specifically nutmeg and cinnamon rose from the glass, and the pumpkin flavor on the tongue was done to near perfection. Finding the right balance between the pumpkin, spices, and beer is tricky, but Slumbrew did it. Beautiful Dreamer was my sour of the trip. Another example of melding ingredients, it took elements from the base brown ale and turned it into a sour with flavors from plums and cherries. The final beer I had didn’t do it for me. I was expecting a little more from Harebrained, the white IPA. Others get a peppery and wheat-like quality to it, but it didn’t strike me as much.

There is a plethora of choices at Slumbrew. If you cannot find a beer you are excited about, you are either way too picky, or you simply don’t like beer. Whether you want something more traditional, or a crazy seasonal, Slumbrew is a great place to visit.

Trillium

Opened in early 2013, Trillium has quickly risen through the craft beer ranks, and is often considered as one of the top breweries not only in the region, but the country. While their original flagship location is in South Boston, you are not able to try the beer there. In 2015 they opened a larger production facility, complete with a taproom, in nearby Canton. If you visit on the day of a bottle release, be prepared to wait in line for a bit. Inside the facility, the taproom is to the right. There is limited seating around the edges, but most people there when I visited were coming to purchase bottles and leave. I’d say there’s a slightly rustic feel to the space as well, and there are views of the brewery when you are by the bar. There are plans to open a new flagship brewery and restaurant in Fort Point in 2018.

The beer at Trillium is a little pricier, but you get what you pay for. I bought half-pours of three, and tried to get a nice variety. First, there was Vanilla Pot & Kettle. This Oatmeal Porter with vanilla is one of the best I’ve had from this style. They say it has tootsie roll flavors, but I would describe it as hot cocoa, but in beer form. It truly tasted like chocolate with partially melted marshmallows! I dug this smooth brew. Next was Blackberry Super Soak, a sour wheat ale. It had big flavors, even for a sour. The tartness was cranked up, and the blackberry notes were powerful. If you like a sour with plenty of character like I do, this will be up your alley. And of course, I had to get an IPA. Trillium is probably best known for them, and Congress St. IPA lives up to the hype. Pine, citrus, and melon swirl together on the nose, while peach and tropical fruit step forward on your tongue. Peach was the strongest element I picked out.

         

If you can’t tell from the description in the first paragraph, Trillium has been, and is continuing to grow. Why? Because they are making beer that everyone wants to buy! Definitely add them to your plans if you are in the Boston area!

Harpoon

Samuel Adams isn’t the only big dog in the craft beer community that resides in Boston. Harpoon has been around since 1986, and is consistently ranked in the Top 20 when it comes to largest craft breweries in the country. They turned a warehouse space on Boston’s waterfront into their own beer haven. The large brick building houses a beautfiul taproom. Two exceptionally long bars bow out in the middle before coming back together on each end. On one side there are windows looking into the brewery, while the opposite wall’s windows allow natural light to stream in, along with views of the city. Several large wooden tables allow for plenty of seating space. At the entrance to the tap room is a nice gift shop, while all the way on the other end is a small kitchen that specializes in soft pretzels! One note: Harpoon has another brewery up in Windsor, VT, which I’ve heard is a beautiful location.

Just because Harpoon is big doesn’t mean they lack in quality or creativity. They have several interesting beers that you can only get at the brewery, and often take a base beer, such as their UFO, and try making different changes to it. They have preset flights, and the one I chose revolved around darker beers, which I guess you could say is seasonal since I was there in November. Boston Irish Stout was delicious. Creamy, roasty, and filled with dark chocolate flavors, it was a treat. The Vanilla Bean Porter was named aptly. Vanilla was especially formidable on the nose, and it seemed to slightly sweeten as it warmed. Another enjoyable drink! The true seasonal I had was Winter Warmer, with its lovely spicy qualities. Cinnamon was the boss, but nutmeg also made an appearance. A slight booziness makes this a great brew to sip on a cold evening. House Golden was a basic golden ale, nothing to report. If you can, try the IPA.

Harpoon’s location makes it a smart stop if you want to also visit everything Boston has to offer. And on top of that they make good beer! My biggest regret is not ordering one of the pretzels. If I ever get back I will have to get one.

Conclusion

The Boston area deserves more than one article, and hopefully I can write about more of the breweries at some point. Places like Idle Hands, Castle Island, Night Shift, and Aeronaut all deserve recognition. And while traffic in the city can be a headache, there are so many awesome experiences you can enjoy. You’ll definitely need several days to get it all done!

Next Article

Our time in the Northeast is coming to a close. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in this beautiful region of the country, but it is time to move on. By the time this article is published we should be in Nashville, Tennessee! We are taking the scenic route on the way there, as we will spend nights in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Raleigh, and Myrtle Beach. So my next article I will describe some of the breweries I am able to hit during this upcoming road trip!

Current Brewery Count

165 breweries across 98 cities in 16 states. These numbers are current as of 11/18/17. For an up-to-date count, follow my adventures on Twitter: @brewerytravels.

Joel Geier

Joel Geier

Hi all! My name is Joel, and I LOVE traveling to craft breweries. My goal is to visit as many as possible as I tag along with my travel nurse wife. Follow @brewerytravels on Twitter for updates! I'll be posting articles discussing my adventures here!
Joel Geier