Getting Started with Craft Beer, Part 2

Last week’s AMDB had advice on local craft brew pubs, purveyors and events. Getting Started with Craft Beer II has some ideas for local brewery road trips & the top Boston-based craft beer writers.

Mike Loconto
Area Man Drinks Beer blog
Twitter: @Neighbeers

In last week’s Area Man Drinks Beer, Part One of Getting Started with Craft Beer led off with advice on local watering holes, packies and craft beer-based events in the area. Here, Part Two will give you some ideas for local brewery road trips and a list of the top Boston-based craft beer writers.

Some Neighbeerly Advice

There are plenty of ways to get started enjoying craft beer, and local craft beer in particular. There are no-brainers like talking to your friends about what they’re enjoying at the moment, but here are some other suggestions to get you interested.

Visit a Brewery

Remember how I said there are 44 brewers in Massachusetts? That is a lot of samples to be had. Check out the member listing on the Massachusetts Brewers Guild website, and this map to get you started. Here are a few favorites within a half-hour drive of West Roxbury (check websites for opening hours and availability):

  • Samuel Adams (The Boston Beer Co.). Located on Germania Street, Jamaica Plain in The Brewery Complex, the makers of Samuel Adams are a short walk from the Green Street and Stony Brook stations on the MBTA Orange Line.  The brewery is more of a research and development facility today, with large scale production in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, but there is still plenty of beer to go around and an interesting amount of history on the tour –including the brewers that proliferated along the Stony Brook in Jamaica Plain around the turn of the 20th Century. NEIGHBEERLY ADVICE: Sign up for the newsletter, where you get first dibs on monthly evening tastings for new or seasonal beers paired with local food merchants.
  • Blue Hills Brewery. A 20-minute drive down Route 138, Blue Hills Brewery is located in a nondescript roadside industrial warehouse in Canton and adjacent to the Irish Cultural Center.  Blue Hills makes what I like to call “approachable” beers – they are not “extreme” as is the trend in many American craft breweries, but solid representations of several traditional styles. Try the Wampatuck Wheat, in particular, for a solid rendition of a classic German Hefeweizen, or my favorite BHB creation, the Imperial Red IPA (a strong beer at 9% ABV, but intensely flavorful with sweet caramel tones balancing spicy hops; it can be often found on draught at Masona Grill in West Roxbury).  The seasonal Dunkelweizen is a great winter beer, with roasted malt added to the Wampatuck Wheat base to create a dark wheat beer. NEIGHBEERLY ADVICE: Blue Hills bottles most of its beers in 22 oz. bottles, affectionately called “brown bombers,” that are perfect for sharing a drink with your significant other after the children go to bed.  The best part: these bottles start at just $3 each when purchased at the brewery – so you now have a reason to go to Canton.
  • Harpoon Brewery. On the South Boston Waterfront, the Harpoon Brewery is home to several annual outdoor seasonal festivals, including the upcoming Octoberfest. If you go for a simple weekday tasting or weekend tour of the brewery, you can sample any number of the dozen or so Harpoon beers and ciders on tap, and purchase some harder-to-find beers like the Leviathan and 100-Barrel series beers.  Look for an expanded tasting room and beer hall soon; Harpoon secured financing earlier this spring in order to keep up with demand and increased production needs. NEIGHBEERLY ADVICE:  If you can get a group together (15-60 people), the 5:30 Club is an excellent and affordable way to enjoy a variety of craft beers in an intimate setting.  Groups get 90 minutes in the tap room along with access to Harpoon representatives for a presentation on the brewing process. BONUS NEIGHBEERLY ADVICE:  Take the commuter rail home.
  • The Breweries of Everett & Chelsea. During the last year, three small brewers have opened their doors along the Mystic River. Idle Hands Craft Ales and Night Shift Brewing occupy units in the same Everett industrial complex, and Mystic Brewery is only a short drive away in Chelsea. All three are churning out (at a medium pace, mind you) some of the most creative beer in the craft industry today – and each with its own niche.  Idle Hands has a Belgian focus, while Night Shift beers often include a sour note and incorporate ingredients from other local food purveyors like the Somerville-based Taza Chocolate and MEM Tea. Mystic Brewery has a Belgian focus similar to Idle Hands, but with a twist: the brewers have created a yeast lab aimed at isolating yeast strains indigenous to New England in order to provide a flavor that can be claimed as truly local, in the way that a wine from the Napa Valley has a “terroir” that defines its flavor profile.  NEIGHBEERLY ADVICE: Follow the three brewers on Twitter (@NightShiftBeer, @idlehandsbeer, @MysticBrewery) for open tour hours, and arrange for your own impromptu crawl through the Mystic River mecca of beer and some of the most exciting beers in New England. I have had several of each label’s creations, and while these are the only breweries I have listed in this article that I have yet to visit, I plan on doing so soon.

Jack’s Abby.  Jack’s Abby is housed in yet another nondescript industrial warehouse (see a theme?) on a side street off Route 135 in Framingham, and a short 20-minute jaunt from West Roxbury. The Hendler brothers, Jack, Eric and Sam, are somewhat of an anomaly in American craft brewing in that they focus exclusively on lager beers (most American craft brewers focus on ales, with lagers less common due to the additional time and precision required for proper fermentation).

Want to know the difference between an ale and a lager? Read this informative article.

The result is a unique series of beers. They don’t have a flagship beer, but I think most would agree that their India Pale Lager, Hoponius Union, is an outstanding riff on a West Coast IPA – crisp, eminently hoppy and sweetly delicious. It is my favorite beer in recent memory. You can find Jack’s Abby on tap at Porter Café (at time of writing, the current offering was Ginger & Juice, a pale lager spiced with ginger and grapefruit). NEIGHBEERLY ADVICE: Follow Jack’s Abby on Facebook, where the Hendlers are good about taking polls on what to name their newest beers.

Read All About It!

Finally, with such a wide variety of beers available, I cannot drink nor write about everything that’s out there in the world of local craft beer. Nevertheless, there are plenty of brave souls out there ready to help you sort through what’s available.  Here’s a quick rundown on some of the best Boston-based blogs and writers on local craft beer (and in some cases, well beyond):

  • 99 Bottles, The Boston Globe. Celtics beat writer Gary Dzen recently replaced the departed (to Maine, not the hereafter) Steve Greenlee on the 99 Bottles blog, and has not missed a beat. Gary chimes in a couple of times a week with one-off beer reviews, and even scored an interview with The White House on President Obama’s recently released homebrew recipes.
  • The Real Beer Nut, MetroWest Daily News. Norman Miller, a crime beat reporter by day, has been writing about his passion for craft beer for several years now, and recently produced an absolutely outstanding survey of brewers and beer bars across the region.  “Beer Lover’s New England” is available at Amazon, but let’s forego the link and support your local bookseller (I got mine at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge).
  • Honest Pint, The Weekly Dig. Heather Vandenengel does a great job profiling new brewers popping up across the region, as well as keeping track of the picks of the craft beer calendar across Boston.
  • Beer Scribe, Andy Crouch is a Cambridge-based criminal lawyer and freelance writer with a monthly column in Somerville-based Beer Advocate magazine (nota bene: the BA website is a treasure trove of information in its own right, with member reviews of nearly every beer on the planet).  His columns typically focus on topical issues affecting the industry as a whole, but I think some of his best writing is in his 2010 book “Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation’s Finest Beers and Breweries” (with a foreword by Sam Calagione, chief of the venerable Delaware brewer Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales). The book is an approachable, helpful companion when tasting your way through styles at home, planning your next trip to a craft beer store, or even planning brewery visits on vacation.
  • Man Drinks Beer.  Bill at the Man Drinks Beer blog is another Boston-based beer blogger with some outstanding reviews of mostly local craft beer, presented in a visually appealing format.  Plus, he’s a stand up guy – I emailed him before I started the AMDB blog here to ask if he was OK with the name.  He gave me his blessing: beer people are good people.  Cheers, Bill.

Coming Up

What’s up next for Area Man Drinks Beer:

  • the myths associated with the craft beer scene (week of October 1), and
  • the benefits of drinking local craft beer (week of October 8).

We have a rich craft beer constituency in West Roxbury (and beyond), and I want to provide it with a voice and a forum through this blog.  Send me your thoughts on the blog, event postings and ideas for future stories or reviews at neighbeers at gmail dot com or through twitter @Neighbeers. And comments below, good or bad, are always appreciated.

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