Posts Tagged ‘brewery’

Samuel Adams Brewery

Well, we did Harpoon Brewery, so it was about time for a post on Boston’s other big brewery, Samuel Adams. Strap in, this is a big one.

Now THAT looks like a brewery.

I’m going to go ahead and assume most people have heard of Sam Adams. It’s one of the largest domestically-owned breweries, either just ahead of, just behind, or tied with Yuengling, depending on your source. They each produce around 2.5 million barrels of beer. That’s nothing compared to the 10 million Miller cranks out in Milwaukee alone, but it’s a lot more than the 125,000 bbls from Harpoon Brewery. However, Harpoon is the largest brewery IN Boston, a point I’ll explain later.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager, the flagship beer, was born in founder Jim Koch’s kitchen in the mid-1980s. Well, kind of. What he brewed was Louis Koch Lager, an old family recipe; Koch’s family had been brewers before Prohibition. He rebranded it as Samuel Adams, named for the “brewer and patriot” of Colonial America, and publicly released the beer on Patriot’s Day in 1985. Then it started winning awards. Lots of awards.

Sam looks pretty smug about that.

Basically, Jim hit it at the right time. Craft beer was just starting to take hold in America in the mid-80s, and Sam Lager was a powerful tasting beer compared to the macrobrews on the market. However, it was still drinkable, and tasty enough to convince people to give it a try. Boston Beer Company, doing business as Samuel Adams Brewery, has been cranking ever since, all the way to 2.5 million barrels in 2011. The trick is, that beer isn’t coming from Boston. Sam Adams owns two other breweries in Cincinnati, OH and Breinigsville, PA; the facility in Boston is only for R&D and tours. That’s why Harpoon is the biggest brewery in Boston, though Sam is much bigger as a whole.

So, let’s get to the tour. First of all, Sam is located in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston south of the city (not to be confused with South Boston). The Boston Beer Company facility resides in the old Haffenreffer Brewery, which was in business from 1870 to 1965. They started up in JP because of the Stony Brook aquifer, which provided them with fresh water to brew with. Haffenreffer’s remaining legacy (aside from the smokestack that reads “Fenreffer Brewers”) is Private Stock malt liquor, which is currently brewed by MillerCoors, though the family also had ties with Narragansett Brewery. The current site is only a part of the previous brewery complex, and old solid brick buildings are scattered throughout the area. It’s a few blocks from the Stony Brook T stop (on the Orange line) but the past couple times we’ve been able to find street parking in the area. Occasionally you can score a spot in the Sam lot, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The tour is free, with a suggested donation of $2 to local charities. Get there EARLY, especially if it’s nice weather, if there’s a local sporting event, if it’s a holiday, in spring, in summer, in fall and sometimes winter. Given the national familiarity with the Sam Adams brand, it’s a popular Boston attraction, even if you have to go to the wasteland of JP to get there. I’ve been several times, but this time we got up there nice and early, and scored a spot on the 10:20 “Nobel Pils” tour. After showing ID, you get a hand stamp and a beer label which acts as your ticket and corresponds to the time of your tour. While our tour was the Nobel Pils label, the next one might be Alpine Spring or Cherry Wheat. Just a simple way of keeping people on the proper tour. Naturally, the later you get there, the more the tours fill up, so around noon they might be booking the 2pm tours. Plan accordingly.

The first stop on the tour is in the back where our very chipper tour guide, Katie, gave a brief history of the brewing process and passed around samples of hops and barley. Breakfast! Sam is big on their connection to Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law of 1516 which states that beer can only be made from water, hops and barley. Back then, they didn’t know about yeast yet, so that didn’t make the cut (it was later added into the law). Sam uses two-row barley (Harrington and Metcalfe) because it’s “plumper and juicier” and they can get more fermentable sugars out of it. The barley is toasted mainly in three varieties: pale malt, for lighter beers, caramel 60, which gives Boston Lager a darker amber color and slightly toasted flavor, and chocolate malt, for their darker beers, such as black lager and chocolate bock. The primary hop used is Hallertau Mittelfrueh, a noble hop from Bavaria. Each year, Jim travels over to Germany to personally check out the hop crops. Sam’s water source isn’t JP’s Stony Brook, but rather the Quabbin Reservoir that supplies all of Boston’s fresh water, though Sam also filters onsite.

Once the barley had been munched, and everyone’s hands reeked of hop, the group moved to the second portion of the tour, the brewhouse, flanked by towering fermenters and conditioning tanks. It’s here that the beer is brewed, fermented, conditioned (Boston Lager takes five weeks to condition) and kegged. There is no canning or bottling in the small Boston facility, and the kegs go to one of three destinations – local bars, beer competitions, or the tasting room. Here’s a handy tip: when the group moves into the brewhouse area, hang near the back. You’ll still be able to hear, because the tour guides are miked, but once their little speech is done, it’s an about-face into the tasting room. By staying near the back of the brewhouse, you’ll be first in line for the tasting room.

On the way into the room, you’ll get a 4oz tasting glass, with one of the qualities of beer tasting printed on it, like aroma, color, and taste. Pitchers are poured and passed down the tables, starting with the Boston Lager, an amber, medium-bodied (“heavier than water, lighter than cream”) brew. Tour Guide Katie went on to tell us of Sam’s commitment to fresh beer, which in all honesty is important. Sam gets a “best by” date on the side of the bottle, and will buy back beer from retailers if it’s past that date. The old beer gets dumped, although once a year it goes into a dunk tank with Jim Koch in the hot seat. The quote was that “Jim would rather put himself in old beer than put old beer in you.” The importance of this struck home the very next day, when I “borrowed” a Sam Lager from my dad’s stash in his basement, only to find out it was dated “Best By April, 2010.” Two year old Sam Lager. It’s still drinkable, just not very good. The hop character is COMPLETELY gone, leaving a malty sickly ale flavor behind. It tastes like mediocre homebrew. Fresh Sam Lager however is mighty tasty. Incredibly flavorful compared to most light pilsner-style lagers from the macrobrewers.

The next sample is generally the current seasonal, which meant that Sam Summer was on tap. It’s an unfiltered weizen (wheat) beer flavored with lemon peel and Grains of Paradise. Seasonal beers aren’t my favorite, and Sam Summer is no exception, even though that statement might put a bounty on my head. It’s got a fanatical following in Boston, but I don’t really like lemony beers. I’ll take the lager any day. I like hops, not fruit in my beer. One question from the crowd was something I’d been wondering: are the seasonal recipes tweaked? Many people, including myself, feel that some of the seasonals, especially the summer and winter offerings, taste different year-to-year. The “official” answer was that the recipes are not tweaked, though there may be variances in the crops, like lemons. So… the taste DOES change. They were also quick to point out that you can’t “remember” a flavor accurately, but I suspect there’s a fair amount of variation going on. This year’s summer, for example, is not quite as lemony as I recall.

The final sample was a new offering, Boston 26.2 Marathon Brew, which was created in conjunction with Sam’s sponsorship of the Boston Marathon this year, and served on tap only in Boston. This one doesn’t conform to Reinheitsgebot, as it contains coriander and kosher salt. It’s a 4.5% abv session beer with a light, fruity aroma, and tangy, fruit taste with a candy-like finish. There’s a gummy-snack fruitiness going on in there, but overall tasty. Might make a refreshing way to rehydrate after running 26 miles.

While tasting the Marathon Beer and thinking how happy I was to not be running a marathon, Katie launched into the story of Sam’s “perfect pint” glass. Jim was over in Germany, in a bar (shocking!) and ordered a beer. The server came back and said they couldn’t give him that beer because they were out of the proper glass for it. Anyone who’s been to a decent beer bar in Europe can attest to that: it’s a big deal over there. Ever wonder why there are so many beer glasses with brewery logos on them? It’s because the breweries contract companies to produce glasses specifically for their beer, which are shipped to bars for serving. The proper beer goes in the proper glass. Jim saw this and thought “Why don’t I have a glass for MY beer?” So he contacted a company in Lexington called TIAX to design a glass for Boston Lager. Two years and many free “sample” kegs later, they developed the Sam Adams glass.


With the final sample quaffed, the tour was over. You get your tasting glass rinsed out, and exit through the gift shop chock full of Sam gear. But the adventure doesn’t have to end here. For the past several years, the brewery has been running a promotion with local JP establishment Doyle’s Cafe, which was the first bar to carry Sam Adams in the city of Boston. So they’ve been buddies for awhile, even though Doyle’s has been there since freaking 1882. It’s an Irish bar full of history well worth stopping into for a pint, and Sam makes it even easier: there’s a trolley that runs from the brewery to Doyle’s for free (it also makes a stop at the Stony Brook T station). If you order a Sam Adams beer (they were $6) at Doyle’s and show your hand stamp or ticket from the brewery tour, you get to keep the perfect pint glass. Highly recommended.

Be prepared: Jason, the driver, runs a party trolley, complete with lasers, disco ball, fog machine, bubble machine, brass poles, music blasting, and pumping the brakes to make it bounce. We started off with a Neil Diamond singalong to “Sweet Caroline” followed by “Cracklin’ Rosie” before arriving at the bar. An order of potato skins, two Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPAs and free glasses later, the Lady Friend and I reboarded the rolling dance party to the strains of “Fire Burning.” Over the pumping beats, Jason, a Boston tour guide for 15 years, shouted out some fun facts such as “30 years before they thought of Fenway, they were partying at DOYLE’S,” and “DOYLE’S has the best chowdah in the city. I eat chowdah like cereal in the morning,” and that Doyle’s burgers are “…a cut above Five Guys,” which drew jeers from the crowd and a comment of “That’s a bold statement!

So, the Sam experience is a giant draw for good reason. One of the biggest craft brewers in the country in Boston’s backyard, with an informative (free) tour and samples. The tie-in with Doyle’s is a highly recommended experience of its own, and will get you a souvenir pint glass to keep with your tasting glass. I personally feel that Sam brews their beers as crowd-pleasers, and while they have a WIDE variety of brews, they’re mostly stepping stones into the different styles. While I love the Boston Lager, their Campfire Rauchbier (smoked beer) has just a hint of smoke, especially compared to a REAL rauchbier, and their Latitude 48 IPA is like a hoppy version of the Boston Lager. I always feel they could do so much more, but that would be at the risk of hurting sales. You don’t get to 2.5 million barrels of production by alienating people, and there’s plenty of smaller breweries pushing the boundaries so Sam doesn’t have to. As long as Sam keeps making good beer, I’ll forgive them. Go take a tour.

The Lady Friend approves.

Mil-wacky in March, Part 4: Miller Brewery

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

It’s Miller Time. ™ © ®

Friday morning was rather dreary and damp, but we had drinking to do. The first stop of the day was the behemoth complex of the Miller Brewing Company. Obviously, I’m a craft beer fan, but with many friends in the Midwest, and several trips to Milwaukee, I’ve had my fair share of Miller Lite as well. I insisted that the Miller tour was a mandatory part of our trip for the Lady Friend, so she can truly appreciate the SCALE of these macrobreweries. The facility in Milwaukee produces 10 MILLION BARRELS of beer every year, and that’s just one of their 11 breweries across the country. By comparison, Harpoon Brewery in Boston produces 125,000 bbls a year. Miller makes 80 TIMES more beer from ONE facility. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

So, we started our tour. It’s free, but has a number of rules and warnings. Nothing too scary, but yes, there is walking involved, and yes, there are a number of stairs to climb in the brewhouse. It’s not the most fun tour on a rainy or cold day, as you hoof it down the road and in and out of various buildings, but totally worth it in the end. No smoking, no bathroom breaks (this was a concern for the Lady Friend), and no strollers, though if you’re the sort of psychopath that thinks it’s cute and fun to bring very small children who wail incessantly on a public tour, then I hope you develop an ear infection that makes you drastically more sensitive to sound, rendering the cries of your little stinkcritter as unbearable to you as it is to everyone else around you. This goes for airplanes, restaurants, and movies theaters as well. No one likes your horrible offspring except you, so just stay home to raise your brood where you won’t bother the rest of us.

Yes, there were some children on this tour… what makes you ask?

Anyway, they start off by taking your picture in front of a painted Miller mural in the lobby that you can purchase later, packaged with a keychain, for about $20. A nice Disney-level scam to add to the magic. The actual tour begins with a little propaganda film that tells a brief history of Miller Brewing so the tour guides don’t have to. They changed the film since the last tour I took, where the slogan “It’s Miller Time!” was flashed so many times on the screen that it was laughable. I stopped counting at 15 references in a 10-minute film. However, that’s gone now, and they focus instead on a Katy Perry-wannabe dressed as the Girl in the Moon logo from the Miller High Life branding. According to the film, the brewery was started in 1855 by German immigrant Frederick Miller, when he purchased the Plank-Road Brewery. They brewed 300 bbls in their first year, and really expanded the brand in 1871, when they provided beer to the citizens of Chicago following the Great Fire. Ownership of the company finally left the family when Miller’s anti-alcohol granddaughter sold the majority to W.R. Grace and Company in 1966, which was later purchased by Phillip Morris in 1969. Miller Lite came along in 1973, creating a new horrific category of “low-calorie” beers. In 2002, Phillip Morris sold Miller to South African Breweries (SAB) to create SABMiller, similar to Budweiser’s Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. In 2007, SABMiller and the Molson Coors Brewing Company combined to create the MillerCoors joint venture, which is currently where the branding remains today. So, Miller Brewing Company is actually SABMiller in a joint venture with MillerCoors. Big business.

Handily labeled.

Following the film, the tour guide takes over. Our guide, whose name I didn’t catch, was like an excitable version of a T.G.I. Friday’s waiter on meth. You know that overly-friendly “everything is magical and happy here, all day, every day, never any problems nope nope nope” tooth-grinding forced-smile kind of attitude? Like that. As if he’d be beaten with a pillowcase full of Miller Lite cans for not reaching his smile quota, or having too few pieces of flair. So Chipper McGee led us on a short walk down the street to the bottling plant and distribution warehouse. They put the beer into bottles, cans, and kegs, and ship it out. There’s really not much else to tell about this place, except for throwing out some numbers. Staggering numbers. They package 500,000 cases of beer per DAY, enough beer to fill 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools in a year. 60% of the beer goes to cans, 30% to bottles, and the remaining 10% into kegs. It’s pretty quick too: 1400 bottles are filled per minute, while cans can go at 2000 per minute (1.5 cases per second). 15,000 kegs are filled per day, going to bars and restaurants nation-wide. The kegs are stored cool, and aren’t pasteurized like the cans and bottles. The big argument there is that pasteurizing (heating the beer, then cooling rapidly to increase shelf-life) eliminates bacteria in the beer. Well, allegedly, it also decreases flavor, which you certainly won’t notice in Miller Lite, but might notice in a hoppy craft brew. That’s why many craft beers are best drunk within a certain window of time, before the hops and flavors start to diminish, whereas a pasteurized macrobrew can likely sit on the shelf for years with no ill-effects. According to Miller, pasteurizing beer buys them 17 weeks of unrefrigerated storage. Ick.

Pictured: Half a million cases of beer.

From the bottling line, we go down to their 200,000 sq ft warehouse, which has a capacity of 500,000 cases. Since they package 500,000 cases per day, there’s a nearly daily turnover rate, which is staggering for that amount of beer. 3% of the product is loaded onto train boxcars (which used to be the primary shipping method back in the day) but the whopping majority, 97%, simply goes into trucks.

Across the street is the actual brewhouse, a multi-story affair with six, 590 bbl kettles that are 18′ deep, producing 26,000 bbls of beer every DAY. It takes 3-4 weeks to finish the brewing process before the beer is packaged. Miller claims to run at 98% waste free, with their spent grain going to livestock feed. A question about the usage of genetically-modified (GM) hops stopped the otherwise chipper tour guide cold, with a forced smile and shaky reply of “I’m not sure, but I will find out that answer for you!” As we descended the stairs, I remarked to the Lady Friend that perhaps a bigger concern would be the use of GM corn, rather than hops, since Miller is a major producer of adjunct lagers. Later on, at the tasting portion of the tour, the guide informed us that yes, GM hops are used, but with a twist: Miller actually owns several patents on specific hops, I’m assuming some sort of proprietary hybrids. I wasn’t aware you could patent a hop. Moreover, the guide confirmed that yes, lots of GM corn was used as well.

The Brewhouse. Big time.

The side of the modern brewhouse is slathered with an absolutely immense mural which can be seen for MILES. The tour guide told me it was one of the largest hand-painted murals in the country. Like most things on the tour, it’s mind-blowingly big.

Here’s a picture from a sunnier day.

Next, we popped into the “famous caves” built to keep the lager beer cool and happy. Dug into a hillside, the lagering caves were packed with ice to keep the lager yeast satisfied, even in warm summer weather. Ale yeast likes warm (room temp) climates to ferment, while lager needs cooler surroundings. There’s even a “spooky” visitor in the caves: a projected video of the ghost of Frederick Miller, talking about the social, family aspects of his fine German beer. Some of the small children weren’t terribly fond of this portion of the tour, and there was some hullabaloo to that effect.

Following the caves, it’s sample time. You’ll either head across the street to the Beer Garden, an outdoor patio, or into the Miller Inn, depending on the season. Last time was a beautiful sunny September day, but the cool rainy climate of this March visit meant we popped into the Inn. There were three samples provided, with a larger-than-usual pour of about 8oz, in a tasting glass (the Beer Garden serves in plastic cups). We went through Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and a new offering, Miller Valley Ale, with a sweetish malt nose and taste, and reddish amber color, dark when compared to the usual pale straw yellow pilsners. It wasn’t bad, but was especially tasty compared to Lite and High Life. But really, what isn’t?

Left to right: Plank Road Brewery replica, Historic Caves, Miller Inn, Refrigeration Building,
Brewhouse (1886). Modern Brewhouse is on far right of frame.

That’s pretty much the tour. You hike back down the road to the main visitor’s building, and can browse the ludicrous number of logo-emblazoned products in the gift shop. We didn’t linger, because there were other stops to make (more breweries!) and we didn’t need any Miller Lite pint glasses. They’re not terribly exclusive. There are quite a few to choose from, as the MillerCoors venture produces Coors, Coors Light, Hamm’s, Icehouse, Keystone, Mickey’s, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Miller 64 (new! It’s Miller Lite LIGHT), Milwaukee’s Best (Beast), Beast Ice, Olde English, Red Dog, Steel Reserve, Blue Moon (Coors’s “craft” beer), Killian’s, the Leinenkugel lineup (bought in 1988), Foster’s, Molson Canadian, Molson Golden, Molson Ice, Molson XXX, Sharps, and Sparks. Oh, and they contract brew PBR. That doesn’t even include the imports owned by SAB. Here’s the full list.

As a whole, the tour doesn’t sound that exciting because it’s a very corporate, very controlled affair, and they really don’t like it when you wander off the marked path or ask uncomfortable questions. It attracts a LOT of tourists and families, so be prepared for that as well. Still, the tour is WELL worth doing if you’re in Milwaukee. It’s free and there are samples at the end. Even if you’re a craft beer/ anti-macro type drinker, you really need to go on this tour just to see the sheer SCALE of this operation. Miller puts out something like 40 MILLION BARRELS of beer a year, with 10 million coming from this facility alone. It’s simply staggering. Go there and see for yourself.

Everything’s bigger at Miller.

Drink Free or Die Part II: Frank Jones Brewing

So the Lady Friend and I took a day trip up to our home state of Moo Hampsha for some good ol’ Granite State boozing. This is Part I of the adventure. For those who may have missed it, there’s a handy map on my White Birch Brewing post that shows why NH is the best state ever, besieged on all sides by other scary New England states (and a Commonwealth). Part 1 starts here.

Drink Free or Die: Sobriety is the Worst of Evils.

This is going to be a different sort of brewery tour.

Let’s set the Way-Back Machine to the 1880s.

New Hampshire actually has a pretty big role in New England brewing history, which I was oblivious to until a chance viewing of a vintage beer ad slideshow. I’d show it to you, but it was on and they seem to have taken it down as if it never existed.

This was the picture

I recognized the name “Frank Jones,” and saw “Portsmouth, NH” in there as well. That intrigued me, and kicked off some research. Having grown up in Seacoast NH, I had heard the name Frank Jones, but mostly only in reference to the convention center off of the traffic circle. Turns out he was a pretty big deal. Frank was a businessman, politician and brewer, and even served as mayor of Portsmouth for awhile. As a young man, he moved from his hometown of Barrington, NH, to the hustle and bustle of Portsmouth, and started working with Swindell Brewing, owned by Englishman John Swindell, around 1858. Swindell’s business started tanking, so Frank bought him out. I’m not sure what he did after that to turn things around, but business took off. By the Civil War, he was profitable, and had a local competitor: Eldridge Brewing Company, also of Portsmouth, founded in 1864. These two were the big players in Portsmouth until Prohibition, though several smaller breweries also sprung up. Ironically, post-Prohibition, Eldridge started up again in various forms and produced Frank Jones’s ale among its products.

Back to Frank: he continued expanding the brewery, and sales kept rising. They brewed 150,000 barrels of ale in 1882, making Frank Jones the LARGEST producer of ale in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Holy snotrockets. Let’s put that in perspective. First of all, I’m sure you’re thinking “What about Miller, and Budweiser, and Pabst, Schlitz, Coors, Stroh’s, and all those? Weren’t they making a lot of beer as well?” Sure they were. But they were mostly making LAGER, not ale. Secondly, how much is 150k barrels of beer? That was Harpoon Brewery’s production in 2011. That’s a LOT of beer. We’re talking a Harpoon-sized operation in the 1880s. By this time he was adding buildings left and right… a malt house, a cooperage (barrel house), ANOTHER malt house, ANOTHER cooperage, and a 140′ clock tower.

This place was HUGE.

This was just Portsmouth; there was a second brewery in South Boston, formerly called Henry Souther & Company. It’s the one that is actually represented in that first picture. Under “Portsmouth, NH” the caption reads “Depot 82 & 84, Washington St, Boston“: Washington Street runs right through Dorchester. That print is apparently in the Boston Public Library archives.

Anyway, in 1889, Frank went public and sold out to British investors who were sniffing out brewery purchases in America. Frank stayed on as head of the brewery, and they hit their peak in 1896 producing 250,000 barrels of ale. That’s over 7.8 million gallons. Insanity.

There’s even a SONG about the beer from about 1897:

Hurrah for Jones’ brewery, may it never fail
Brew us beer and porter and beautiful stock ale,
That’s the stuff for me, my boys, it drives away all pain,
Whenever I can get a glass of it I’ll have it just the same.

Frank died in 1902, but not before making sure he had the biggest tombstone in the city.

Most of these brewery buildings still exist, off of Islington Street (behind CVS, next to the Pic n’ Pay/ Hannaford’s) near downtown Portsmouth. I’ve probably driven past them hundreds of times, and never gave them so much as a glance. Some of them have been repurposed/renovated and contain various businesses, like a tech company, yoga studio, and even a bar, located on the aptly named Brewery Lane. The Lady Friend and I went for a look.


This was a serious brewery.

I couldn’t really tell you which building is which, though I have a vague sense from the postcard above. The dominant building still standing has a big white stone near the top which reads “Built 1884 by Frank Jones,” which I believe refers to the expansion of the main brewery building. Shorter, lengthy, two story buildings along Brewery Lane (where train tracks once ran) are the malt houses, currently containing businesses under the title “Malt House Exchange.” There’s just a parking lot where the largest building, and the clock tower, once stood. Most buildings are boarded up and have graffiti sprayed everywhere within reach, though the solid brick walls are still standing. The buildings that are left appear to be pretty sound, structurally.

I found an opening in one of the boarded-up doorways, and squeezed inside the main building for a look.

Lady Friend added for scale.

Dirt floors, and an empty, cavernous space. Portions of the beamed ceiling look to be recently replaced, though pigeons roost everywhere up there. Various fuse panels and electrical conduit is another up-to-date addition, most likely installed for work crews to repair the structure. More graffiti, and I wonder if the person who scrawled the drinking philosophy knew this was a brewery. One section is an addition likely from the post-Prohibition days, with steel beams extending out from the original brick facade. Real estate banners hang on the building’s exterior, and I would love to find out what this property would cost. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, and a tad drafty. Smuttynose Brewery looked into these buildings for their new brewery home, though it just wasn’t feasible. Funnily enough, Smuttynose is currently located at Heritage Ave. in Portsmouth, which was one of the former Frank Jones Brewing Company sites. Smuttynose holds the title of the largest brewery in New Hampshire, a distinction that once belonged to Frank Jones. History!

Dusty history.

So what happened? FJ was the largest brewery around and employed something like 500 people. Where did all that business go? Simple. Prohibition. Ugh. Prohibition went into effect on the national level on January 17, 1920, but had already been enacted statewide in New Hampshire in 1917. The brewers were forced to shut their doors, and the Frank Jones Brewing Company, LLC, was finished. Well, kind of. After Prohibition ended in 1933, old rival Eldridge began brewing again in the former Frank Jones buildings. They later renamed themselves “Frank Jones Brewing Company” in 1937, and even produced some of the original FJ recipes. The company was sold in 1947 to a rum distiller called Caldwell Incorporated, but the big midwestern macrobrew lagers were taking hold, and consumers’ tastes shifted to the lighter beers. Frank Jones finally went down in 1950.


Apparently, you can actually still get some of Frank’s Ale. After an attempt to revitalize the brand in the early 1990s with contract brewing at Catamount Brewery (now Harpoon’s Windsor, VT location) a restaurant in Barrington (Frank’s hometown) sprung up that offers Frank Jones’ Original Ale and IPA. At least they used to. I sent them a message trying to get more information about where and how they brew these beers, but I still haven’t heard back from them. I think it would be a worthwhile adventure to get the real story, even if I have to go to *shudder* Barrington. That’s not even EPPING. Yikes.

Also, it seems there are further plans for the site, though there’s no telling how recent this information is, or if it’s even still heading in that direction. It could be the reason I spotted some recent electrical work, though there is still a real estate banner hanging on the building. I’m not sure if the deal fell through, or if they simply haven’t taken down the banner yet.

The more information I found out on this topic, the more buried I became in the brewing history of the area. One major source for this post was the website, with this page of incredibly informative history. Other sources are linked within the post, but Rustycans in particular was extremely helpful. There’s also a book that was recommended to me by JT of Smuttynose called Brewing in New Hampshire, which seems like it will be an invaluable source of information once I get my hands on it. Then this article from had a lot of important information, and the unique perspective of one of the current tenants of the FJ site.

If you have any other information about the Frank Jones Brewery, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below. I have a feeling I’ll be digging into this topic for a long time.

Finally, one last comparison from past to present, as of February, 2012. You can see the brewery building that still exists on the left, and the adjoining main floor, though another story was added on at some point. The giant clock tower, and largest building, would be right about where that lamppost is, in the middle of the shot. Nothing remains of the either: it’s now just a parking lot.

Drink Free or Die Part I: Smuttynose

So the Lady Friend and I took a day trip up to our home state of Moo Hampsha for some good ol’ Granite State boozing. This is Part I of the adventure. For those who may have missed it, there’s a handy map on my White Birch Brewing post that shows why NH is the best state ever, besieged on all sides by other scary New England states (and a Commonwealth).

Drink Free or Die: Sobriety is the Worst of Evils.

Note: This article contains several factual updates from the original post following correspondence with JT, the Smuttynose Minister of Propaganda.

Someday I’m going to publish a book of all these wonderfully sexy brewery exterior shots.

Our first stop of the day was Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, NH. They’re located (like many breweries) in an industrial park, off of Route 1, though if you grew up in the area (as I did), you can sneak around the back way and avoid all the traffic lights. The downfall of Smutty is that their Saturday tour starts at 11am, which is great if you live in Hampton; not so great from Boston. [UPDATE: They do also have a 5:30p Friday tour, and have just added a 1p Saturday tour.] With some spirited driving on my part, we made it just in time, though it was about 20 degrees colder than Boston, and there were patches of ice still in the parking lot. Stupid frozen NH. Thankfully we got to warm up pretty quickly as Smutty starts the tour with beer samples, as any good brewery will do. They also pointed out that we were penned in by the incredibly secure “defined drinking area,” as NH state law requires that we be caged to drink the beers. We donned safety glasses prior to wandering through the production floor, though this is only the second brewery I can recall that requires eye protection (Allagash was the other).

You’ll beer your eye out.

First off: a little history. Smuttynose is one of the earlier microbreweries (though no longer a microbrewery) in the Seacoast area, and is named for Smuttynose Island, part of the Isles of Shoals where a couple people got axed. Literally. They were killed with an ax (or hatchet… depends who you ask). Anyway, it’s a cool piece of local history, and just sounds like a cool brewery name. Their harbor seal logo ties in as many seals hang out on the Isles of Shoals and along the NH coastline. Apparently the mascot seal on the logo is named “Shmarmy.” I doubt I spelled that correctly. But they like it, saying that “it’s a weird name and we like weird things.” Cool.

Smuttynose and another local brewpub, Portsmouth Brewery (we’ll get to that later), are kind of mired in shared history, as Smutty’s beers are offered on tap at PortsBrew, and I was never sure if they were owned by the same person or what the deal was. It’s somewhat confusing, so here’s the gist:

- Peter and Janet Egelston (brother and sister) start the Northampton Brewery (MA) in 1987 along with another couple, the Metzgers.

– In 1991, the Egelstons and Metzgers start the Portsmouth Brewery in downtown Portsmouth, NH’s first brewpub.

– The Egelstons buy out the Metzgers in both Portsmouth and Northampton in 1992.

– In December of 1993, Peter Egelston buys some assets of the former Frank Jones Brewing Company (more on that one later as well), and uses it to start Smuttynose in January of 1994.

– Finally in 2000, Peter and Janet trade off their partnerships: Peter takes over the Portsmouth Brewery, and keeps Smuttynose, while Janet becomes sole owner of Northampton Brewery.

So basically, PortsBrew and Smutty are owned by the same guy, but brew different beers. As a brewpub, PortsBrew doesn’t really bottle/distribute, whereas Smutty is a full-fledged brewery distributed in 19 states. All this info was on the tour, but it’s spelled out much clearer on their website’s FAQ section. Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention, take notes, shoot pictures, and drink a beer all at the same time. Sometimes, I even have to put the beer down. See what I do for you people?

I’m a saint.

So, the usual kind of tour. Blah blah blah, beer beer beer. It was a bit livelier than some, and the tour guides were quite amusing. Here’s some of the noteworthy stuff. Their year-round grain bills consist mainly of two-row malted barley, in amounts ranging from 80% to as much as 98%. The remaining portion is made up of a heavy roast chocolate malt, used in the darker beers, such as Old Brown Dog. There are three main sections to their facility: the brewhouse, the cellar, and the bottling line/warehouse. Beers are brewed in the brewhouse, fermented and conditioned in the cellar (which is not actually in a cellar), and then bottled and packed for distribution. They are force-carbonating their beers with a device [UPDATE: Called an inline pin-point carbonator, though they refer to it simply as “the carbonator.“] that “looks like a piece of Cold War weaponry.” All of their beers are unfiltered (the clarity comes from the use of a brite tank, which allows yeasts and sediments to settle before bottling). They do roughly 38,000 barrels a year in production, a third of which is kegged. The flagship beer by far is the Smuttynose IPA (also called FinestKind, which is in small type at the bottom of the label) accounting for a whopping 42% of their sales. The big sellers behind the IPA are the Old Brown Dog and the seasonal Pumpkin, each of which hold about 9% of total sales. There are 38 employees, and yes, they each get one free case of beer, per week.

Currently, the Heritage Ave building is at maximum capacity, and the big news around Smutty is that they’re finally moving. They’ve been looking for a new spot for quite some time, as chronicled on their blog, but the new destination is down Towle Farm Road in Hampton, NH. They’ve had to move a farm house and two carriage houses off of their foundations (though the barn stayed put) to make everything fit. Quite a project, but now Smutty is going to REALLY start cranking. Their 2011 capacity was just shy of 38,000 barrels, and the addition of four new 200bbl fermenters, and a 200bbl brite tank will up production by a whopping 10,000 bbls in 2012. A new facility included a visitor’s center and restaurant on-site at a possible Route 1 location in Portsmouth was unfortunately squashed by Portsmouth zoning laws. The new $16 million planned facility in Hampton includes a 95-seat restaurant, visitor center, administration offices and 42,000 sq ft brewery. Good to know they’ve finally landed after being screwed by Portsmouth politics, abandoning plans for revamping old breweries, and walking away from a doomed Newmarket project.

Just keep them bottles a-comin’.

We finished the tour back where we started, in front of the taps in the strictly defined “drinking area” and continued to slake our thirst after the long, dry 30 minute excursion. Here’s what was on tap:

Common Man Ale Um. An ale.
5% abv. I had never heard of this one before.
Nose: Light barley malt. Slight hint of citrus.
Taste: Light and easy. Mild cereal taste. Crisp and refreshing.

Woodward Ale A hoppy Pale Ale with orange peel.
4.7% abv. Didn’t know about this one either. It’s contract brewed for the Woodward Hotel in Boston. Neat!
Nose: Slight sweet orange aroma, with a malty back.
Taste: Sharper than the Common Man Ale. Certainly an orange flavor on top, with a dry, hoppy bitterness.

Old Brown Dog Brown Ale
6.6% abv. Now we’re talking. A Smutty classic. The dog on the label is Olive, brewery owner Peter Egelston’s dog.
Nose: Roasty toasty. Slight roast bitter, but smells delicious.
Taste: A roast bitter start, but then malty sweet with some brown sugar. Yum.

Robust Porter Yup. It’s a porter.
5.7% abv. Peter’s partner, Joanne, is the art director for the beer labels, and designed the old-timey strongman label. Bully!
Nose: Roasted, slight coffee bitter and some malty sweetness.
Taste: Bitter roast with a slight malt sweetness. It certainly is robust. TASTY. Om nom nom.

Smuttynose IPA aka FinestKind India Pale Ale
6.8% abv. A great IPA. One of the Irish Lad’s favorites. Magnum and Simcoe hops with a Centennial dry hop.
The two old guys on the label, Cy and Paul, responded to a call for “two old geezers for a beer label.” Cy has since died, but Paul is still kicking. He had a heart attack three days before the last Red Hook Beerfest, and was pissed that he couldn’t get out of the hospital to attend.
Nose: Savory and dank.
Taste: Sharp bitter. Crisp with some resin. A slight meaty/savory grease underneath. An excellent IPA.

I snagged a pint glass for my too-large-already collection, and exchanged info with the Smutty guys. As a bonus with the tour, everyone gets a coupon for a free Smutty pint at the Portsmouth Brewery. Total score, since we were already planning to visit PortsBrew later in the afternoon. Still a couple stops to make before that, however, including a dual-coast brewery, and a legendary chunk of brewing history. Stay tuned.

Make mine a Smutty.

You down with CBC? Yeah, you know me

Ugh. Cambridge, The People’s Republic of. For those of you not familiar with the area, it’s called that due to the extreme liberal-hippie-happy-friendly-environmental-more bike lanes-fewer cars-save the whales, bunnies and tsetse flies-hipster-aged college professor-drive a Prius-shop at Whole Foods-mentality. It’s like an east coast mini-San Francisco, and one of the most densely-populated cities in the country, so there’s a lot of those douchebags. However, there are also a lot of bars worth visiting, despite the rather dubious beliefs held by the patrons. So, the Lady Friend and I gritted our teeth and boarded the wondrous Red Line T train on a grey December day that was as bleak as the Soviet communistic views held by the Cambridgians. It’s no coincidence that the Red Line travels to the Red Squares of Kendall, Central, Harvard, Porter, and Davis. If we were going to visit the Bloc neighborhoods on the other side of the Berlin Wall Charles River, then this was the gloomy weather appropriate enough to set the mood.

My point is, it wasn’t a warm sunny day. Also, Cambridge = Communists.

I’m not really Conservative, but I have little tolerance for the preposterously leftist views of Cambridge. They think everybody should feel good all the time, and are willing to use my tax money to that end, for things like college tuition for illegal immigrants and banning smoking on outdoor public benches. Guess what: happiness isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. It’s up to the individual to find ways to make themselves happy, not by legislation. The Constitution assures the PURSUIT of happiness, not guaranteeing happiness itself.

Personally, I recommend drinking.

It works.

So we went drinking.

A good place to pursue happiness.

Destination: Cambridge Brewing Company. These guys are local legends, and started way back in 1989. They’ve got a brewpub right in Kendall Square in an old mill building of sorts (if anyone knows what that building was originally, I’d love to find out). The brewpub itself is mostly solid-looking wood furniture and brick walls, as a proper pub should be. Quirky art pieces accent the bar and dining area: bold murals, wire sculptured hands grasping giant brews, and stained glass depictions of foaming pints. They brew a wide range of styles and influences, and I can’t think of a bad one I’ve ever had. The outdoor seating option in the summer is nice, but on this day, we were glad for the shelter and heat inside. It was a pretty mellow afternoon, and after originally being seated at a small side table, we abandoned it and sidled up to the bar. We snagged several samples; they don’t offer an official sampler or flight, but you can put together your own with 4oz samples for $2 each. The Lady Friend and I chose five apiece, and between the two of us, covered most of the menu. Here’s the lowdown:

Tall Tale Pale Ale
Nose: Mild, sweetish hop.
Taste: Sharp, bitter hop. Malt cereal fades in, but stinging pine lingers. A bitter English style hop.

Charles River Porter
Nose: Roasted dark aroma, but weak.
Taste: Roasted sweetness immediately goes to a sharp coffee bitter. Smooth, but bitter.

Big Man IPA
Nose: Weak aroma. Hop floral with some sweetness
Taste: Bitter start, but a citrus sweetness helps cut through it. A complexity; almost a layered taste with the bitter on top and a citrus flavor lurking underneath.

Valley Girl IPA
Nose: Nice hop citrus with a maltiness underneath.
Taste: Savory start, a little grease. A bit of spice, like a sausage snap. Pine sap.

YouEnjoyMyStout An 11% abv Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Nose: Sickly sweet nose, almost grape-like. Syrup in the nose, if that’s possible.
Taste: Slight syrup, but a wine-like quality. Sweet fruit flavor. Mouthcoating. A hint of roast hidden beneath the viscous goo. The Lady Friend just denounced it as “cough syrup” and struggled to find the will to finish it.

Also, they have Radioactive Man hanging out.
Not Homer, Radioactive Man.

So, as we tasted our tasters and munched some lunch, I attempted to avoid getting sucked into the slew of Will Ferrell movies on the large flickering screen. I practiced one of my favorite activities, bar eavesdropping. Well, if you’re sitting at the bar speaking loud enough for me to hear, it’s not really eavesdropping. Even if I’m leaning towards you and straining to hear what you’re saying over the general din of the room. However, it was a lazy Saturday afternoon at CBC, so I didn’t have to strain at all to overhear the conversation between the bartender and one of the stool inhabitants. They were discussing plans for later that night, about how Person A would text Persons B and C to tell them where to meet Persons A and D and where to find parking even though it’s right down the street because they want to drive in case the party is lame and want to have travel options besides the T which stops running too early and it’s cold out tonight. Or something like that.

She also happened to mention how, at a recent social event, she was recreationally drinking a particular CBC beer, the Tripel Threat, and got destroyed. She noticed me paying more attention to her conversation than my own (bartenders see and hear all. If you don’t think they see you, it’s because they’re ignoring you, and usually for a good reason) and came over once her friend left to ask if I’d like a sample of the beer in questions. Absolutely.

Tripel Threat 10% abv Belgian Strong Ale
Nose: Belgian wheat. Bubblegum.
Taste: Light and tasty. Again, bubblegum. Sweet with a slight banana.

Whoa. This does NOT taste like a 10% beer. And that’s the threatening part. The bartender, Emily, says it’s like drinking water. Which leads to a full day of recovery needed. Can’t party with the Tripel Threat. She also shared an amusing anecdote about their brewmaster. He was down in the cellar, and “tasting” quite a lot of the brew, since it didn’t feel like it was that strong. Then he stood up, and promptly fell over. Awesome.

So, lunch was excellent. More importantly, the beers were excellent, and enough to elicit a mild buzz, preparation enough for the cold that lurked outside. We finished up our remaining samples, and, at Emily’s suggestion, took a quick peek around the back room where some brewing equipment lurked, and headed out into the chill, which didn’t feel that bad, thanks to our liquid jackets. We had other stops to make. Hopefully the KGB wouldn’t demand our travel papers en route.

White Birch Brewing

Ah, the unspoilt expanses of granite-laden New Hampshire. The Lady Friend and I were up that way to visit Maggie the Thunder Kitten of Doom, and took the long way back to Braintree, by way of Hooksett, NH. It wasn’t exactly on the way; Hooksett is past Manchester on the way to Concord, so it’s a detour whether traveling on 101 or 93. Manchester is kind of like the last civilized outpost before the frontier lands of NH. The only reason to drive past it is to visit the mountains, lakes, or Vermont. You know, wilderness.

I’ve included a helpful map.

However, there was a reason for venturing into such dangerous, possibly bear-infested, territory: White Birch Brewing. No no, that’s White BIRCH, with an “R” not a “T.” Trust me, the White Bitch website is totally different. Anyway, I had seen their clean, black and white graphic labels on shelves in the South Shore area, but had never been intrigued enough to purchase one. As a N’Hampsha native, I can appreciate the white birch (state tree!) branding, but there would always be a different brew I was more interested in when beer shopping. Since we were already up in the Granite State, a minor detour sounded like a good excuse to finally check out what they do.

Well, as brewery exteriors go, that’s a different one.

Yup. It used to be a car dealership. Now it’s a brewery. It turns out they do pretty much all Belgian-style ales, which are not exactly my most favorite. But I was certainly willing to partake of the free tasting. Ben the Brewery Assistant was pouring the samples, so we dove in.

Belgian Style Pale Ale
Year-round flagship beer
Nose: Tart fruit, almost like a cider or a sour ale.
Taste: Foamy head. Belgian wheat, but not too banana/yeasty. There’s a nice hop bitter that helps to cut through the yeast. (The yeast used is their house yeast, a Belgian strain.)

Hooksett Ale
Nose: Caramel. Sweet malt.
Taste: Malty, with a slight bite to the end.

Wrīgian Belgian-Style Ale with Rye Flakes
Pronounced “Rye-gan”
Nose: Fruity malt aroma. Caramel.
Taste: Malt. Slight rye spice to the back end. Nice little bite to cut the malt.

Oak Aged Tripel
Flavored with rye-soaked oak chips
Nose: Foamy head. Slight sour apple aroma.
Taste: Starts fruity, foamy, with a soft carbonic. Slight spice in the start, changes over to malty mid, with a rye whiskey snap to the finish.

Nose: Dark color. Noses with a dark, malt, some syrup, and a slight roast.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Malty start, but Belgian yeastiness helps add spice to cut the syrup, without being too mouth-coating. VERY nice.

2nd Anniversary Ale
Flavored with oak chips
Nose: Malty, but with a sweet roasted flavor.
Taste: An open sweetness unusual for a beer. An evaporative sensation opens up the taste, unlike the heavy syrup sensation/mouthfeel that was expected from the malty nose. Maybe it’s a higher alcohol punch (it IS 9% abv) that helps cut through the malt and give a slight evaporation.

So, that did it for the tasting. All Belgian-based, which is not my preference, but certainly some interesting things with rye and oak in the mix.

Live Free or Die!
Yeah, pretty much everyone in NH has a vanity plate. It’s like a law or something.

So, White Birch is about two and a half years old (hence the 2nd Year Anniversary Ale we tasted). Two weeks before our visit, they had moved to their new (current) location, which was previously a car dealership. They’re running a 7 barrel system, which is quite a step up from the 20 gallon system they started with, proudly displayed in the main room. There’s plenty of beer for sale on the giant wall of happiness, and we picked up a Colonial Ale that looked interesting, though we haven’t cracked it yet. Among the beers were some dog treats as well, made from the spent brewing grain and some peanut butter. As we were snooping around, pickup trucks were drag-racing from the traffic lights on Rt 28/Rt 3/Hooksett Rd. Yeah, Hooksett is that kind of place.

Yup. Toooootally a former car dealership.

So. That was the White Birch experience. If you live up that way, or are making a road trip, stop by.
Beware of bears!

Soused in SanFran – Part 2: SFO D1

This here is Part Two of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Hold on to your butts, this is going to be a long one.

The dawn did done diddly dawned Thursday morning as JJ and her husband scurried about the apartment and left for work and classes, respectively. The Lady Friend and I eventually changed out of sleepy pants and rallied for the day’s adventures. The one certainty on the schedule was a lunchtime visit to 21st Amendment Brewpub, but after that we were open until tentative happy hour plans with JJ. We decided to walk, since it was a couple miles away, and I like to wander and do some street shooting. Went down by the water to see the Bay Bridge on the way, and then were plenty ready for lunch and beer.

Slightly bigger than Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH. Slightly.

21st Amendment Brewery is a brewpub in the South Park area of SFO, and is apparently near AT&T Park, a baseball stadium that is a whopping 11 years old. How cute. Fenway is almost 100 years old, so suck it California. 21st is, of course, named after the Twenty-first amendment to the Constitution which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment of nation-wide prohibition. I’ve had several of their canned offerings including the Brew Free or Die IPA, Hop Crisis ImpIPA, and Hell or High Watermelon (of which I believe there’s still a can in the Lady Friend’s fridge.) While they don’t have an official sampler of their beers, you can order a sample of each, which we did. However, the normal canned beers (which apparently are canned in Cold Spring, MN) were not on the list. They might have been on tap, but we were at a table instead of the bar, and didn’t get a look. Here’s what we got:

We tasted right to left.

Ninkasi Total Domination IPA (Guest Brew)
Nose: Apple fruit. Slight malt. Very light and airy aroma.
Taste: Green, unripe tree/ stone fruit. Tart, apple.

Rammstein Bavarian Wheat
Nose: Banana clove. Sweet and aromatic. The Lady Friend described it as “circus peanuts” that marshmallowy orange candy.
Taste: Initial spiciness, eases off to a banana/ bubblegum wheat flavor.

Roasted American Amber Ale
Nose: Roasted malt/ barley. Not a coffee roast, but a TOASTED aroma.
Taste: Burnt toffee. Not syrupy. Not quite toast-like, but essence of golden brown crust, like fresh baked bread. Slight copper metallic, but very slight. We both really liked this one.

Fireside Chat Dark English Ale
Apparently they’re canning this one, but I haven’t seen here yet.
Nose: Very weak aroma. A stir with a fork yielded some slight fresh-baked cinnamon bread aroma.
Taste: Cinnamon raisin bread. Gives way to a slight syrup maltiness with a touch of roasted bitter.

Schooner’s Oatmeal Stout (Guest Brew)
Nose: Roasted oats. Yep.
Taste: Bitter coffee, but eases off. Very smooth. Finishes with a roast bitterness lingering. Nice.

Two Rivers Granny Smith Apple Cider (Guest Brew)
Nose: Apple juice. Tart and sweet.
Taste: Tart start. Mouth puckering. Not too sweet, but finishes nice and apple-y. I’m not generally a cider fan, but this one was really nice, and not too acidic.

It was very lumber-y inside.

Following our sumptuous repast, we started wandering around with thoughts of heading down to a beer store where I planned to do some purchasing. However, though it began as a brisk, sunny day, by mid-afternoon it started to rain. Then pour. Plans for walking several blocks were aborted, and we about-faced to head towards Union Square. I had gotten in touch with a friend of mine from my former company, Qwadd Grafficks, who I met by chance on a tour of a printing plant in Wis-cahn-sin. She also turned up on one of our ski/snowboard house trips to Killington/Pico in Vermont (SnoHaus 2010). She left Qwadd to travel to France earlier in the year, and was now working as a bar manager in SFO. She traveled with two other Qwadd ex-pats, who, following the trip, became wine harvest interns in Sonoma County. Ke$hia Ho is a plucky little Asian girl with dance moves that demoralize any white boy within a seven-block radius, except perhaps Trevtastic. She rocks a New York fashion-sense, despite her Minnesota upbringing, and since I saw her last has developed quite an appreciation for, and knowledge of, cocktails. She had Thursday off, and agreed to meet us in Union Square, then hang out for the afternoon.

The Lady Friend and I ducked into a dark Irish sports bar to dry ourselves, just off of Union called Lefty O’Doul’s, who is apparently some former baseball player. It was appropriately dark, dank and bar-like, so we grabbed a couple stools at the end of the bar and ordered up two Anchor Porters. When in Rome. Sidebar: it also happened to be International Stout Day. A porter may or may not technically be a stout, depending on who you ask, but I had the oatmeal stout sample at lunch so THAT TOTALLY COUNTS. Louie, apparently a regular, was having a grand old time a few seats down slurping Heineken’s and hitting on the female waitstaff, who are plainly used to his advances. Ke$hia Ho strode in after a short time, and we departed for a bar called Top of the Mark, a hotel bar with commanding panoramic views of the city. Though the rain had stopped, this unfortunately meant hiking, and I do mean HIKING, up several of the steepest hills mountains I had ever encountered in a city setting. It’s not even funny.

The view was pretty nice.

So, Top of the Mark is a ritzy little cocktail and piano bar, and we flipped through the extensive drink menu looking for a tasty tipple. However, something quite alarming caught my eye: the Top of the Mark Negroni, made with Ketel One Citron, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Wait… what? A Negroni made with VODKA?? Guess what tardclowns, THAT’S NOT A NEGRONI. I should NEVER have to specify that I want GIN in a Negroni. Ugh. They lost all credibility for that one. Unbelievable.

Despite the waiter’s near unintelligible accent, we managed to place our drink orders, with Ke$hia Ho sipping on a French 75 (she had some champagne earlier in the day and wanted to keep the theme going) and the Lady Friend trying what she thought was a Tequila Sunrise, until something tasted a bit off. Turned out, she got a Tequila SunSET, which was Stoli, 1800, Grand Marnier and Grenadine. Take a tequila drink and dump in some vodka. What is the matter with this place? Anyway, the cocktails were pricey, the waiter unsuccessfully attempted claw his way through the English language, they massacre classic drinks, and we spent our time there next to a group of business types drinking Bud Light. In a cocktail bar. The only reason to go here is to see the views, which were very nice, but after you’ve seen it, there’s no excuse to go back. Also, the bathroom, while elegantly decorated, had the distinct bouquet of a thousand haunted farts, with strong overtones of wet dog. Time to leave.

So, leave we did, thankfully taking the bus instead of walking, to a bar called Harry’s to meet JJ for happy hour. Yes, SquirrelFarts, there is a Happy Hour. We’re not in Boston anymore. Nothing too special about Harry’s… casual, but nice, and dark. There were $3 drafts, including Lagunitas IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Awesome. The Irish Lad isn’t a fan of Lagunitas IPA, though I’m still not quite sure why. I think it’s slightly pine bitter, but delicious.

As we were chatting, a girl came up to our table calling Ke$hia by some other name… I forget what. After some confusion, we figured out that apparently Ke$hia is this other girl’s doppelganger. When the other girl turned up, it was a pretty close match, and mild chuckling ensued. We had a few munchies until JJ arrived, looking rather drawn and haggard. A nice pint of Sierra Nevada revived her, and we all headed to a Peruvian restaurant for dinner, though some of us would have much preferred a slice of pizza.

The place was named Fresca The roasted chicken looked tasty, and that happened to be the one thing on the menu that the kitchen was out of. Super. So, I said I didn’t want anything else, and started doing some tasting notes on my Cuzqueña Peruvian lager (no nose whatsoever, a slight skunky “green glass” lager taste with some cereal grain sweetness. Also of note: it’s allegedly the only South American beer that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot; the German purity law that says beer must be made only from water, barley and hops.) I’m not sure if the notebook did it, (although I have had strange things like this happen before) but all of a sudden the waiter came back saying there was magically ONE more chicken in the kitchen, and would I like it? Um, sure. Maybe they thought I was some sort of reviewer or critic, but whatever the reason, I got my chicken. And it was tasty. As were the accompanying french fries I very nearly inhaled.

After that we called it an evening (since it was a work night for JJ). Ke$hia hopped a bus with plans to meet up with us again the next day, and the remaining three of us stumbled back down Fillmore to the apartment for another night of futon slumber. This was just day one: more drinking adventures to come!

Mayflower Brewery

Mini road trip! This weekend’s adventure was a trek down Route 3 to Plymouth, MA, for a tour of the Mayflower Brewery and some bar-hopping in downtown Plymouth. One of my former coworkers lives down there, and is always up for shenanigans in town, though I’m fond of saying that Plymouth is a 45 minute drive from everywhere. The Lady Friend and I had been to Mayflower for their open house back in May, and got to sample the full range of beers then. However, we’re always up for a repeat performance, and this time I’d get to document it properly.

Actually nicer than most brewery locations.

We met up with the coworker, Tresstastic, and her boyfriend at her apartment, and pounded a quick Sam Octoberfest before heading over the the brewery, meeting up with two other friends. Mayflower, like most breweries, is located in an industrial park. It’s hard to spot, so keep an eye out for the delivery trucks parked next to the building. As soon as I walked in the door, the Man Behind the Bar asked “Hey… Man with the Camera… are you from somewhere important?” No, but I like to pretend. Then, the girl working there said “Hey… I recognize you…” Yup. Getting recognized at breweries. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing. Like the liquor store near my apartment that stopped carding me long ago. It’s nice, but probably not a good sign for the future of my liver.

There is a bit of a story to that one. Back in May when LF and I were at the Open House, we hung around the bar area towards the end and chatted with the staff, one of which was the girl working this weekend, Sarah. She swore I had been there before, even though I had never been to Mayflower. Apparently I have a doppleganger, because she insisted it was me, or someone who looked exactly like me that had been in there about two weeks before. I made some comment about having to hunt him down because THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE. Anyway, apparently either I made an impression, or my doppleganger is still lurking about Mayflower Brewery, since Sarah remembered meeting me before.

Like most breweries now, Mayflower has a tasting room/retail area front, including some bar tables and small seating area, while the actual brewery lies down a small hallway into the back warehouse section. We were pretty much the only ones in the place, which made it nice and casual for our tour. Before beginning, we started with a beer. “Can’t take a tour without a beer in your hand,” remarked Man Behind the Bar, as he poured a sample of the Golden Ale for each of us. We headed into the back, and Sarah started the tour.

This is where rainbows and dreams are born.

The usual: blah blah blah, beer beer beer. Mix grain with water and hops, boil it up, add yeast, and let it sit and ferment. Here’s some of the interesting bits about Mayflower: the founder, Drew, is a 10th generation descendant of a man named John Alden, who was the cooper (barrelmaker) on the Mayflower. Yes, that one. Why is that important? Well, the cooper was responsible for building and maintaining all the barrels stowed on the ship during the voyage. Yeah, those weren’t water barrels either… they were full of beer. Water wasn’t very clean in those days, and most people drank healthy, nourishing and refreshing beer all day long. Even kids. Especially kids. Gin wouldn’t become the drink of choice until a bit later. Anyway, the story goes that the Mayflower was destined for Virginia, but ran into Cape Cod instead, and decided to land because they were out of beer. Not finding any suitable fresh water (it was pretty stagnant on the Cape) they set off again and landed in Plymouth, where they found an adequate supply of fresh water, which is the same source used to make Mayflower Brewing’s beers today. The founder, Drew, got tired of being retired, and started up Mayflower in 2007 which is currently a 2,000bbl facility. Pretty good for a four-year-old place.

So, we poked around and gawked at their grist mill, mash tun, fermenters and runoff buckets bubbling happily with C02-and-wort foam released from the top of the fermenters. Bubbling gunk means fermentation, and fermentation means alcohol! Go little yeasties, go! As usual, I was snapping pics for the duration leading Sarah to chide “What ARE you taking pictures of?” However, the first time I pointed the lens in her general direction, she jumped as if scalded with boiling hot mag-ma. The main room is all one unit where the fermentation tanks take center stage. Some time ago, Mayflower expanded into the next room where their shiny new Italian-made bottler lurks. It’s a two or three person operation and will bottle both 12 oz bottles and 22 oz bombers. Mayflower has 15 employees, including a couple of delivery drivers. The brewery cranks out four year-round beers and one rotating seasonal, plus a few elusive experimental bottles of their Thanksgiving beer, which changes every year.

Ciao Italia! A working bottler! Kind of need someplace to put all that beer.

That’s enough touring… time for TASTING.

We congregated back in the front room and lined up at the bar. Taps were pulled, and mighty beer plunged forth. Mayflower gives you some decently generous samples, in the 4-5oz range served in mini-pint tasting glasses. They serve lightest to darkest, and everything is deliciously free. Free beer always tastes better. Especially when it’s fresh.

Golden Ale
We started off with the Golden Ale to sip during the tour. Mine didn’t make it past the grist mill.
Nose: Light, with a bit of malty cereal sweetness
Taste: Mild hop with a nice malt balance. Light and refreshing. Almost lager-like.

Pale Ale
Now, I first had this back in May at the Open House. I’d had the IPA many times before, and enjoyed it, but tasting the pale ale was my real flash-of-lightning “A-HA” moment. The trick is, in many breweries, the pale ale doesn’t really have much presence, and the IPA is a real hop bomb. There’s no similarity. With Mayflower, the pale ale tastes like a lighter version of the IPA. You can really taste the progression from one to the next. I had never experienced that before, and it was wonderful.
Nose: A mild hoppy nose. Definite aroma, but not too strong.
Taste: Deliciously hoppy bitter. Mayflower leans towards the English style ales, with a more bitter hop, but their brews are very well-balanced.

India Pale Ale
I’ve had this many many times, but still not as often as I should. Harpoon usually wins my purchase for a local IPA due to the convenience and price, but I really do need to make an effort to buy Mayflower more often. I’m not saying it’s better, but, well, yeah, it’s better.
Nose: Sweet, tree fruit. It reminded Lady Friend of a Citra hop, though not as strong. They use a combination of Nugget, Simcoe, Amarillo and Glacier hops, with the Simcoe and Amarillo in particular adding citrus aromas.
Taste: Yum. Bitter hop up front, malt sweet rushes in with a sweet clean slight fruitness, then leaves a dry hop bitterness lingering. So. Good.

Autumn Wheat (Seasonal)
This is the, well, autumn seasonal. LF and I had the Summer Rye back in May, and this is described as an American Dark Wheat beer. Interesting. Also of note: the next seasonal will be an Oatmeal Stout. We’ll have to visit again in winter.
Nose: Very roasted and malty. Don’t really get any of the yeasty/ wheaty banana smells as in a Belgian Wit.
Taste: Roasted bitter. Malted sweetness. There’s a slight nuttiness, due to the roast, but a rounder sweetness from the wheat. Very nice. Again, not overpowering, and well-balanced.

A great Porter. Lady Friend liked it so much after our trip in May that she’s purchased it several times since. This is a girl who about 10 months ago preferred Coors Light.
Nose: Coffee bitter. Not much sweetness.
Taste: Roasted. Bitter roast. I’m not a coffee fan, but I’ll drink this. If you ARE a coffee drinker, you’ll love this. There’s not a whole lot of chocolate in there, but there is a touch.

While chitchatting with Sarah and The Man Behind the Bar, I eventually found out that his name was Mike, and he also has a blog, cunningly titled “The Best Beer Blog.” And here I am stuck with “Squirrel Farts.” Shucks. We discussed the hassles and happiness of writing blogs about alcohol, and I showed him the magical scam of free business cards. Finally, the rest of the group grouped and grew restless, and they dragged me away. We dropped the car back at the apartment and cabbed it over to the Main Street Grill in downtown Plymouth for dinner, where the Lady Friend waited way too long for some turkey tips (they were comped) and I scored a 22oz “Main Street Brew” for a paltry $3.50. She had something Octobery with a sugared rim. After the foodening, a quick saunter around the corner brought us to the British Beer Company. This was a goal of mine for some lovely imported brews (I was obliged to take a draught of Fuller’s London Pride pale ale, or, as it’s ordered in London, a “Pint ‘o Pride”) and cozy leather wingback chairs in their upstairs lounge. Too comfortable in fact, since the group lost its momentum, and we all decided that the adventure was flickering out. No matter; the trip was a rousing success, and even ended with some ice cream for the Lady Friend and I before returning to the Bastion of Beer, Squirrel Farts Headquarters.

‘CuseQuest! Part 2: Beer Day – Dino BBQ and Middle Ages Brewery

Day two of the ‘CuseQuest happened to be my birthday. The Lady Friend woke me up in the morning with a very loving, intimate and special surprise in bed.

Beers you sickos! Get your minds out of the gutter.

Left to right, they were:

Peak Organic Hop Noir black IPA (drank it Sat night; didn’t make it back to MA)

Stone IPA (also didn’t make it back. Barely made it past breakfast.)

Brewdog Punk IPA (saw this one on James May Drinks to Britain)

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin (for my birthday champagne tradition)

Fuller’s 2010 Vintage Ale (an aged ale which is nicely bottle conditioning further at this very moment)

Glenmorangie 10yo Scotch Whisky (’nuff said)

*sniff sniff* I’m so proud. She’s learned so much!
I woke up and there was a card and the champagne sitting on the bedside table. Apparently she’s been honing her ninja skills because I never noticed her doing it. The rest of the goodies were presented in a giant party bag of happiness.

The SquirrelFarts birthday card. Yikes.

We trundled downstairs and spent the morning with my fun uncle (funcle). He’s got a couple cats that roam about (Frank, short for Frankenstein, and Devil, critters numbered one and two on our trip. More critters to come.) We chatted and walked around, checking out his yardwork and car collection. I didn’t mention the car collection? Yeah…

This is why he’s the funcle. Click to embiggenate.

Left to right again:

– BMW 325xi (daily driver)

– 1986 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet

– 1995(?) E36 BMW M3

– 1967 VW Bug (dark blue, lurking in the shadows. He restored this one)

– 1970(?) VW Bug (red)

– 2006 Porsche 997 911 Carrera S

– BMW 328xi (another daily driver)

– 1971 VW Bug (green)

– FAR RIGHT 2006 Toyota Corolla. The Phantom. One of these things is not like the others.

Yeah. Too many choices. We were going to take the ’86 911 (my fav) for a spin, but it had some issue with the battery/alternator, so we left it to charge on a Battery Tender and took the ’06 911 instead while Lady Friend went for a jog. Holy rocket ship. We blasted over to visit my aunt’s house in Jamesville, and got there 7 minutes before we left. It’s so fast that we traveled BACK IN TIME. I think. My poor 944, Elsa, feels like the Flintstones’ car by comparison.

Not a DeLorean.

Ok. Back to alcohol. Our first stop of the day was the legendary Dinosaur BBQ restaurant, a Syracuse hotspot since opening in 1988. It’s much like Redbones in Somerville’s Davis Square: great food, and a surprisingly good beer list. Dino boasted 21 drafts and 48 bottles to choose from. They will do a four-beer flight, but we had more tastings to get to later so I went with a pint of Ithaca Cascazilla. Floral hop with sickly sweet malt aroma. Tasted smooth, not a lot of carbonated bite. Slight piney hop, finished malty but the bitter hop lingered. Very good. I thought it was an IPA, and found out later in the trip that it’s actually a hoppy Red Ale. Very interesting and tasty. We stuffed our gullets with some good bbq (Lady Friend was probably the only person in the place to order a side of fruit) and rallied out of a growing food coma for our next stop, Middle Ages Brewing.

Pig heads on the wall, jammed packed for lunch on Sat. Dino is that kinda place.

Middle Ages Brewing Company was one of the few breweries in/around Syracuse that I was interested in visiting. Again, when I was a student at SU, I didn’t know about such things, so I was going in fresh. I’d occasionally seen some of their bombers in MA craft brew stores (Double Wench Ale is particularly, um, eye-catching) but had never tried any.

Pictured: eye-catching label design.

Tasting hours are 11:30-5p on Saturday, (tours by appointment only) so we wandered in and did a sampling of seven beers.

Apricot Ale 4.5% abv
Nose: Slight fruit aroma.
Taste: Light tasting, similar flavor to Magic Hat #9 (also an apricot-flavored ale).

Wit (Belgian-style wheat beer) 4.6% abv
Nose: No discernable aroma
Taste: Slightly spiced, followed by a mellow fruitiness (apricot again?)

Middle Ages Pale Ale ?% abv
Nose: Slight fruit again.
Taste: Hop bitter, followed by a copper metallic, as in some red ales. Not too sharp, however.

13th Double Wit ?% abv
Nose: None. We really struggled to get much of ANY aroma out of the whole line of brews.
Taste: Fruity once more, but not too sweet. More of a wheat sweet. That rhymes! Are you still reading this?

Old Marcus Ale strong ESB 6.5% abv
Nose: Are beers supposed to smell?
Taste: Sharp hop bitter. Balanced malt, with some metallic aftertaste.

ImPaled Ale IPA 6.5% abv
Nose: Beers don’t smell ‘cuz they don’t have noses!
Taste: A very SHARP hop bitter. Again, slight metallic after, but could just be the hop.

The Duke porter 6.5% abv
Nose: Very slight roasted waft.
Taste: Coffee roast flavor, not too bitter. A bit creamy but not too sweet either. Very well balanced and drinkable. This was pretty much the only one that both Lady Friend and I enjoyed.

The brewery even looks kinda like a castle!
Also of note: unusual blue sky in Syracuse. Frightening to behold.

I really think most, if not all, of their beers are of a British style, which tends to be more bitter and sharp, unlike the citrus sweet hops of a West Coast style ale. While none of them were unpleasant, many were a unremarkable. The Wit didn’t have much going on, while the Double Wit started to have some character to it. The pale ale and IPA were both of the bitter hop variety, with some piney flavors that perhaps accounted for the metallic tastes I was getting. The Duke porter was quite good, and I’ll look for it locally. Middle Ages is distributed in MA, however only in bottles, as they own their kegs (instead of using MicroStar) and have problems getting them back if they’re shipped too far. We didn’t do the tour of the brewery, but they seem to offer a large variety of beers, over 15 by my count. I didn’t really get to see if their operation is that large, or if they just rotate batches quickly.

Middle Ages seems to have a large selection of merchandise, which I suppose is easier when you have that many beers to advertise. The Lady Friend snagged a 12-pack sampler and a pint glass for my collection. They also had the fun addition of a cat in a basket, bringing the Critter Count up to three so far. Judging from his lack of interest in the tasting room visitors and his constant yawning, being a brewery cat must be a terribly rough life. Imagine, only sleeping 14 hours a day! He was quite receptive and appreciative of petting, so while I was disturbing his nap, I asked the bartender if nearby Syracuse Suds was worth visiting, drawing a shocked reaction from several people. Apparently, they brew using malt extract (the horror!) and their beers aren’t great. According to their website, their original brewmaster retired at the start of this year, and I wonder if that has something to do with it. Time permitting, I would have liked to check it out for myself, but we decided to skip it and head directly to Empire Brewpub.

Cat in a basket! Critter Count = 3.

Only a couple days left to vote for me!
I even have pictures of wenches and cats in this post!

If you don’t vote, Basket Cat cries a tiny kitty tear.
Why would you make Basket Cat so sad?


Harpoon Brewery! A pillar of Boston brewing, to be spoken of both in hushed, reverent tones, and bellowed from the rooftops in joy with several pints coursing through your veins. The first and fiercest of the Boston brew businesses. Alongside the famed Samuel Adams Brewery, they helped to build the craft beer industry in this state (well, commonwealth).

Big time. They’re not fooling around.

Like any true Bostonian/ Massachusettserite/ New Englander, I’ve been to Harpoon for the tours and tastings several times. Lady Friend, despite living in MA for a number of years, had not. She even parks across the street from the brewery and works about a block away. Jeezum Crow! (Thanks for getting that one stuck in my head, LB).

So we went on the tour. She was not given the option. It was a requirement. They do tours and tastings every Saturday 10:30a-5p, and Sunday 11:30a-3p. It’s $5 for an hour tour, including a 20 minute or so tasting session, tasting glass and handy little pamphlet explaining the myriad of tasty drinky drinks. Get there earlier rather than later, as tours tend to sell out. We got there at noon for the 12:30 slot, and had about 25 other people in our group. When we finished, the 1:30 tour only had about seven or eight people lined up. Oh well.

You go around the right side of the building following the tour/ brewery store signs. $5 later, you’re headed up the stairs to the retail area. Harpoon also goes a little nutty with merchandise, just not to the extent of Magic Hat. Lots of tshirts, sweatshirts, glassware and, of course, beer begging you to adopt it like a sad little puppy at the animal shelter. 22oz bombers of the flagship brew, Harpoon IPA, will only set you back $3, and six packs are $8. That’s about the cheapest you’ll find Harpoon for, and it’s worth it. We milled around the retail/ bar area while a previous group did their tasting. Then it was zero hour; through the doors, no looking back.

That light pouring through the windows is actually from Heaven.

Into the brewery! They hand you a tasting glass and pour your first beer once you enter the brewing floor. Ours was the UFO Hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer (UFO stands for UnFiltered Offering, and is one of their product lines). Then the info: beer is made from hops, barley, blah blah blah. Standard speech, though our tour guide, Joe, had it down cold. Earlier, in the bar area, Lady Friend and I had overheard a woman ask one of the female staff what the Oktoberfest beer was, and the girl stammered, stuttered, and passed the question off to another tour guide. Pretty simple question that she should have been able to answer. Even Lady Friend caught the faux pas, and we both rolled our eyes. Pretty sure you should be familiar with one of the most popular products if you’re going to be giving the tours.

Items of note about Harpoon: they are located in an old Navy building, which had gigantic wooden beams and was some sort of “battleship hangar.” That’s what we were told. I’m sure it had something to do with the war effort back in the ’40s, as the whole area was previously part of a series of military buildings. Allegedly, the building is bombproof. Not a bad place to hide out when the Jerries are dropping Hun high-fives on your noggin.

Don’t. Mention. The war.

Like most other breweries, Harpoon sells its spent mash grain as livestock feed. A Harpoon Fun Fact: because the mash contains wild yeast, it continues to ferment before it reaches the moo cows, piggly-wigglies, and whatever other miscellaneous Green Acres type critters it’s destined for. Because of this, the mash may reach levels of 5%-9% abv before getting gobbled up, making some very happy beasties.

Harpoon uses pressurized brew tuns, indicated by the red band on the column, and the extra bolts holding the contraption together. This allows for a much quicker boil, which means a faster rotation of batches through the tun. Faster turnaround = more beer. Yay.

Ok. Down the stairs. This brings you in between the big fermentation tanks, where the beer sits and gets all alcoholly. Yum. The beer sits in there for a couple of weeks, as the yeast creates alcohol and carbonation in the beer. Conditioning at Harpoon only creates about 30% of the carbonation needed, and forced carbonation is added later. After the fermentation, the beer is conditioned, filtered, carbonated and bottled. We were given a taste of the IPA fresh from the tank, though the tap had to be sterilized with a butane torch first. Otherwise, bacteria on the tap could find its way into the tank and potentially ruin about 4,000 gallons of beer. Eep. So, a couple seconds of flame kills anything bad on the spigot, and then the pitchers started a-filling.

Fire makes it better.

The IPA straight from the tank was tasty. The freshest beer you’ll ever have. It was rather flat and smooth, due to about 70% of the “normal” carbonation not being present. Tasted sweet, with some nice bitter hop, but still a tad undeveloped. Doesn’t have the full range that the finished product would. It was also cloudy, as it was unfilitered. A little yeast doesn’t hurt, and the tour went onwards into the bottling area. Their bottling setup runs at 125 bottles per minute. Yikes. From there it was into the warehouse, which had about 25,000 cases of beer sitting around, waiting for me to drink it (they can store up to 55,000 cases if needed). Harpoon’s production is targeted for 150,000 barrels of beer this year, though they expect to surpass that.

While milling about the cases upon cases of brews, we heard the origins of Harpoon. It was a brewery born from frustration, as the two owners, Rich and Dan, couldn’t find the beer they wanted. That seems to be a common story among brewery owners; they can’t fine the beer they want so they make it themselves. Rich and Dan were recent graduates of Harvard Business School, and went on a European backpacking tour. Naturally, they wandered into quite a few beverage-dispensing establishments, and acquired a taste for proper ales, which they couldn’t find back in the States. So they decided to make their own. Allegedly, the business model for what would become Harpoon Brewing Company was a project for one of their classes while at Harvard Business. So, they applied for, and were granted, the first craft brewing license (seriously, number 01) in Massachusetts on June 3, 1987.

It’s next to the bathroom.
They figure everyone will see it after consuming several beer samples.

On the way back to the brewery store, where the tasting area is located, I asked tour guide Joe a few questions about the farmer-brewer license. He chuckled, and replied that yes, Harpoon is operating under farmer-brewer status, and that the 50% threshold requirement was simply not possible to uphold. That whole kerffufle is thankfully on it’s way to resolution, though the details have yet to be released. He also noted that Massachusetts doesn’t grow enough hops for Harpoon’s use alone, never mind any other breweries in the state commonwealth.

The tasting is a bit of a free-for-all. There is a bar set up in the midst of the retail area, and you belly up to sample the finished IPA first so you can compare and contrast to the newborn version straight from the tank. The IPA is their flagship brew, using five varieties of hop, and first produced in 1993 as a summer seasonal. When it was taken off the line to start the Oktoberfest, they received quite a number of strongly-worded complaints (back in the days of non-electronic mail), and brought the IPA back full-time due to the demand. Today, the IPA accounts for 65% of Harpoon’s sales, and they consider it a “gateway IPA,” one that will hopefully set you along the road to becoming a hop-head.

After the IPA, you are free to choose from about 10 of Harpoon’s other offerings, until time runs out and they kick you to the curb making room for the next tour coming through. I wouldn’t pound these beers, as some of them (notably the Leviathan series) clock in around 10% abv. The Harpoon sobriety test is “If you can’t pronounce ‘Leviathan,’ you’re cut off.” A pro tip: you want to aim for the harder-to-find varieties on your tasting. Ignore the UFO and Cider, and snag any of the 100-barrel series (we scored the Island Creek Oyster Stout, which contains 200 shucked oysters per brew, giving a smokey flavor from the extracted minerals. Overheard quote: “The Oyster is smooth as hell! Oh yeah!”). You’ll also want to zero in on the Leviathan series, which are the big boys. I managed a taste of the Imperial Rye (fruity, strawberry sweet nose. Syrupy mouthfeel, with a sour start, followed by a wash of fruit. Smooth and delicious) and the Imperial IPA, which is deliciously balanced, as the malt sweetness adeptly cuts through the hop punch. It’s excellent.

Growlers are described as “64 ounces of really good decisions.”

So. Harpoon is amazing. Sam Adams gets a lot of the tourist attention in Boston, but locals know that Harpoon is the real deal. Don’t get me wrong; I love Sam, but their Latitude 48 IPA isn’t even in the same ballpark as Harpoon’s brew. Harpoon is also the largest brewery in Boston, as Sam Adams runs experimental brews out of their Jamaica Plain location, with their primary brewery located in Pennsylvania. True, Harpoon does also have a Windsor, Vermont, facility, but they still do a very major portion of their production in Boston. Want to find out where that bottle you’re holding was brewed? Check out the “Best By” datestamp. If the “B’s” are capitalized, as in “Best By” it was Brewed in Boston. All caps? That was made in Vermont.

Pick a weekend and get down to the Seaport District and have some Harpoon.
It’s official Boston Beer.

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