You might hate the Bruins (especially if you’re a Habs fan), and we should all hate the Red Sox, but when it comes to craft brewing Canadians could seriously learn a thing or two from Bostonians about beer.
I spent a week in Boston for work a while back, and was more than pleased with the local beer scene. Generally, dedicated craft beer fans know all about the unbelievable beer cultures in Denver, Portland and even San Diego — because they’re what we aspire to. Boston, on the other hand, flies a bit under the radar. Mention Beantown even to most hardcore beer people and all you’ll get is something vague like, “Yeah, I hear they’ve got a few good beers.”
Well, it might not be the best beer scene in the U.S., but it’s surprisingly good — and it sure beats the crap out of anything in Canada.
The first thing you need to know if you’re ever in the Boston area is that there are a LOT of breweries in the region. Greater Boston alone has 25 breweries (most of which you can reach by transit), and there are more than 100 craft breweries within a two-hour drive of the city — almost as many as we have in all of Canada.
Not all of them are something to write home about, obviously, but in that mix are some of the finest craft brewers in the country, including Samuel Adams, Allagash, Cisco, Harpoon, Wachusett, Magic Hat, Smuttynose and Shipyard — just to name a few. For the record, some of my local favourites were Magic Hat #9, Wachusett’s Green Monsta, Allagash White, Pretty Things’ Jack D’or and Jack’s Abby India Pale Lager.
Of course, having a ton of cool craft breweries around you doesn’t mean much if there isn’t anywhere you can drink their products, and on the liquor store front, Boston was disappointing — but the pub scene was excellent. Within easy reach of the subway there are a handful of first-rate beer places that any beer geek would love to discover — like two that I found right downtown.
The Parish Café on Boylston Street has a classy, refined feel, and while their list of 10 beers on tap and about 40 in the bottle may not impress in terms of quantity, the quality was superb. Every beer on the list deserved its place, and the staff had a good sense of beer and were happy to talk you through the list.
A place that really warmed my heart was Bukowski’s Tavern (Dalton Street). I loved its local, working-class feel. No bells and whistles here: just a long bar, a few tables and a gruff, no-nonsense atmosphere. Oh, and 21 amazing, constantly rotating craft beers on tap and another 100 or so in the bottle. (Just don’t expect the bartender to make small talk. I happened to wander in while the Canadian soccer women were playing the US in the Olympic semi-final, and it was clear I needed to keep my allegiances to myself in order to make it out with all my teeth.)
Obviously, the fabled Fenway Park is a must-see for any baseball-loving tourist who finds herself in Boston — but the area is also a sweet spot for beer lovers, as there are two excellent beer places within a long home run of the historic ballpark. The Yardhouse is a huge beer pub chain that spans the U.S., but don’t let that turn you off. They have 142 taps, plus many more in the bottle (I neglected to count). A good portion of their list is made up of corporate beers, but I also found an impressive range of craft beers from across the U.S — and the staff clearly know their stuff.
The other Fenway beer place is a brewpub called Boston Beer Works. Their beer was decent although not outstanding, but they get huge points for offering real beer right across the street from Fenway.
My favourite Boston beer location had to be the Sunset Grill and Tap, in the working class suburb of Allston (only a 30 minute subway ride). It has 112 taps and another 400 beers in the bottle — impressive, but far from the only thing that makes this place great. The Sunset really shines (haha!) thanks to its friendly, down-home atmosphere, welcoming attitude and unquestionably the most knowledgeable staff I’ve ever met. The bartender (an outgoing, 40-ish woman) entirely matched me toe-to-toe in beer knowledge — on hop varieties, brewing traditions and loads of other facts. Brilliant.
Sure, Boston may not boast the largest or most varied craft brewing scene in the U.S., but really: you could spend weeks (months, really) drinking 100-mile beer. How cool is that — and how jealous should Canadians be?