Beer in the City: One of the Troubles with the Boston Beer Scene

Boston is an old beer city.  Check out this dated article from Beer Advocate if you have your doubts. In recent times, Boston has housed the Boston Beer Company and Harpoon Brewing Company, two of the largest and oldest craft breweries in the nation, but outside of those two stalwarts, the city’s brewery scene has struggled for a while.  After 2004, when Tremont Brewing Company sold off its brand to Shipyard, the city was quiet in terms of craft beer.  Yes, some awesome bars opened and some smaller breweries continued to truck along, but little to no growth was seen in terms of brewpubs, microbreweries, and nanobreweries. 

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Today, like nearly everywhere else in the United States, Boston’s beer scene is booming. Starting almost three years ago with the formation of Mystic Brewery, Night Shift Brewing, and Idle Hands Brewing, Boston is having a beer renaissance.  Night Shift, Mystic, and Idle Hands have created, as one BeerAdvocater labeled it, “The Beermuda Triangle,” a perfectly packed collection of small, high-quality breweries that beer geeks can easily visit within a small drive of each other. Night Shift and Idle Hands, in fact, are located in the exact same building, right next to each other, and Night Shift now offers full pours of its beer! This perfect placement of breweries has helped give rise to a beer tour bus in the city, and brought a large influx of thirsty hoards into the outskirts of Boston.

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Of course, this perfect storm of beer locations is not specific to just Boston, plenty of other cities throughout the US have a  tightly knit collection of breweries, all within a short drive or walk of each other, but Boston has something different.  On top of all the new breweries opening in the area, BeerAdvocate, one of the internet’s premier beer culture and review websites since 1996, is based in the city and hosts three rather large beer festivals there every year. During these three festivals, a lot of beer geeks descend on the city of Boston, and all of them demand good beer.  It is no surprise that Boston has arguably some of the best beer bars in the nation. Boston is also perfectly placed so that it is a three-hour drive to Vermont and all of its incredible breweries, a four hour drive to Portland, ME and its beer scene, and a one hour drive from seacoast New Hampshire and its quickly growing scene, not to mention the plethora of awesome breweries all around Massachusetts.  Boston is, in some manner of speaking, perfectly placed.  It acts as a stopping point for every traveler heading up north, and it allows them all to stop off for a night and grab a beer before they head on their ways.

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Strange enough, however, Boston-proper is still a little dry outside of Harpoon, the Boston Beer Company, and a few brewpubs.  Boston doesn’t have many production breweries outside of the big two.  In fact, until the instillation of Harpoon’s new canning line, a majority of both its and the Boston Beer Company’s beer production took and still takes place in breweries outside of the city (and the state as a whole), which leaves Boston as a city of pilot beers and one-offs. Newcomer Trillium Brewing Company is trying to change that, however, with its location in the scenic Fort Point Channel right across the street from the Boston Children’s and Firefighter’s museums.  Trillium is one of the first production breweries to open in Boston since North East Brewing in 1996, and is already seeing some great success. Their one problem?  They can’t pour samples of their beer on premise.

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According to Trillium’s website, the city of Boston will not allow them to pour samples at their Fort Point location, and while the brewery says they are working on the issue, they have been open for nearly a half year and still have not been given the go ahead to pour samples. The complex legal issues and the oddity that other in-Boston breweries pour samples aside, it seems strange that such a deeply rooted city of craft beer, the city where BeerAdvocate was founded, and where the Boston Beer Company got its start, would not allow a brewery to pour samples of its products for its visitors. In an article published on Dig Boston this July by Heather Vandenengel, Chris Lohring, the brewer and owner of Notch Brewing and the former brewer of Tremont Brewing, was quoted as saying “It’s been a 20-year complaint of mine that Boston is more enamored with beers from other places than their own.” Perhaps the problem with on site sampling has something to do with this problem. Maybe Bostonians are more interested in drinking the latest beer out of California and Belgium, but I personally have met quite a few that are very excited about their local beers.

If this is the case, then why on earth is a city that is so deeply rooted in its beer scene opposed to letting a brewery pour samples? This blogger has no answers and points no fingers, but is admittedly confused.

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The Greater Boston area  and Massachusetts as a whole is full of awesome breweries that pour on site samples.  Mystic, Night Shift, and Idle Hands give generous pours and free samples at their quirky, industrial locations.  The Mercury Brewing Company just opened a new tasting room and has become a polyglot-contract brewer for a countless hoard of beer companies in the North Shore area, and the city of Newburyport is tailing along with Riverwalk and Newburyport Brewing Company, each opening within the last year with a sampling room. Gloucester even has the scenic Cape Ann Brewing Company with its great pub food and beer. Massachusetts is full of new breweries, yet Boston is some how behind. All of the companies I’ve mentioned are making amazing beers right near Boston, and most (if not all) offer free samples of their beer, and all sell their beer within the city.  There are countless breweries planning on opening up in the area within the next few years, too, but few of them are looking at setting up shop in Boston, which is odd.

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With all of this local and awesome beer, one would think that Lohring’s comments on the Boston beer scene would be dated, but in truth and in practice, they still ring true.  Why on earth is the city okay with having hundreds of different brewers descend from around the world on the Cyclorama twice a year to pour samples of their beer while it is not okay with letting a little local brewery pour samples on location?  In the end, I am left with a lot of questions and not enough answers.

To bring this post full circle, the Greater Boston area has some awesome new breweries that are worth the visit for anyone in or outside of the area, and Boston-proper has one hell of brewery in Trillium that I deeply hope gets the right to serve samples sometime soon. Y’all should check them out.

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