2005 | COLUMNS | BEAUMONT
For reasons I still haven’t been able to fathom, springtime
tends to lead me to Boston. It’s a daft time to visit,
mainly because the roughly one million schools in the area
are all holding their convocations at that time, but oddly
enough even that knowledge doesn’t seem to stop me.
I did it again this year, and for my illogical efforts was
attacked by a singularly nasty virus. Not that I blame Boston,
mind you; up until the fever and the sweats, I was having
quite a good time.
Actually, my illness was such that it came and went over the
course of my four-day visit, which afforded me sufficient
mobility to explore a decent chunk of the city’s beer
spots. Boston being Boston, though, I would have lacked enough
time for the full circuit even if I had been in the pink of
It is my opinion that Boston does not receive nearly enough
credit as a beer town, and in retrospect, perhaps that’s
what spurs my seasonal jaunts. People rave about Portland
(Ore.), Philadelphia, Seattle, even Denver, and rightly so,
but how often outside of the rarified confines of the Beer
Advocate does one hear about the booming beer scene in Beantown?
(The popular beer-rating Web site, beeradvocate.com, is Boston-based
and, as such, promotes its hometown’s beer appeal, even
presenting several annual beer events, such as the New England
Real Ale Festival, known as NERAX, which I missed by a day!)
It’s a habitual oversight that is entirely undeserved.
On the brewery side of things, Boston boasts some fine specimens.
It is, of course, home base for the Boston Beer Company, which,
despite its size and Sam Adams Light, is still a legitimate
pioneer and innovator in the craft-brewing biz, and a great
asset to any city. But Boston’s beer hardly stops at
Sam, with the Harpoon Brewing Company, Boston Beer Works,
the original John Harvard’s Brew House and the Cambridge
Brewing Company all claiming territorial rights to the Massachusetts
capital, and with Watch City Brewing located just outside
of town in Waltham.
It is my opinion that
Boston does not receive nearly enough credit as a beer
Of that group, I was able to visit only Cambridge Brewing,
a brewery that caught my attention in the fall of 2004 at
the Belgium Comes to Cooperstown event, put together by Brewery
Ommegang in upstate New York. There, brewer Will Meyers turned
a number of heads with a massive ale he called Benevolence,
a beer so extraordinarily complex that I named it my Taste
of the Month at worldofbeer.com for September of that year.
Although Meyers had nothing on offer at his Kendall Square
location to match Benevolence in size, the lavender-accented
L’Amour du Jour certainly rivaled it for curiosity.
This beer had a big, fragrant aroma reminiscent of a summer
in the south of France and a light, perfumey body that at
first strikes as almost too much, but in the end, just enough.
Also pleasing to the palate were an unusual cask-conditioned
Vienna Gold (an altbier–Vienna lager hybrid dry-hopped
to full floral appeal with Hallertau hops, staying faintly
fruity in the body and bone-dry on the finish) and a balanced,
plummy, chocolaty, raisiny Cambridge Amber. I could have stayed
for more, but at that point I had a plane to catch.
Of Boston’s non-brewing establishments, I had earlier
managed to attend the legendary Redbones, where delicious
barbecue meets a healthy selection of draught beers, and Bukowski’s
Tavern, a comfortably dive-ish beer bar on the edge of the
toney Back Bay neighbourhood. I also stopped in at Jacob Wirth,
a great old tavern with atmosphere to burn and just enough
interesting beer that I was happy to stay for two pints.
As an aficionado of historic American taverns, I find plenty
to like about Jacob Wirth, even when it’s chock-a-block
with tourists, as it was when I paid my visit. From the 19th
century façade to the creaky wood floors and rickety
piano up front, the place reeks ambiance. On the basis of
my visit, however, I would suggest that management would be
well advised to (a) spend a little more time training the
staff about beer, and (b) watch their boasting, since the
Jacob Wirth claim of “the largest selection of beers
on draft in New England” will come as quite a surprise
to anyone who has visited the 112 taps of the Sunset Grill
in nearby Allston.
About Redbones I think little has to be said. The combination
of good beer, some of the best barbecue in the Northeast and
the engaging atmosphere of a true Southern-style ’cue
joint should be enough to put it on top of any visitor’s
list, especially if, like me, you enjoy the occasional gnaw
on a mammoth Texas-style beef rib. In fact, about the only
criticism I can make of Redbones is that for a place that
offers 22 taps, most of them desirable, and a couple of dozen
laudable bottled selections, their paucity of bathrooms is
Truly perched in a most curious spot, sandwiched between
the Massachusetts turnpike and a parking garage, Bukowski’s
is hardly the beer paradise some Web-based adherents would
have it be, but neither is it in the beer-ignoring class of
its nose-in-the-air Back Bay neighbours. Rather, it’s
somewhere in between, with a very good beer selection and,
to my tastes at least, damn fine music played at entirely
suitable volumes. (Criticisms of “too fast, too loud”
have been voiced in some reviews.) It’s also dark and
dingy, but that’s the mood they seem to be trying to
set, and it works.
What perhaps recommends Bukowski’s most, though, is
its central location. For while Boston is indeed a great beer
town, home to fine breweries and beer bars, very little of
its wealth is located within walking distance of the downtown
hotels. And as a visitor, let’s face it, that’s
always a plus, particularly when you are spending your days
wondering when a virus is going to again overtake your immune
CBN Associate Editor Stephen
Beaumont brings his passionate and unapologetic opinions
to the Internet each and every month at WorldofBeer.com. His
most recent book is The Great Canadian Beer Guide,
Second Edition (McArthur & Company, 2001).