Home to some of the craft beer industry’s most venerable pioneers (Samuel Adams and Harpoon) and celebrated newcomers (Trillium), one could argue that the best way to see Boston is sip by sip at its best craft breweries.
Craft Ale Bar, American, $$$
Democracy Brewing’s signature brews include Suffragette pale ale and Fighting 54th saison | Courtesy of Democracy Brewing
This downtown employee-owned brewery and pub celebrates the working class and the (continuing) struggle for freedom and civil rights, with staple drafts that include Suffragette pale ale, Consummate Rioter IPA and Fighting 54th saison. The bar also serves an excellent selection of comfort food that includes burgers, mac and cheese, fisherman’s stew and even pizza bagels. The fish and chips are among the best on this side of the Atlantic, especially when paired with the 1919 Strike oatmeal stout.
Decked out in string lights and vivid artwork, the family- and dog-friendly taproom at Down the Road Beer Co. pops with bright colors, and sounds, from the retro pinball arcade. Hops fans will like the Dreamtime and Seventh Star IPAs, while the Folktour Hot Cocoa porter melts malty hearts. Pair your pints with entertainment, including live bands on the weekends and trivia or comedy midweek.
Trillium routinely ranks among the top-rated craft brewers in the country, and while its main production facility is just outside Boston’s city limits in Canton, you can enjoy a pint of Congress Street IPA in a number of downtown locations. With string lights dangling overhead, a food truck at the ready and peeks of Boston Harbor in the distance, there’s no better place to spend a summer evening than at the Trillium Garden on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. For a more polished (and year-round) experience, visit Trillium’s flagship location in Fort Point, which opened in the fall of 2018 around the corner from its original, hole-in-the-wall headquarters. The flagship brewery and restaurant has a first-floor taproom and patio, an upscale second-floor restaurant and a top-floor terrace.
Somerville Brewing – better known as SlumBrew, in a nod to the Somerville’s outgrown epithet of ‘Slummerville’ – operates two locations: a brewery and taproom, plus the American Fresh Brewhouse in Assembly Row. The latter is more easily reached, as it’s steps from the Orange Line (and surrounded by shops and restaurants). The space also features a 24-foot airplane hangar door that opens up in nice weather. Both locations serve up a mix of classic and rotating drafts, top-notch pub fare and events ranging from comedy and trivia to live music.
The Sam Adams brewery offers tours and tastings in a lovely setting | Courtesy of Samuel Adams Boston Brewery
Despite its international reach, The Boston Beer Company has lobbied hard to maintain its distinction as a small, independent brewer, convincing the Brewers Association to raise its production limit for craft brewers to 6 million barrels a year. At the heart of the city’s biggest brewer is its original Jamaica Plain brewery, which opened in 1988 and remains the incubator for all new recipes and styles. There are popular free and paid brewery tours available (except on Sundays), but if they’re sold out, you can still sample experimental small-batch beers in the taproom.
Craft Ale Bar, Beer, Wine, Cocktails, Pub Grub, American, $$$
Purveyor of some of New England’s favorite hazy IPAs, Lord Hobo’s main brewery is 10 miles up I-93 North in Woburn, with a new taproom serving over a dozen distinct and rotating drafts. But you can also get Boomsauce and other flagship brews – alongside a well-curated selection of guest taps – served with creative comfort dishes at Lord Hobo’s cozy, eponymous beer bar in Cambridge’s Inman Square.
When Harpoon began brewing at its South Boston Waterfront location in the 1980s, the area was something of a wasteland – a melange of warehouses, parking lots and a working seaport. Now, the employee-owned brewery sits on the outskirts of what is Boston’s fastest-growing and perhaps glitziest neighborhood, making it a lot more fun to visit. A German-style beer hall offers views of the harbor (and the brewery tanks), plus dozens of delicious drafts on tap – including beers from Clown Shoes, another Boston craft brewer. House-made warm pretzels (“doughy love knots” boiled in Harpoon IPA and served with your choice of dipping sauce) will hold you over until you spill out into the Seaport District in search of finer foods.
Around the corner from Lord Hobo, Lamplighter Brewing offers every reason to come visit its twin taprooms. For starters, there’s the excellent beer brewed on-site, which runs the gamut of styles (as opposed to nine different takes on a New England IPA). There’s also coffee and café snacks; the brewery shares its modern, artistic space with Longfellow’s coffee shop. And finally, you might catch sight of the Lamplighter’s fluffy resident canine, Barley, who even has a Vienna-style lager named after him.
It may be a 20-mile westbound trip on the Mass Pike (or a 40-minute commuter rail ride from South station), but this lager-focused brewhouse is definitely worth it. The cavernous, rustic-industrial beer hall serves up two dozen lagers and a base-building menu that ranges from wood-fired pizzas and bratwurst to swordfish tacos and seared scallops with risotto.
In an industry swamped with double IPAs and 11% ABV imperial stouts, Notch has carved out a niche by brewing session beers. These brews make it easier to sample its popular Left of the Dial session IPA as well as traditional European styles – like a crisp German kölsch or malty black lager – and still keep your wits about yourself. Notch’s brick, bar-like brewery and taproom in downtown Salem (17 miles north of Boston, or a half-hour commuter rail ride from North station) features a Skee-Ball machine and a beer garden perched on the South River.