In last week’s Area Man Drinks Beer, our beginner’s basics series kicked off by defining craft beer. This week, let’s talk about how you can get started with craft beer around West Roxbury, Boston and beyond. Here’s Part One, with advice on local watering holes, packies and craft beer-based events in the area. Part Two will follow later this week with ideas for local brewery road trips and a list of the top Boston-based craft beer writers.
Some Neighbeerly Advice
There are plenty of ways to get started enjoying craft beer, and local craft beer in particular. There are no-brainers like talking to your friends about what they’re enjoying at the moment, but here are some other suggestions to get you interested.
Support Your Local Publican
How many of you knew there are 15 draught taps and more than 50 bottles of beer available at the Porter Café? Sounds daunting, but talk to owners Dermot Loftus and Paul Murphy or any of the regular bartenders like Nate, and you will get a patient and thorough discussion about all of the beers available at the moment. Porter features several consistent tap lines and bottles with a nice mix of European and regional American craft brews, as well as rotating selections from local brewers like Jack’s Abby, Pretty Things and, a bit further afield, New Hampshire’s Smuttynose. The supply runs the gamut from light lagers to a variety of their namesake porters, and all can be paired with their exceptional gastropub menu. I was irrationally excited when I heard about their plans to open, and have been a steady and proud supporter of my local since its early summer opening last year. So pardon my exuberance if I sound a bit like a fanboy, but hey, where else can I ride my razor scooter for a proper pint?
For those of you who venture farther outside of the neighborhood, there are many great beer bars across the Boston area that can provide you with a wide selection, but I want to recommend three in particular that can be helpful for craft beer novices. The first is Stoddard’s Pub on Temple Place in Downtown Crossing, a great cocktail and craft beer hideaway for after-work drinks and a quick bite to eat. Stoddard’s is what a pub should look and feel like, with knowledgeable bartenders in black and white, crushing ice and mashing herbs for old-school cocktails. The beer list generally rotates, with 20 taps and another 5 gravity casks (here’s a nice summary of cask ales from The Girls’ Guide to Beer). Stoddard’s also features, without a doubt, one of my top three burgers in the Boston area.
For a shorter trip, head over to Washington Square in Brookline and visit The Public House. It’s actually two bars, with the smaller, intimate Monk’s Cell added a few years ago to help better focus on the Publick House’s well-tended Belgian beer collection. There are at least two dozen taps and many more bottles, all curated by a knowledgeable staff and rotating to keep up with the current trends in craft brewing. It can be a bit tough to have a conversation in The Publick House, given its popularity and proximity to Boston College and Boston University and the cacophonous acoustics, but ask for a bartender to pair your beer with your food order (the beer-steamed mussels, and French fries with an assortment of beer-based dipping sauces, are favorites) and you’ll seldom leave disappointed.
And if an even shorter ride (or, public transportation) is your preference, try Canary Square in Jamaica Plain (among many other well-stocked pubs and restaurants in the neighborhood, including the nearby Hyde Square establishments Brendan Behan and The Haven). Owned by the same group that operates The Salty Pig on Dartmouth Street in the Back Bay, Canary Square features more than two dozen taps and many more bottles, with a frequently rotating selection balanced between local brews, European standards and domestic craft standouts. While you’re there, you can pour some out for the long-gone Triple D’s (and The Alchemist, while you’re at it). Then double back to The Haven for a life-altering Scotch Egg (do it).
Ask for a Pairing
I have recommended some places to start exploring the flavors of craft beer, but why not put your drink to the test like a wine and ask for a pairing? Many restaurants, including West on Centre and Masona Grill in West Roxbury, offer frequent multi-course beer dinners pairing multiple offerings from a brewer with select dishes from the kitchen. And don’t be afraid to ask your server for a beer recommendation to go along with your meal, no matter where you eat. Even if your server cannot make a recommendation, chances are your chef or bartender can provide a recommendation (or, at least, they’ll get the hint that they should be doing more to feature and complement craft beer flavors). Nevertheless, you may be pleasantly surprised with the response you get. In fact, I had a three-course meal at No. 9 Park on Beacon Hill last year, and was very pleased to have the option of a craft beer pairing with some excellent house selections.
Talk to your Neighbeerly Beer Merchant
West Roxbury is not at a loss for packies, with Blanchard’s, Macy’s and Gary’s all doing a brisk business in the neighborhood. For craft beer selections, Blanchard’s on Centre Street is at the head of the pack. The supply can sometimes be inconsistent, but it is large, and Kevin, Eric and J.P. are very friendly and helpful in the beer aisle – and always responsive if you have a special request. The Blanchard’s Tasting Room also features craft beer tasting seminars several times per year, which can further help expose new craft beer drinkers to food pairings (Blanchard's has two upcoming events focused on the ingredients in beer, malt and hops). Gary’s on the VFW Parkway also has a wide selection, and frequently hosts local brewery tastings.
Further afield, there are several fantastic craft beer specialists within the 128 Corridor. In fact, one of the best craft beer shops I’ve visited opened in Jamaica Plain recently: Streetcar Wine & Beer on Centre Street, near Hyde Square. They have a very well-managed selection with some very hard-to-find beers from Germany and Belgium alongside a great survey of the finest that the local brewers have to offer (I totally nerded out on some Freigeist Abraxxxas from Germany, a sour & smoky Berliner Weisse – Lichtenhainer – say it five times fast). I recommend checking out Streetcar’s in-store tasting with Everett’s Night Shift Brewing on Friday, September 28 at 5–7 p.m.
For downtown commuters, I highly recommend the Boston Wine Exchange on Devonshire Street in the Financial District. They have a high-quality, curated selection and feature many harder-to-find regional brewers (and follow Beer Buyer Chris Brack on Twitter at @chbrack for limited releases). If you are interested in a bit of a drive, make a pilgrimage to Belmont for the Craft Beer Cellar – home to over 800 beers and regular hosts to craft brewers from across the country. And if Belmont is off your radar – not to worry: the owners just announced plans to franchise the Craft Beer Cellar with an initial focus on nearby Needham for one of its first locations. Finally, and while some may also scoff at the idea, the Whole Foods in Dedham has quite a nice variety of craft beer.
Drink with Strangers
I mean other craft beer fans, of course. There are dozens of craft beer happenings monthly across the region, and the Beer Advocate events calendar is your best resource. From dinners to tastings to festivals and everything in between, there are plenty of events that provide another way to experience craft beer.
AMDB will update readers about interesting Boston area craft beer events from time to time, but for now let’s highlight some of the events that your friendly Neighbeer has the pleasure of hosting. As a member of the West Roxbury Main Streets Board of Directors, I have coordinated events to promote our neighborhood restaurants by hosting craft beer-themed dinners and tastings over the last three years. This fall, WRMS has the pleasure of partnering with the Parkway Running Club to host the Highland Hash Fall Fun Run series. From September through November, we’ll have monthly runs through West Roxbury followed by complimentary food and local craft beer.
The first Highland Hash Fun Run is this Thursday, September 20 at 6:30 p.m. at West on Centre, featuring Notch Brewing Pils and Polotmavy. RSVP on the WRMS Facebook events page here. The October run is Thursday evening, October 11 at the Blanchard’s Tasting Room with LeanWorks and High & Mighty Beer, and the November run is Saturday afternoon, November 3 at Porter Café with Slumbrew.
And look for WRMS “Eat Local, Drink Local” themed dinners coming in the Spring, and a return of the “Commuter Ales” series of after-work meet-ups across the neighborhood.
What’s up next for Area Man Drinks Beer:
- Part Two on how to get started enjoying craft beer (later this week),
- the myths associated with the craft beer scene (week of September 24), and
- the benefits of drinking local craft beer (week of October 1).
We have a rich craft beer constituency in West Roxbury (and beyond), and I want to provide it with a voice and a forum through this blog. Send me your thoughts on the blog, event postings and ideas for future stories or reviews at neighbeers at gmail dot com or through twitter @Neighbeers. And comments below, good or bad, are always appreciated.