It is said that when the English pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock they did so because they had run out of provisions (including beer) and nearby Boston was one of the first cities founded by the English settlers. From the 19th century onwards, Boston was particularly known for it’s beer and the sitcom “Cheers” which was set in Boston, has helped cement Boston’s association with pubs worldwide.
Tasting a city’s favourite food and drink can tell you something about a place that a guidebook cannot, so when I arrived in Boston, I was keen to experience the local beer scene. Although not the biggest brewery in Boston it seemed to me that every pub I visited and every bar I sat at, had the conspicuous Harpoon UFO beer tap handles. After sampling this refreshing light white ale, and hearing that the brewery was conveniently located on one the city’s bus routes, I resolved to make a trip there.
The Harpoon brewery in Boston was opened in 1987 and although the company has since opened a larger brewery in Vermont, the original factory is still producing some of their beers for retail. Part of the brewery has been converted into a beer hall which successfully lives up to it’s name; the long benches and circular light fittings are reminiscent of traditional continental European beer halls.
In spite of the hall’s influences, the brewery tours, which start every hour on the hour weekday and every 20-30 minutes during the weekend, are presented with true American charm. The ticket price of $5 is worth every cent for the complimentary beer tastings alone, but the staff who lead the tour are also well worth the price. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide shows the brewing process and also discusses a little about the uniqueness of the company.
The company was started by Harvard graduate Rich Doyle who travelled around Europe and noticed that the USA did not seem to have Europe’s variety of beers, or beer culture. The company was an early participant of the 90s American craft beer zeitgeist and became popular both locally and nationally. In 2014, as the brewery continued its growth, the company sold 48% of its shares to its employees. As someone who has previously been quoted in the national press bemoaning the sale of local craft breweries to global drinks companies, this revelation made the beer taste even sweeter to me.
The beer hall has beers available both on general release as well as limited edition beers and beers only released within the breweries. My favourite from wider release was the previously mentioned UFO (which stands for “Unfiltered Offering”), a Belgian inspired witbeer which was a refreshing light drink for the Massachusetts summer heat. Harpoon also do a raspberry flavoured version of UFO (“UFO R.A.Z”) and a version infused with grapefruit shandy (“UFO Big Squeeze”).
Of the limited releases, I was surprisingly fond of “Camp Wanamango” despite not being fond of the taste of mango. The mango infused pale ale manages to balance the sweetness of the mango flavour and the dryness of the hops effectively. Unfortunately, the “Candy Cane Forest Porter” was far too rich and sweet for my taste and thankfully, this over-flavoured minty porter was limited to a short, brewery only release.