Published on November 9, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour1
Clowns, monks and idle hands
In another far-flung beer quest, Ian Brown sets out for Massachusetts
It’s autumn and there’s a whiff of wedding anniversary in the air. My wife Carol booked a trip to Boston to commiserate. I was hoping for Boston in Lincolnshire but she had set her heart on Massachusetts.
She said: “We’ll be in time for New England in the fall, where the leaves have perfected the art of dying.” And here was me hoping for a few pubs around Lincoln to perfect the art of drinking and falling over.
I eventually came round to the idea when I realised that Boston is the epicentre for craft beers in the US and there’s a Cheers bar, a tour of the Sam Adams brewery – with free beer – shed-loads of pubs and an interesting beer-related history.
On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth with about 100 passengers and barrels and barrels of beer, which was a much safer option than water and sustained the crew and passengers on their transatlantic journey. In beer making, any bugs are destroyed by heat and the alcohol acts as a preservative. Essentially, beer was a way to hydrate without catching dysentery from water.
However, upon landing – and having to drink water because they had exhausted their beer supplies – the Pilgrim Fathers discovered that barley and hops were not the easiest ingredients to come by so many beers were brewed with innovative flavouring agents such as oats, wheat, pumpkin, parsnips, and popularly, spruce.
In 1637, Robert Sedgewick began operating the first brewery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A lot more came and went. The Boston Beer Company was founded in 1828, chartered and incorporated by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature, followed by 27 others. Boston Beer Company lasted until 1958, but it was on Patriot’s Day in April 1985, that Jim Kotch unveiled Samuel Adams, to characterise the modern American craft beer renaissance, and revived the Boston Beer Company name. Sam Adams is now the second-largest craft brewer in the nation, producing in excess of 4.1 million barrels and employing over 1,500 people.
Boston has been the heart of (arguably) two of the US’s most important revolutions: the American Revolution and the craft beer revolution. It’s apparent all over the city with historic sights and an abundance of craft breweries and taverns.
The following is just a selection: Boston Beer Works is the largest chain of brewpubs in the state. Starting up their Fenway location in 1992, each outlet has at least 20 beers on tap.
Clown Shoes was founded in 2009 and known for strong ales, fanciful label art and creative naming of getting on for 100 brews (Space Cake, The Undead Party Crasher). Clown Shoes was taken over by Harpoon Brewery on October 31.
Idle Hands Craft Ales was founded as the “first Boston area nano-brewery” in 2010, their focus on old-world barrel-aged offerings.
Jack’s Abbey is a lager-only brewery, founded in 2011, and has been creating some of the most distinctive lager variants ever seen.
Mayflower Brewing (Plymouth), a ten-year-old brewery known for its variety of IPAs, spot-on English Porter and small batch specialties.
Mystic Brewery. In existence since 2011, this barrel-focused brewer makes some killer Saisons, which make up roughly half regular production – also specialising in wild/sour ales, barley wines, and double IPAs.
Top Notch Brewing has focused specifically on well-crafted session ales since 2010, with none of their beers ever topping 4.5% abv.
Spencer Brewery produces America’s first and only certified Trappist beer and is brewed by the monks of St Joseph’s Abbey (pictured). The brother monks set out across Europe for two years to learn the original craft from their brethren. They’ve been operating since 2013 and have now created five styles; two classic Belgian and three American.
My favourite beer was Sam Adams Seasonal Octoberfest, which has a rich, deep golden amber hue, blending four roasts of barley and German hops to create a delicious harmony of sweet flavours that include caramel and toffee. It pitches in at 5.4% abv.
*Ian Brown also visited Cheers bar in Boston where he left copies of Cheers for the regulars’ amusement (and education).