When I moved to Boston, for graduate school in 1991, I remember seeing Sam Adams T-shirts saying, “I am a revolting beer drinker.” I thought the shirts were clever and was intrigued by the idea of trying a locally-made beer. The only other locally-made beer I’d had to that point was drinking Schell’s while visiting a friend in New Ulm, Minnesota in the late 80’s (before Schell’s started making craft beers).
When I first tried it, I didn’t know what to think. It was very different from any beer that I had ever had, but different in a way I liked. A couple of weeks later I knew all about craft beer. (There was much less to know at that point.) Beer came in many styles and flavors, and many small American brewers were brewing beer rivaling the best imports, which I was also discovering at the time.
For Bostonians, local and regional beers — including Sam Adams, Harpoon, Catamount, Dock Street and others — provided flavors and aromas that had been absent from American palates up to that point. I also learned how to brew my own beer that year. For me, and many beer drinkers at the time, there was a beer revolution going on.
This last week, I’ve been in Boston and — judging from the beers I’ve tried — I think that Boston beer is still “revolting.” A lot of breweries have opened up in Massachusetts recently, and there are some interesting stories relating to some of them. To pick one example, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project describes themselves as “tenant brewers” — renting open time slots in existing breweries to brew their beer (in a way that’s similar to Mikkeller). Their flagship beer, Jack D’or, is a pale, “Belgiany” beer reminiscent of a saison.
Jack’s Abby — which despite it’s Belgian-sounding name actually specializes in German-stye lagers — has a nice beer out called Smoke and Daggers. They describe it as a cross between a schwarzbier and a smoked porter. I’m a fan of smoked beers, and this one was a winner in my book.
Other new Massachsetts breweries — including High and Mighty, Slumbrew and more — are making tasty beers that go beyond simply being another pale ale or IPA. Belgian-inspired beers are becoming more popular, "hybrid" beers (in which established beer styles are mixed) are showing up more frequently and a few beers being released make no attempt to align themselves with a style. (They are what they are — as beers in Belgian are.)
Even established breweries are making some interesting beers. Cambridge Brewing Company — which was just voted brewpub of the year (in some contest or other) — is now making a beverage that’s a blend of beer and sake. I really liked it, which surprised me since I’m not a big fan of sake.
In some ways, the Boston beer scene is settling down. Sam Adams is now very familiar and is distributed across the US (and even exported to other countries). Harpoon is big enough that I can get their IPA (and UFO brand) in Texas. And, of course, some of the early breweries are gone. (Catamount was gobbled up by Harpoon back in the 90s after their new brewery was built and they weren’t selling enough beer to get by. I don’t know what ever happened to Dock Street.).
On the other hand, the newer, smaller breweries are trying to keep the revolution moving forward . . . or at least pushing some boundaries and fermenting change in the beer scene. [Not that the "big guys" are set in their ways, I enjoyed a Harpoon Bacon Bock (and experimental beer; they released one keg to the Sunset Grill) while I was there and Sam Adams continues its experimental program, especially in the area of exceedingly high alcohol beers.]
So Boston, which was the seat of one famous revolution, continues to play a role in the ongoing craft beer revolution.