One of the national beer writers who lives in Massachusetts seems to take joy in trashing the local beer scene. I haven’t been able to get much detail about why (he is pretty hostile when questioned on Twitter), but he seems to take pleasure in insulting specific breweries and the Boston beer scene in general. I think his criticisms are overstated. I believe that the Boston area has a great mix of established and up-and-coming breweries. that doesn’t mean that things couldn’t improve. For one, Massachusetts is middle of the pack in breweries per-capita, something that will hopefully change over the coming years. Obviously every city would love to add a couple more top-tier breweries, and have a few of their smaller brewers who are kicking ass expand production. While I think the scene in Boston is solid and improving steadily, here are a few ideas that would help transform Boston into one of the premier beer cities in the US.
On a side note, it’s hard to compare Boston to other cities. What do you count as Boston? Just the city itself, or do Cambridge, Somerville, Newton, Everett, Chelsea etc. count? It is easy to trash Boston proper for only having three active breweries, but that is a little disingenuous. Some of my suggestions apply to the city itself, all of metro Boston, or even the entire commonwealth.
Every brewery should be a place you want to hang out: The days of throwing a couple taps in the corner of a dingy warehouse and calling it a taproom are over. Breweries like Night Shift and Aeronaut have turned their taprooms into everything you love about a local bar with good atmosphere, entertainment, food trucks and special events (plus great beer, of course). Making your taproom a destination is especially important for new breweries, if people have a good time when they visit they will be much more likely to forgive a few growing pains when it comes to the beer. The margins for taproom sales are also much higher (no middle man), so it makes financial sense to invest in a space where you can move a lot of product. Even Sam Adams founder Jim Koch recently stated that the taproom/brewpub model is the key for small brewers moving forward.
More T-accessible breweries: When I visited Denver I loved how I could walk from my hotel and visit a number of breweries. I doubt this could happen in Boston, the city is small, real estate is expensive, and there aren’t many areas in the city where a number of breweries could open (unless you consider Everett/Chelsea to be part of Boston). It would be nice if there were more breweries located close to public transportation, especially when they have fun taprooms where you want to hang out and have a few beers. One potential idea; what if 3-4 suburban breweries got together and opened a cooperative taproom in the city? They could do their brewing in the suburbs and have the taproom for tastings, growler fills, can/bottle sales. I am sure that the details would be a headache and I have no idea about the potential legal issues, but I guarantee that the right breweries could make this set-up one of the most popular places in Boston (and make a boatload of money).
A craft beer incubator: One of my favorite places to visit is Industrial Way in Portland. On one side is the beautiful Allagash brewery and across the road you can find Bissell Brothers, Foundation and Austin St. breweries. A previous tenant was Maine Beer Company before they built their own space in Freeport. This set-up works to everyone’s advantage, the proximity draws crowds who inevitably want to try beer from all of the brewers. The smaller brewers also rave about what a good neighbor Allagash is, they offer advice and a model for how to thrive in the business. I would love to see a similar place emerge in Boston, ideally where an established brewer sets up incubator space for start-up breweries. It will be interesting to see how Barrel House Z does with the backing of Harpoon, I can’t wait to check them out later this year. I am also interested in learning more about Dorchester Brewing Company, which will offer contract brewing and partner brewing services for start-ups.
Cut the red tape: Jack’s Abby infamously named one of their first beers Red Tape Lager in honor of all of the licensing and bureaucracy that they needed to deal with in order to get up and running. Breweries are becoming a significant cog in the local economy, they provide jobs, pay rent and taxes, and attract tourists. There is no reason that it should take years and reams of paperwork to start the business. We need to make it easier for new breweries to start-up and grow, it will result in more interesting and great breweries in our state. This is a place where everyone can play a role, let your local and state representatives know that this is an issue, and one you are willing to get behind with your power at the ballot box.
More innovation: Last week I reviewed a braggot aged in Mezcal barrels. In the past month I’ve also written about quads aged in rum and Tennessee whiskey barrels and one of the first releases from an ambitious wild ale program. I think it’s safe to say that Boston area breweries have no issue pushing the limits and experimenting with new styles. While I understand that IPAs and the like are the backbone of most breweries and drive sales, more breweries need to focus a piece of their work on innovation. Set the trends instead of following them. Some of your ideas will probably crash and burn, but some will be delicious and unique. I can see a future Boston beer scene that makes an array of world class beers in every established style while inventing entirely new variants that others seek to copy.
Those are my main ideas, I think that each would represent a big step forward. What do you think? Any other ideas or cities we should use as a model? I think Boston is a very good beer city right now, and is well on it’s way to becoming a world class one. With a few tweaks and the continued improvement and expansion of some of our strong breweries and Boston will become a destination for beer fans all over the world.