Category Archives: Beer Bar Review

Slumbrew American Fresh Tap Room at Assembly Row

My wife and I have hit the phase in our lives where the idea of going out to an overpriced and overcrowded bar in order to ring in the New Year with a bunch of drunken strangers is far from appealing. The last few New Years have been spent sharing some quality beverages in the comfort of our home. Instead of the crowds at night we have started to do a New Years Eve lunch, find a fun spot and have a good afternoon meal with some of the money we saved staying in at night. This New Years we went over to Assembly Row in Somerville, the new hotspot for shopping and dining. As part of this mid-day trip I finally made it to the American Fresh Taproom, the beer garden opened by Somerville Brewing Company aka Slumbrew. The taproom was initially supposed to open in the late summer, but there were a series of issues with special ordered building materials that delayed the opening. It is very accessible between on site parking and the new Assembly Station MBTA stop on the orange line.

Slumbrew American Fresh TaproomThe American Fresh Taproom is designed as an open air beer garden, but during the winter months the side flaps come down and it is a heated tent. We were there on a particularly chilly afternoon and were quite comfortable under the tent. They serve a selection of food from charcuterie and snacks to sandwiches. The atmosphere is very casual, that afternoon there were a number of families with younger children enjoying food and drinks as well as a group of people playing Jenga. There were a number of posters in the tent advertising events ranging from afternoon meet-ups for stay at home moms and dads to trivia nights. It is clear that the taproom is meant to be welcoming to all, a great philosophy in a big shopping area that includes family destinations like LEGOLAND.

All of the beers available at American Fresh Taproom are brewed by Slumbrew, from their flagships like Happy Sol and Porter Square Porter to seasonals like Attic and Eaves and Yankee Swap. They also have Assembly Row Ale, a tap-room only selection, which was the beer I chose to try. Assembly Row Ale is a Double IPA that drinks smooth for 9.2% ABV and packs some great hop flavor and bitterness. This beer alone is worth the trip out to the taproom, next visit I may grab a growler and do a full review. This is one of the most unique local taprooms, I love the idea of an open-air beer garden, and Slumbrew really pulled off their vision. I can’t wait to go back this spring/summer when the weather gets warm!

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Beer Bar Review: Audubon, Boston

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Visiting a bar or restaurant is about the complete experience, the food and drinks are a piece of it but so is the company you are with, the conversation, the jokes, and the memories you make. Having great food, drinks and service enhances the experience, while the lack thereof can make it a memorable night for all the wrong reasons. If you look back at your favorite restaurants and bars I’m sure they are places you have had great meals (hopefully with some great beer) but they are also places where you made great memories with friends and family. A place that had special memories for me was Audubon Circle in Boston. One night almost four years ago I met a girl for a drink at Audubon Circle. I was impressed when she bypassed the wine/cocktail menu and ordered a craft beer, and almost four hours of conversation later I was smitten. This ended up being the first date I had with my wife. We had frequented Audubon Circle since, always enjoying the menu and the excellent variety of beers, and we were both a little nervous to find out the business was going under new ownership and being re-branded as Audubon Boston.

This last weekend we stopped by to check out the new restaurant, and out fears were quickly alleviated. The space looks similar, the back left dominated by the large bar with tables up front and to the right and a patio out back. The removal of the large oddly-shaped table in the front (and it’s sharp edges) was a nice improvement. The MENU recalls some old favorites like shareable apps and diverse salads and sandwiches, but has been updated. The BBT sandwich with cheese, bacon, basil, and tomato on a rosemary focaccia is a must try. Everything we ate was well prepared, tasty and reasonably priced. We went before a Red Sox game and it was on a completely different level than the overpriced and unimaginative food we would have eaten at the ballpark.

Audubon beerAnother thing that hasn’t changed is the well crafted beer menu. The current menu was clearly geared towards summer weather, with refreshing offerings like Notch Left of the Dial, Victory Prima Pils and Rising Tide Daymark. Those looking for something a little stronger could choose Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union of Backlash Declaration. The bottles added some diversity with Allagash White, Spencer Trappist Ale, 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, Narragansett Del’s Shandy and Rogue Hazelnut Brown. There are also a number of macro-brews, but it was great to see descriptions poking fun at them like “Bud + water” (Bud Light) “Diet Beer” (Michelob Ultra). All-in-all Audubon Boston has kept many of the things my wife and I loved about the old restaurant while adding some fresh touches. I highly recommend stopping by before/after a Sox game, or any other time you’re in the area!

HoppyBoston goes to Portland Part 3: Sebago Brewing Co., Novare Res Bier Cafe and The Thirsty Pig

My wife and I did a quick trip to Portland last weekend to visit some family, and decided to make it an overnight and check out the local craft beer scene. Over the last two days I’ve documented the breweries we visited in the afternoon, Allagash and Austin St., then Foundation and Bissell Brothers. After checking out the breweries we headed down to the Old Port for a nice seafood dinner folowed by visits to a few local watering holes. We grabbed a before dinner pint at Sebago Brewing Company’s Portland Brewpub, then hit Novare Res Bier Cafe and The Thirsty Pig after our meal. I am getting a little too old to stay out all night drinking, so the stops were on the brief side, but gave us a chance to check out each place and get a feel for what they offered.

Sebago After a little walking tour of the Old Port we decided to grab a beer at Sebago Brewing and watch the Belmont Stakes before heading to dinner. The brewpub occupies a large space with a massive bar and plenty of tables. The draft selection is all Sebago beers, including their popular Frye’s Leap IPA. They also have a rotating cask, this past weekend it was their Simmer Down Summer Session Ale. The Summer seasonal was light and refreshing, noticeably hoppy without wrecking the palate, perfect for a warm summer day. We didn’t eat at Sebago, but the food coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled delicious. A full meal will be a strong consideration on our next visit to Portland.

untitledThe first stop after dinner was Novare Res Bier Café. This establishment has been recommended to me many times by craft beer enthusiasts, both locals and those have visited the city from out of town. The bar itself is a little off the beaten path despite being in the middle of the Old Port. Once you find your way Novare Res occupies a large basement room, with exposed stone walls and communal tables. There is also a spacious patio area, which was perfect for some outdoor beers on a warm June evening. The beer menu is extensive and impressive, I think I could go back every day for a month and still get excited about new beers to try. We focused on beers brewed in Maine and not distributed to Mass, sampling beers from Oxbow and In’finiti as well as the Maine Island Trail Ale from Rising Tide. In addition to a stellar list of local selections, Novare Res has a solid draft list of US and international beers. The crazy menu is their bottle list, which spans multiple pages and includes many hard-to-find imports. I would love to spend an afternoon with some fellow beer geeks grabbing bottles of rare Belgians to share, but with a packed house on a Saturday night I kept it simple. Next time I’m in town I will take my time and enjoy more that Novare Res Bier Café has to offer.

The Thirsty PigOur final stop of the night was The Thirsty Pig, right down the road from Novare Res. The Thirsty Pig has a large dining room with a sizeable bar towards the rear, as well as patio seating out back. The beer list is very heavily Maine focused, with selections from Maine Beer Co., Rising Tide, Allagash, Shipyard, and many other local breweries. I had a bottle of Lunch, the spectacular IPA from Maine Beer Co., a perfect way to end a great day in Portland. I would like to go back to the Thirsty Pig for a meal at some point, just looking at the picture of their sausages on the website is making my mouth water.

That ends my recap of last weekend’s trip to Portland, ME. It was a great day, I sampled some amazing beer and can’t wait to go back at some point in the near future. I strongly recommend all craft beer enthusiasts to make the trip. There is so much amazing beer, many of which you can’t find outside the great state of Maine.

HoppyBoston goes to Portland Part 2: Foundation Brewing and Bissell Bros.

Industrial Way in Portland might be slightly off the beaten path, but it is an embarrassment of riches for craft beer fans. I reviewed my stops at Allagash and Austin Street Brewing Company yesterday. Today I’ll cover the other two breweries on Industrial Way, Foundation Brewing Company and Bissell Brothers. Both breweries are located in One Industrial Way, the craft beer incubator that previously gave rise to Maine Beer Co. and Rising Tide.

Foundation BrewingFoundation Brewing Company consists of a moderate size warehouse with brewing equipment, fronted by a small tasting room where they pour samples and fill growlers. Their beers tend to be Belgian focused, with an in-house saison yeast strain that started as a commercial yeast used in a long-ago homebrew recipe and has evolved through many years and many batches of beer. I had a great chat with their brewer John about the importance of yeast in brewing, and how controlling the cultivation of the yeast and the resulting flavors it imparts on the beer is still underdeveloped. John is a fellow scientist, so we had plenty of nerdy things to talk about. Many of Foundation’s beers meld the tastes of their house Belgian yeast strain with liberal additions of hops, a flavor combination that regular readers of this blog know is right up my alley.

On our visit Foundation was pouring three beers in the tasting room. One of their flagship beers is Eddy, a light, drinkable saison with plenty of fruity and spicy ester flavors and a clean dry finish. Blaze is a Belgian IPA, combining the house yeast with a variety of popular American hops. My personal favorite was Wanderlust #1, their dry-hopped spring saison. The citrus and tropical fruit from the hops meld seamlessly with the esters from the yeast making a flavorful, complex and easy to drink beer. Overall I was very impressed with Foundation’s beers and the friendly and talkative brewery staff. I’ll be interested to taste some more of their creations on further trips to Portland (and hopefully their beers will make it south at some point in the relatively near future).

Bissell Brothers 1Next door to Foundation is Bissell Brothers Brewing. Bissell Brothers has a larger tap room and a small patio out front with seating. The decor is very unique, with spray-paint artwork and tables made from old oil barrels. Bissell Brothers is founded by the namesake brothers, Noah and Peter, along with their friend and GM Seth Vigue. They have generated an enormous amount of hype recently with their flagship beer The Substance, an American IPA. Tasting this hop-forward IPA is one of the main reasons I wanted to make the trip out to Industrial Way, a cornerstone of our weekend in Portland.

Bissell Brothers 2I have read many opinions on The Substance, and the vast majority are positive. Some have gone so far as to favorably compare The Substance to Heady Topper and other highly regarded/hard to find American IPAs, which is incredible praise. At some point I will get some cans and do a proper review of this beer. On the day I was there the brewery was sold out so I was only able to sample a little on draft. The beer is delicious, tons of the citrus, tropical fruit and pine hop flavors that you expect from a good American IPA but still very drinkable. I can understand why The Substance is so popular and why it sells so quickly. Hopefully Bissell Brothers will be able to expand production to catch up to demand (so they can at least keep the brewery stocked). It will also be interesting to see what they come up with next.

That concludes part two of Hoppy Boston’s trip to Portland. Tomorrow or Thursday I’ll post part three which will feature reviews of some of the beer bars we visited in the Old Port including Sebago Brewing Company, Novare Res Bier Café and The Thirsty Pig.

 

HoppyBoston goes to Portland Part 1: Allagash and Austin St.

This weekend my lovely wife and I took a very quick trip up to Portland. We were meeting my parents for lunch and decided to book a hotel room and make it into an overnight. Perfect weather plus it was the Old Port festival, so the city was buzzing. I grew up and went to college in Maine and I love Portland. There is enough to do so that it feels like a major city without some of the headaches you get in a larger urban setting. Portland has changed a lot in the last decade, becoming a hub of great food and amazing beer. As part of our weekend I wanted to hit a number of breweries and beer bars. I didn’t get to do everything, but I am hoping to make another trip in the near future and hit some of the spots I missed. My next three posts will be about the trip, two covering breweries, and the last reviewing some of the bars my wife and I tried after dinner.

The top of my to-do list for this trip was Industrial Way in Portland. It’s a little out of the way, but it houses 4 breweries, Allagash, Austin St., Foundation and Bissell Brothers. Allagash has a large space on one side of the street, and across the way there is a large industrial building that houses the other three breweries along with some other businesses. This start up space has been an amazing incubator for Maine craft beer. Maine Beer Co. and Rising Tide both started on Industrial Way before outgrowing the space and moving. All of the small brewers raved about having Allagash as a neighbor, saying the experienced crew over their is always available for questions and to help with equipment issues. This setup is like nothing I’ve seen, and has become a can’t-miss destination for craft beer lovers who visit Portland.

Our first stop was Allagash, one of the most respected brewers of Belgian style ales in the US. Their tasting room is huge, with a large and stylish bar made of distressed beams, tables and an outdoor patio. Tours sell out ahead of time, especially on the weekend, so call well in advance if you want to tour the brewery. Regardless of if you tour or not, all visitors (21+ of course), receive a complementary flight of 4 Allagash beers. They don’t sell pints or additional tastes (you can buy bottled beer to consume off-premises), but the only beer you can drink at the brewery is your tasting flight.

Allagash BreweryWhile we were there they were pouring their flagship Allagash White and their delicious new Saison. They also had Allagash Victor, a Belgian strong ale brewed with Cabernet Franc grapes. Victor was delicious, well balanced and dangerously drinkable at 9.0% ABV. They also had Prince Tuesday, a Belgian pale ale brewed in collaboration with Maine Beer Co. and Rising Tide. Prince Tuesday is hoppy, complex and refreshing, I grabbed a bottle on my way out so expect a full review in the coming weeks. Normally they just have 4 beers available, but they were also giving small samples of a special beer brewed for an event that weekend, a batch of their saison brewed with oranges. It was very interesting, I think I prefer the regular Saison, but it was cool to try a one-off brewery only recipe.

Austin St BreweryOne of the small breweries across the street from Allagash is Austin St. Brewery. Austin St. was started by long-time homebrewer Jake and is named after his home street in nearby Westbrook. They brew on a 1 bbl (31 gallon) system, making very small batches of their American ales. On our visit, Austin St had two beers available for tasting and growler fills. The first was their flagship Patina Pale Ale, a light, balanced and drinkable American pale ale. The other was Kon Tiki, also an APA with huge, fresh hop flavors. Kon Tiki was delicious, I would have grabbed a growler but they were having issues with the keg and couldn’t do growler fills. You can find Austin St. beers at the brewery and on draft in select locations in Southern Maine.

Tomorrow: I’ll post about the other two breweries on Industrial Way; Foundation Brewing and Bissell Brothers.

 

Night Shift Brewery and Taproom/Ever Weisse

Me at Night shiftEnjoying a beer at the new Night Shift Brewery and Tap Room

Night Shift Brewing recently opened their brand new brewery and taproom in Everett, MA. New amenities include plenty of parking, a large bar with a variety of seating options, and bathrooms (which were apparently an issue at the old brewery). My lovely wife and I stopped by on opening weekend to check out the new space and taste some of their selections. One of the biggest advantages of visiting breweries is checking out some of the “brewery only” limited release brews. During the grand opening Night Shift was tapping an experimental or limited release beer every couple hours. All of their beers are available in 4 oz tasting pours and 12 oz full pours. We sampled almost everything that was available during the visit, from the spicy Viva Habanera Rye Ale aged on habanero peppers to the hop forward Whirlpool Pale Ale. Normally beers at the brewery are also available for growler fills, but due to the heavy traffic on opening weekend growler fills were suspended. Not a problem for me, it just makes for a good excuse to go back to the brewery soon.

Night shift breweryThe brewery floor, lots of room for more expansion.

Night shift barrelsBarrels of Night Shift beer aging and waiting for future brewery releases.

Night Shift Ever WeisseAt the end of my visit I grabbed a bottle of Night Shift Ever Weisse, a Berliner Weisse aged on strawberries, kiwis and dried hibiscus flowers (I also picked up the perfect glass to enjoy the beer from). I’ve been attempting to develop a taste for sour styles, and I’ve been told that light and refreshing Berliner Weisse beers are an ideal place to start. Night Shift Ever Weisse pours an orange tinted pink, slightly hazy with a mild white head. The smell is dominated by fruit scents, strawberry and kiwi along with a little citrus acidity. The first sip gives a nice tart bite, solid without being overwhelming. There is significant fruit flavor with notes of strawberry, cherry and raspberry along with some spiciness from the wheat. There isn’t much hop character, but the tart acidity from the fermentation balances out the sweetness of the fruit. Night Shift Ever Weisse is very drinkable, a great beer for summer. At 5.0% ABV it is actually on the strong side for the style (most Berliner Weisse beers are in the 3-4% range), but still light compared to many craft beers. I have just started to drink sour beer styles and I still feel like I am getting my feet wet. This beer though is well balanced, the sourness is present without overpowering your palate. Highly recommended.

Beer Bar Review: Sunset Grill and Tap, Allston

Sunset_Grill_Color_Logo-jpgCraft beer has dramatically changed the bar scene in Boston. New bars that cater to craft beer fans are popping up in every neighborhood and feature diverse selections of local brews and hard to find national favorites. It hasn’t always been this way. When I first moved to Boston (over 10 years ago now, and yes that makes me feel old) a “good” craft beer selection was any bar that branched out beyond Sam Lager and Harpoon IPA. There were a few bars that catered to craft beer enthusiasts before that was the thing to do. One of the original Boston craft beer bars was Sunset Grill in Allston. Jammed between BU and BC, Allston isn’t the first place you would expect to find one of the better craft beer bars in Boston, but Sunset is inviting to college students and craft beer fans alike. Sunset Grill occupies a large space, with multiple seating areas on either side of a large bar. Sunset is more of a restaurant than strictly a bar, as they have an enormous menu that leans towards Tex-Mex fare. Try their nachos, widely considered amongst the best in the city. While the food can draw people to Sunset, it’s the beer menu that makes Sunset a destination.

I have established in my beer bar reviews that I tend to prefer bars with smaller but very well curated tap lists over bars with an overwhelming number of selections. I make some exceptions to that, and Sunset is one. Sunset Grill and Tap has one of the largest selections of beers in the city. Their constantly evolving beer menu is multiple pages. The back page is filled with draft selections and the rest of the menu displayed is an impressive array of bottles. On a recent visit my cousin and his friend focused on porters and stouts, I sampled saisons and my lovely wife drank IPAs. None of us came close to trying all of the selections in our particular style. The list covers everything from limited release draft beers brewed by local and nationally renowned brewers to a 40 oz of malt liquor in a paper bag. That is truly the full scope of what beer can be. While the selection at Sunset has always favored craft beers, it’s been refreshing how much they have embraced the recent proliferation of local breweries. On a recent visit there were selections from Jack’s Abby, Pretty Things, Mystic, Allagash, Clown Shoes, Cambridge Brewing Company, Maine Beer Co, and many more. If you haven’t made a trip to Sunset I highly recommend the journey to Allston, grab a plate of nachos and sample some great beer!