An Alternative Drinking Guide To Boston: The Craft Brewers Conference Edition…

Brewers, distributors, beer writers, and other industry types are getting ready to descend on Boston next week for the annual Craft Brewers Conference, hosted by the Brewers Association. After the conference lets out and folks have finished attending the various industry events, they’re going to be headed out on the town to visit some of the city’s well-known beer bars. Places like The Publick House, Deep Ellum, The Roadhouse, and Sunset Grill will be jammed with beer lovers from all across the country and beyond. Ground zero will inevitably be the Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square. Getting to the bar for a pint, hard enough at some of these places on a Tuesday in February, is going to be damned near impossible during the conference.

And you don’t need me to tell you about these places. You know about them, have read about them, and may even have been to them before. So I thought I might offer some thoughts on alternative places to get a drink during the conference, for people who want to delve a little deeper into the city’s pubs.

First off, a few words of advice. Boston is home to an army of boring, lifeless, pre-fabricated faux-Irish pubs. So if it has an Irish-sounding name (say, the Purple Shamrock), it’s a good bet the place is crap. This is not an infallible truth but a pretty fair rule of thumb. Next, if you’re staying downtown, it’s pretty much a dead zone for good beer. There are a few places here and there that I’ll mention but you’re pretty much going to find the following beers on tap at every single bar: Harpoon IPA and/or UFO Hefe-weizen, Bass, Guinness, Harp, Miller Lite, Bud Light, Budweiser, Blue Moon, Stella Artois, Sam Adams Boston Lager and a seasonal, and maybe Newcastle. For a more interesting pint, try these places out.


The Kinsale, 2 Center Plaza, Downtown Government Center

    -Your best bet for a range of good beers on tap in the downtown area. There is nothing else like it anywhere nearby and the interior is part-Irish pub, part-Alice in Wonderland dream sequence.

Drink, 348 Congress Street, Downtown Fort Point Channel

    -Not a beer bar but a great subterranean haunt that focuses on high quality cocktails. If you can name it, they can make it and the staff uses only fresh ingredients, often made in-house. In the same general area as the World Trade Center, home to this year’s conference.

Barking Crab, 88 Sleeper Street, Downtown Fort Point Channel

    -A short walk from Drink and the conference center, the Crab is a series of shacks and tents where good seafood and decent craft beer is served, all with a nice view of the city over the channel. Long communal picnic tables create a homey, New England environment in the heart of downtown.

Jacob Wirth’s, 31-37 Stuart St, Downtown Theatre District

    -The second oldest bar in Boston and one of the few authentic old-time pubs in the city. Add to the historical value that it is also one of Boston’s only German restaurants. Jake’s offers a range of solid and sometimes hard to find German beers as well as some American crafts. A must visit for lovers of old bars or lager beer. Try and track down a copy of the pub’s history book (often given away free) called A Seidel for Jacob Wirth.

Rock Bottom, 115 Stuart Street, Downtown Theatre District

    -A popular outpost for this brewpub chain, Rock Bottom doesn’t get its due in this city. In truth, it’s probably the second or third best brewpub in the Boston area. A two-minute walk from Jake’s, stop by both for a quick pint.

Parish Café, 361 Boylston Street, Back Bay

    -A wide ranging if relatively pedestrian bottle list supplemented by a decent, New England heavy tap list. The Parish is really only worth a stop if you’re nearby or if the sun is shining and you want to hit one of downtown’s only outdoor patios.

The Other Side Café, 407 Newbury Street, Back Bay

    -After a long day shopping on Newbury Street or at least walking downtown and the Back Bay, stop by nearby Bukowski’s to check it out and then leave and head to the very underrated Other Side Café across Boylston Street. Always an outlier in the Boston beer scene, the Other Side has long offered a small but interesting range of craft beers in a hipster but pleasant atmosphere. Solid lineup of food, heavy on veggie-friendly options. Now under new management by the former owner of The Moan & Dove and Dirty Truth beer bars in Western Mass.

South of Boston

Doyle’s Cafe, 3484 Washington Street, Jamaica Plain

    -A necessary stop if you’re a lover of old-time neighborhood bars, interested in either Boston or brewing history (of which it has plenty on the walls), or just enjoy a great barroom. A classic piece of the city’s history. Near the Boston Beer Company’s JP brewery.


Cambridge Common, 1667 Mass. Avenue, Between Harvard Square and Porter Square

    -Don’t let the Common’s inexplicably modest rating (B+) on BeerAdvocate fool you. It’s actually one of the area’s best, no-BS beer bars. Run by two great beer loving ladies, Suzanne and Kate, the Common plays host to more beer events than any other beer bar I can think of in the Boston area. Several of the 30 taps turn over on a regular basis and there is always just the right balance between local and faraway beers, of a range of styles. A look at the beer prices might have you believing that it’s 1995 all over again. The glasses, however, are an ounce or two short of a full pint, which is no problem considering the prices. One word of advice, however: be sure to ask for a room temperature glass as the bartenders are often a little quick to pour your beautiful beer into a frozen glass.

Charlie’s Kitchen and Red House, Harvard Square

    -Two polar opposite operations owned by the same people. Charlie’s is the square’s popular dive bar, but with some good beer on tap. Lots of atmosphere and cheap food here. Charlie’s opened an excellent patio that may be open during your visit. Around the corner, the Red House is an upscale eatery with a really nice, cozy bar. The Red House’s bar offers a half-dozen well-chosen taps that often include some eccentric offerings.

Atwood’s Tavern, 877 Cambridge Street, Inman Square

    -Several blocks outside of hip Inman Square and a shorter walk from Cambridge Brewing, Atwood’s is a cozy pub with good food, lots of live music (no cover), and a healthy selection of craft beers. A little out of the way, the pub is an enjoyable place for a pint and a meal.

Plough and Stars, 912 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square

    -Not much on good beer but a great old barroom/Irish pub. Worth a visit for a Mass Ave pub crawl between Harvard and Central.

People’s Republik, 880 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square

    -Another good stop on that Mass Ave pub crawl, the faux-Communist People’s
    Republik (great exterior painting) is actually a good place to find some unusual New England beers on tap, including Magic Hat offerings.

Christopher’s, 1920 Massachusetts Avenue, Porter Square

    -Mainly a restaurant but also with an unusually diverse tap list of 24 beers. There are many average mainstays here but also finds, such as Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Samplers are available.

There are a few dozen other places that could certainly make this non-comprehensive list but this is a pretty good start, considering the limited time you may have to explore the city. For those of you staying downtown, escape to Cambridge or at least the Back Bay. And definitely stop by Jake’s or Doyle’s for a truer Boston experience than you can find in some Cheers-wannabe, prefab tourist trap.

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BeerScribe Rewind: Some Final Thoughts About What You’re Drinking On St. Patrick’s Day…

In a follow-up to my recent article on American breweries exploiting the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, I wanted to lay out some brief thoughts on popular beverages traditionally enjoyed on this day. When you think of the usual beverage alcohol suspects consumed on the 17th in March, the list usually includes, for beer, Guinness, Harp, Murphy’s, Smithwick’s, and sometimes even Beamish and Kilkenny. And when we think of Irish whiskey, it’s usually Jameson and Bushmills. For liqueur, it’s Bailey’s.

Most drinkers don’t truly comprehend the global nature of the beverage alcohol marketplace and the assault on local heritage that has occurred over the last 20 years. In an age of consolidation, Irish beer and whiskey no longer really exist. Let’s look at Guinness, by far the most popular Irish beverage alcohol consumed on St. Patrick’s Day. With its storied history, Guinness is a global brand whose heart is clearly in Dublin, right? Well, in 1997, a merger between Guinness and beverage alcohol empire Grand Metropolitan, which owned the Smirnoff and Baileys brands along with the Burger King chain, created global powerhouse Diageo.
Based in London, Diageo is now the largest multinational wine, spirits, and beer company in the world and Guinness is only one of dozens upon dozens of brands. (For lovers of Scotch whisky, Diageo also owns and operates the distilleries of Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Cardhu, Knockando, Glen Elgin, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Glen Ord, Lagavulin, Oban, Royal Lochnagar, Talisker, Mannochmore, Mortlach and Glenlossie).

This past year has seen a great deal of controversy for Guinness as Diageo has been considering selling the historic St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. The heart of Guinness’s operations since 1759, when founder Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 per year, the value of the land on which the brewery sits is now estimated at nearly £800 million.

Perhaps in recognition of the lack of local connection to the famed brand, Guinness has also seen tremendous reductions in consumption among the Irish themselves. Sales of Guinness in Ireland have dropped by more than 25-percent in the last eight years. In 2007, sales dropped nearly 10-percent. As one writer in The Irish Independent so colorfully put it,

For generation eff-you, Guinness is just a smelly old man drink, although the company is ramping up its marketing activities and ploughing millions into the relaunch of its home drinking products.

So if Guinness is no longer really an Irish brand, what about the other famed Irish drinks? Well, again we have to look to Diageo, which also owns Harp, Kilkenny’s, Smithwick’s, and Bailey’s. For those seeking an alternative from Diageo, you’ll be happy to learn that Murphy’s Irish Stout is owned by Heineken International. And what of Beamish, which is occasionally seen in the United States? The brewery was purchased by the Canadian brewing firm Carling-O’Keefe in 1962, then incorporated as part of a takeover in 1987 by Elders IXL, sold to Scottish and Newcastle in 1995, before passing to Heineken Ireland after the takeover of Scottish and Newcastle in 2008.

Well certainly, Irish whiskey remains Irish, right? Wrong. The most popular brand of “Irish whiskey” in the world, Jameson, was bought by French alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard in 1988. The same with Black Bush, Tullamore Dew, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, and Midleton VR. And what of Bushmills? Once owned by Pernod Ricard, the brand was traded to a familiar name in 2005. So buy a nip of this Irish whiskey and your money again flows into the pockets of Diageo.

According to’s Beerfly, Ireland has only 12 breweries today (compared to more than 1400 in the United States). When you remove the above-mentioned brands, you’re left with 8 breweries. Of those, only the Carlow Brewing Company distributes beer in the United States. So much like with bad weather, if you have to leave the house on St. Patrick’s Day, keep your eyes out for O’Haras Celtic Stout, Curim Gold Celtic Wheat Beer, and Molings Traditional Red Ale if you can find them. Or perhaps an Irish-style ale produced by your local brewery or brewpub. And without question, feel free to smack your friend if he orders you any green beer.

–Article previously appeared on in March 2008.

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BeerScribe Rewind: Everyone Is (Unfortunately) Irish On St. Patrick’s Day…

So that time of year is upon us once again, the time when imbibing throngs pack into bars, throw on giant, foam hats, and clink mugs of green beer in celebration of, well, something. Perhaps a greater perversion than even the American fascination with and celebration of Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity for wild, unabashed revelry among the masses and for big breweries to haul in the cash.

Miller and St. Pat’sI live in Boston and St. Patrick’s Day is a thing of legend here. As a well-known Irish enclave, Boston plays hosts to more than its fair share of prefabricated, soulless, faux-Irish pubs. These places, with such thoughtful, traditional Gaelic names as The Purple Shamrock, are difficult to appreciate even on a slow weekday. Come the 17th of March, and the bars transform into some of the least hospitable places on the beer drinking planet.

Now I don’t begrudge anyone a day or two a year to let loose but this particular holiday, along with Cinco de Mayo, has always felt pretty forced to me, especially in Boston. Quick, tell me three things you know about the man known as Naomh Pádraig. Admit it, the only thing you could come up with was the snake thing. And when you think of Cinco de Mayo, you think of the day that Mexicans won their freedom. You and millions upon millions of others would be wrong on both counts. But why let a little history, or legend, get in the way of a few pints, right?


St. Patrick’s Day comes early to Boston, with the big brewers’ paper shamrock laden paraphernalia being taped to the walls of bars weeks in advance. And herein lies my real problem with the holiday (and Cinco de Mayo as well), namely its exploitation by big American breweries. Despite its ownership by London-based global behemoth Diageo (which is rumored to be closing Guinness’s historic and famous St. James Gate brewery in Dublin), I’ll give a pass to Guinness, which sells an estimated 13 million pints of the now-rubyish beer every March 17. But because American breweries, with no ties to Ireland or Irish history (the diluted histories of the big guys are all German), see a chance to sell a lot of beer, we get paper shamrocks haphazardly stuck to bar room walls.

So what to do on St. Patrick’s Day? Given the dearth of quality Irish beers (O’Hara’s Stout being a rare example), a few years back I recommended an exploration of Scottish-style ales out of spite. Seeing as Patrick was himself born in Roman Britain, and not Ireland, that recommendation seems sound today. So as I think about how a historic metaphor involving snakes and religion can spawn so wildly out of control, I’ll be drinking beer made by some Scottish descendants at the Dunedin Brewery in Florida.

–Article previously appeared on in March 2008.

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Beer’s Least Favorite Holiday or The Annual St. Patrick’s Day Abomination…

T-minus one week and counting until Boston fills to the brim with light green beer drinking hoards getting their Irish on for a day. Officially my least favorite holiday of the year (right ahead of Cinco de Mayo), I usually head out of town for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, however, the forces have aligned to keep me in Mass and I’ll probably end up joining the annual BeerAdvocate crawl for a pint or two (thankfully, this crawl draws a no-man’s-land line at the Charles River). My deepest sympathies go out to those poor, hapless workers who are stuck in downtown Boston next Tuesday. In celebration of the day, I’m bumping a few older articles (including the one with the great photo of the lady drinking in a floppy, foam green Miller Lite hat) on the topic up in a piece we’ll call The BeerScribe Rewind…Slainte.

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Belgium Comes to Todd (Alström) Night…

Now for something totally unrelated to Harpoon’s new White beer. A couple of weeks back, our friend Todd Alström, a co-founder with his brother Jason of, celebrated his 40th birthday while in London. Last night, his wife threw him a surprise birthday party at The Publick House in Brookline, with a specialized menu designed by TPH Owner David Ciccolo and his staff. Dubbed “Belgium Comes to Todd Night,” the menu included traditional waterzooi paired with Allagash White, a delectable braised shortrib with a curry and St. Bernardus 12 demi glaze paired with Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Kaiser Rood, seared salmon filet paired with Biere de Miele Biologique, and a Liefman’s Kriek paired with a couple of birthday cakes. Lightly packed in the Monk’s Cell with a mixture of industry folks and friends, the event was a nice way to spend a Monday evening and to razz Todd on his OB and climbing age…

Todd Alstrom…

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