The Lord Hobo Lives…

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After many months of negotiations, bankruptcy proceedings, gut renovations, and fights with the local licensing commission, the Lord Hobo finally opened to the public last Wednesday. Initial reviews were positive, with some inevitable sniping on various restaurant (*cough Yelp*) and local sites. We stopped by last night for dinner and a few drinks and to check out the long-awaited addition to the neighborhood.

In terms of design and decor, starting with the exterior, I like, as I’ve mentioned before, that the old Windsor Cafe and Pickwick Ale signs remain exposed. I have no idea whether this will continue as the Lord Hobo appears to have no signage of its own, but it’s a nice touch of history and I hope it stays and gets restored. Walking past tall curtains to enter, the room looks as if The Dirty Truth, The Moan and Dove, and The B-Side got together Three Bars and a Baby-style and had a child. With the Dirty Truth’s color and general design scheme, but without the tall ceilings that plague that establishment, you get more of a local Moan and Dove feeling, but with the B-Side’s buzz and general layout. While it looks largely like the B-Side, a review of photos of the renovation demonstrates a complete gut rehab of this troubled location. The square U-shaped bar design remains and was packed two deep, even on a Monday night, with folks drinking beers in various glassware and even cocktails, which was a nice sight.

As to the beer, the draft list is 40 deep, split one third for domestic crafts and two-thirds imports. In the domestics, a good range of styles are represented, with sizes and ABV’s listed on the menu. Perhaps a touch heavy on IPA’s, never a bad thing for hop-friendly Boston, the list ranges from big, boozy beers, down to reasonable session beers (including two low-alcohol beers from nearby Cambridge Brewing Co., also a nice neighborly touch). Prices are about what you would expect, with pints starting at about $5.50 if local (of which there are a couple beers from Massachusetts (the aforementioned CBC, Pretty Things, Mayflower, and Will Shelton’s High n Mighty) and quickly moving to $6.50/pint for out-of-town beers, with several 12-ounce offerings ranging from $5-7. As with how the Moan and Dove and Dirty Truth often operate, there are no other beers from New England or even the Northeast.

Moving to the massive imported section, this is where the list starts to shine but for a quirky reason. With the sole exception (to my eyes) of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, every other imported brand on the draft menu hails from the Shelton Brothers lineup. That’s 23 drafts from the Shelton lineup. Now perhaps the regulars at the Lord Hobo will lap up the domestic crafts versus the imports at a rate of 3 or 4 to 1, but with the recent sale of the Shelton’s Massachusetts distribution operations, it remains an open question as to whether this pace can be maintained. A look at the most recent price book shows that the Shelton’s brands from La Resistance have not yet been integrated into the Craft Brewers Guild portfolio so Lord Hobo owner Daniel Lanigan is drawing upon his long relationship with the Shelton’s in order to make this list work. If the imports heat up, as well they should considering some of the gems he has available, it’ll be interesting to see whether any shortages occur (especially with the Cantillon line) and how the recent distributor sale will shake out for the lesser known brands in the Shelton’s import lineup.

While the Belgians represented on the menu are impressive and it’s quite rare to find the Nogne brands on tap anywhere in the country, it is Lanigan’s continued affinity for traditional German beers, especially those from Franconia, that make this list special. Often a fixture on the menus of the Dirty Truth and the Moan and Dove, but in smaller numbers, his list contains eight German lagers (nine if you add Victory Lager from the domestic craft side of the ledger), including the brilliant Mahrs Ungespundet (which sadly kicked right as I arrived), a kellerbier, and several pils offerings. At around $8 for a half-liter, these beers aren’t perhaps the cheapest offerings but I doubt you will find them as reliably fresh and well-serviced as you will here on a regular basis.

We ate as well but I hesitate to comment at length on the culinary operations as of yet. The place has been open less than a week and the kitchen needs time to even out its short but intriguing menu. As many others have reported, the Lobsta Mac & Cheese is quite something and will likely serve as many patrons’ dinner option.

In some final observations, the service (especially at the table) tends to be uneven and waits should be expected, but again, these speed bumps will inevitably improve as everyone gains their respective footings. One curiosity you will inevitably notice is that the servers uniformly watch you like a hawk when you put your glassware or plates down. It turns out that something went awry in the finishing of the attractive tables and bar and so you, oddly, may find your server laying out full napkins across your tables and even black mouse pads to protect the tables. The joys of opening a restaurant…

Across the board, the Lord Hobo is an impressive offering, having vastly improved upon the B-Side in many respects (one visit to the bathrooms will convince you of that alone) while not having lost touch with its core charms. The hipsters drinking $3 PBR pints have disappeared and have been replaced with folks drinking $98 bottles of Bordeaux and $10 Cantillon half-glasses. For all of you B-Side cocktail loyalists, of which I know there are many, we didn’t try any of the new offerings but they looked quite good and the bartenders took care in making them so I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Belgian Beer Fest Recap, Lawsuits Flying Around, and Other New England Beer Happenings…

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It’s been a while since I wrote about the New England beer scene, as my focus has been more on the national and international. So I thought I’d take a few minutes this suddenly snowy afternoon to offer some brief updates on the New England beer scene.

Openings and Closings

Since writing The Good Beer Guide to New England, we’ve seen many breweries come and some go. In more recent months, the White Birch Brewing Company opened up a 1 barrel (you read that right) in Hookset, New Hampshire. A self-professed lover of Belgian-style beers and high alcohol American beers, this homebrewer turned professional brewery is presently trying to live the dream 31 gallons at a time. The economics are incredibly difficult to make work at that small a production level, just ask Andrew Carlson. From what I sampled of the White Birch products at the recent Belgian Beer Festival in Boston, including a Saison and several different Tripels, the transition from homebrewing to production brewing is clearly never an easy one. I understand that the beer is available at a limited number of New Hampshire stores and retails for above $10 per bottle, a pretty steep asking price (but understandably necessary in light of the small-scale) considering the quality of the offerings available for less than that amount. A beer festival is not always the best place to take the full measure of a brewery so I look forward to seeing how this brewery manages the hurdles it faces.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, run by brewer Dann Paquette and his wife Martha, continues to do very well in Boston and in a limited number of eastern markets. Instead of plopping down hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new system, the Paquettes decided to rent excess time on the systems of other willing brewers. Pretty Things produces a range of interesting and eclectic beers, possessing a broad profile of flavors, at very reasonably price points. Cheers to both Paper City and Buzzards Bay for allowing a fellow brewer to take over the reins of their breweries.

In the Northern Kingdom of Vermont, brewer Shaun Hill continues to ready his next brewing operation, a farmhouse brewery in Greensboro, Vermont. Having kicked around The Shed and Trout River Brewing, Shaun left Vermont a couple years back to brew at the Nørrebro brewhouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. We visited Shaun earlier this year and while he is full of plans for the future, they are tempered with the understanding of how difficult it is to open up a new brewery. He’s been slowly slogging through the required paperwork and zoning but there is no sure date on when this project will come to fruition. Shaun’s days in Copenhangen are numbered as he’s showing the ropes to his successor, Ryan Witter-Merithew, formerly of Duck-Rabbit in North Carolina.

In other farm-brewhouse news, brewer Paul Davis and his family continue their efforts to open their own production brewery, to be called the Prodigal Brewing Company. Located on the Misty Mountain Farm in Effingham, New Hampshire, not far from where Paul used to brew for the Castle Springs Brewing Company. He ambitiously hopes to start a small farmhouse brewery, where he’ll grow his own hops, and notably produce true-to-style German lagers. Paul has experience opening breweries, having helped direct the Troutbrook Brewing (Thomas Hooker) opening. Add to that honey, roses, and some animals and this functioning farm will be a very interesting addition to the New England beer scene.

Speaking of lager beer, it appears that the von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame is readying its own production brewery attached to its Vermont inn and tea room. The project is apparently a long-time dream for the Stowe-based operation and the focus will be on lagers, though somewhat hard to understand with quotes like this from the local paper.

One will be a nice Salzburg-type beer,� von Trapp said. “It will be a terrific, flavorful beer that’s not too hoppy and not so strong that you can have one at lunch without getting a headache.

The lead brewer on the project will be Allen Van Anda, formerly of
the defunct Cross Brewery and the Rock Art Brewery. The company is in the process of putting together all the required legal groundwork for the operation, whose opening date is not yet known.

The guys who were to start the Nomad Brewing Company in North Adams in Western Mass have relocated their operations to Pittsfield and have nearly completed a buildout on the newly rechristened Wandering Star Craft Brewery. I imagine the business plan will remain the same, with a heavy focus on real ales.

Also some word that Ben Roesch, formerly of Honest Town, Nashoba, and Cambridge Brewing, is working on a new brewery in Worcester, with a release date of November on the first beer. Disturbingly named Wormtown Brewery, the brewery will run four different beers initially and will be Worcester’s first brewery in some time. In an odd twist, journeyman brewer Mike Labbe has taken over Ben’s old job at Honest Town, adding another notch on his well-worn resume of brewing gigs.

The Pennichuck Brewing Company of Milford, New Hampshire also just announced that it is closing up shops after a few years of service. In an era where craft beer sales are rising, even in a bad economy, it’s always difficult to know why any particular business cannot succeed. The New Hampshire market is a tough one and despite its minute size, Pennichuck distributed beers as widely as Alabama and Florida. The beer was not particularly well-established in the Boston market and we generally only saw the specialty offerings that were inexplicably sold in 1 liter bottles, usually at stratospheric prices (bottles of the imperial stout were $10 to the retailer, let alone with the additional consumer markup). UPDATE: There is news that Pennichuck has secured funding from an angel investor at the eleventh hour and will remain in business. Look forward to seeing how the brewery changes its approach to improve its financial future.

Lawsuits and Small Business Headaches

Speaking of Rock Art, I’ve generally avoided weighing in on the viral madness of the Monster Energy Drink and Vermonster saga. As an attorney, I’m interested in learning more about the intricacies of trademark law as it applies to this situation, but that isn’t likely anytime soon. I’ve been asked about the situation several times over the last week and my response is usually the same: Rock Art should capitalize as much as it can on the free press and viral word-of-mouth PR it will garner in the next couple weeks and then it should rename the Vermonster, a specialty beer that the brewery doesn’t produce much of, something cheeky but safe from litigation. The viral campaign against Monster does appear to be gaining some traction but Rock Art’s filing of an application for a national trademark may be sufficiently important to move to the courtroom, despite the PR fracas. To fight a mega-corporation with a $2 billion market capitalization, while perhaps principled, is a recipe for business disaster and doesn’t make any sense. I think the good folks at Rock Art probably know this and if not, they should listen to the wise counsel of Peter Egelston of the Portsmouth Brewery and Smuttynose Brewing who sums up with examples what I’ve been telling people this week.


And in a final bit of news, the La Resistance distributorship, run by the Shelton Brothers, has been sold to another Massachusetts distributor. La Resistance distributed beers from Paper City, Thomas Hooker, Pretty Things, Jolly Pumpkin, among others, along with the Shelton Brothers line of imported beers. No word on whether each of the products will remain with the new distributor.

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The New England Beer Rumor Mill Swirls…New beer bars in Boston, Lowell Beer Works, and A Shelton Goes AWOL

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What follows is a host of smaller news items that I haven’t been able to fit into any particular place so I’ve decided to place this here until I can offer further follow-up and detail.

One Shelton Gets High and Mighty

Word is that one of the founders of Shelton Brothers has left his day job at the beer importing business. After years of helping his brother Dan scour the Earth in search of beer gems to bring back to the United States, younger (and handsomer to hear him tell it) brother Will Shelton started part-timing his own beer operations. Will started the High and Mighty Brewing Company, a contract brewery through which he brews under agreement at the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Paper City, which is contained in the same building as the Sheltons’ importing business, allows Will to brew his company’s beers on its system and then separately market and distribute them. Will’s first four beers include Beer of the Gods, Two-headed Beast, Saint Hubbins, and XPA. After splitting his time between the two operations, Will reportedly has decided to focus his efforts full time on the High and Mighty brewing business.

The Lowell Brew Works Adds To The Empire

After languishing for years under a number of identities, including some time as the home of the Concord(e) (Junction) Brewery (Brewing Company), the Brewery Exchange building of Lowell is now in the process of transitioning into the newest outlet of the Boston Beer Works chain of brewpubs. The Slesar Bros. Brewing Company (now minus brother Steve) is presently interviewing staff for the new location. Owner Joe Slesar informed me via email that the Lowell location was expected to take ownership of a new 40 barrel DME brewhouse. The former brewery’s equipment was removed and shipped to another brewery out-of-state. According to a request made to a local licensing board, Lowell Beer Works plans to take over approximately 2700 square feet of dining space on the second floor of the structure, which used to house various entertainment venues such as a dance and comedy club.

Although the brewery would not confirm it, a 40 barrel system is substantially larger than its other operations and is likely too large to simply cover the Lowell location. With a system that size, it’s likely that the Lowell Beer Works may brew beer for its other operations, including its new tap room at Logan Airport. This may also give the brewpub chain the opportunity to reclaim production of its IPA, which has been contracted out to Mercury Brewing on the North Shore for a few months.

Boston Area Beer Bar Buzz

The worst kept secrets in the Boston beer gossip world are that the owners of two of the state’s most popular beer bars have long been looking to expand their operations.

Daniel Lanigan, proprietor of the Moan & Dove of Amherst and the Dirty Truth of Northampton has long wanted to return to the Boston market and open his own place. A former worker at the under-appreciated Other Side Café in Boston’s Copley/Mass Ave district, Lanigan loved the location. For a few months, he was in negotiations to either purchase or takeover the Other Side Café and transform it into his third beer bar. The deal fell through early this Spring and Lanigan wasted no time in looking for a new spot. The rumors report now, entirely unconfirmed by this presently lazy reporter, is that Daniel is in negotiations to open his third bar across the river in Cambridge. While I won’t report the name of the rumored takeover target (because I can’t confirm it and because people would likely riot if they knew, how’s that for a tease?), the spot, if it works out, is centrally located (no pun or hint intended).

UPDATE: The location is confirmed and a deal is underway. At the request of Lanigan, I’m still deciding whether to post the name of the place. News of the deal is now the worst kept secret in the gossipy world of the Boston foodie scene as it has gotten back to me through four different sources at this point. In any event, you’ll learn the name soon enough.

In Brookline, David Ciccolo, owner of the Publick House beer bar has been in a tough battle with local regulators over his attempt to secure a license to sell alcohol in his recently opened store, Publick House Provisions. Reports from the front suggest that the state’s alcohol commission plans to issue the license but no decision on the owner’s appeal has yet been made public.

Ciccolo also recently opened up to Beverage Magazine (for which I write; this wasn’t my piece) about his plans to open a barbeque restaurant near the Publick House.

“We’ve taken over this entire building – 7OOO square feet – to open up a restaurant and gourmet beer store. Roadhouse Craft Beer and BBQ is a Texas barbecue restaurant featuring authentic pit-smoked barbecue and grilled fish. Here’s our two and a half ton cast-iron smoker; our chef found some good people to build it on a research trip to Texas. There’s where the butcher shop will be. Out the back will be Road House Catering, and all to-go foods will pass through this take-out window. High top tables will be over here. American craft beers with 4O draft lines (minimal bottles) will be the focus, unlike The Publick House’s 25O bottles.�

In an entertaining interview, Ciccolo also takes a moment to explain why the Publick House doesn’t sell any Harpoon products.

“Harpoon IPA was being made by Todd Mott as a summer seasonal. We’d wait every year with baited breath for that fantastic hop monster! Since then it’s been dumbed down, much to the disappointment of us hopheads.�

Over the years, they’ve honed their list to the best of the best. “Now we’re getting really picky,� says Ciccolo with a straight face. “We’ll work only with serious brewers, not companies moving boxes. We don’t carry Lindemans any more, and that’s saying something. I just couldn’t do it. You open one up and you smell that syrup and extract. We don’t carry Harpoon beer anymore, but their cider is one of the best. It breaks my heart that my backyard brewery won’t quite take the plunge into assertive, full-flavored beers. I only want them to make something good and flavorful and we’d love to carry it.�

Ouch…maybe Dave will like the new Leviathan line

There is much more to report on the New England beer scene, including the reported opening of a couple new brewing operations and an explosion of beer bars in Portland, Maine, a city that is arguably the best for beer in the region. But that’ll have to wait for the next edition of the rumor mill…

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