Hoppy Boston is a site dedicated to craft beer with a focus on New England breweries, Boston area beer bars, and home-brewing. It is a Boston based blog for all things craft beer, including reviews of beers and beer bars.
My “real” job is as a research scientist in biotech, working on finding new treatments for cancer. The entire biotech industry seems to be centered in the Boston area these days, especially in Cambridge, so it was little surprise that this has been the location of my first two jobs after finishing my post-doc. There are some crappy things about working in Cambridge, mostly around the commute/traffic/parking and the cost of living issues that plague all of metro Boston. There are also many great things about the city, both professionally (it is nice being in the middle of everything happening in an exciting industry), and personally. Cambridge has become a great place for beer fans too. My office is basically across the street from Cambridge Brewing Company and just a few blocks from Lamplighter, so both are frequent stops. Lamplighter in particular has been knocking it out of the park lately, quickly establishing themselves as one of the best breweries in Massachusetts by brewing high quality beers across a broad range of styles. Lamplighter has made the biggest splash with their hoppy beers, I think they hold their own against any in the state and they are much easier to find than some of the whalez people wait in line for. One of their most popular releases is Rabbit Rabbit, a double IPA brewed with Citra, Amarillo and Idaho 7 hops. Lamplighter Rabbit Rabbit is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Lamplighter Rabbit Rabbit pours hazy light yellow with a massive white head. The aroma is a massive burst of fruity hops, makes you want to stick your nose right into the glass and breathe deep. The flavor is very hop forward, notes of grapefruit, mango, papaya and lemon along with a very mild bitterness. This is complemented by a light malt backbone, hints of bread dough and crackers. Lamplighter Rabbit Rabbit is incredibly light and easy to drink for a double IPA, it is almost dangerous how easy this beer goes down at 8.5% ABV. The finish is crisp with loads of lingering hop flavor. This is a stellar New England style DIPA, huge hop flavor and aroma, just enough malt for some body and balance, incredibly drinkable for a big beer. Lamplighter is awesome, I will be making many more lunch-break beer runs to stock up in the near future! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
I get asked regularly by friends and readers if I used the popular beer app Untappd. My response is typically that I have an account but I rarely use it. Occasionally someone will connect with me on Untappd, I’ll make an effort to check in a few beers and then fall out of the habit and not check the app for months. I’ve currently checked in 159 unique beers on Untappd, while I’ve written 661 articles on Hoppy Boston in the same time frame. Before I started writing this article my account had my old address and didn’t have the new Hoppy Boston logo. The inevitable follow-up question, especially from regular Untappd users, is “why don’t you use the app regularly”? I don’t have a great answer, but I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently (especially after the Fervent Few article on the app) and thought I would outline some of the pros and cons of the Untappd app and the way it is used, at least from my perspective.
Things I like about Untappd:
Great way to track the beers you like/dislike: This is a simple one but needs to be stated, the app is a great way to keep track of the beers you try and whether or not you like them. There are so many beer options available to drinkers now, it is impossible to keep track of every beer you’ve tried and your impressions. I think the majority of people on Untappd use the app as a personal beer journal, keeping track of the beers that impressed them and the ones that underwhelmed.
When you have specific criticisms the breweries can see them: I love that so many breweries have admitted that they keep tabs on the app and have used it to identify potential issues with a batch or tweaks that need to be made to a recipe. I’ve even seen brewers ask the developers if they could have extra access to the app that would allow them more opportunities to directly communicate with users who review their beers.
There is a social aspect to the app: I don’t really use Untappd as a social account, I have a hard enough time keeping track of the apps I use, but many people use the app to check out the beers their friends are drinking. I have gotten beer recommendations from Untappd accounts that are linked to Twitter, so I can see how the social aspect could be useful.
Tons of information: An under-rated aspect of Untappd is the vast amount of information on the app. Most beers are tagged with style and ABV, and if you search by brewery you can find a comprehensive list of nearly every beer they’ve brewed.
Things that bother me about Untappd:
It is overly focused on variety: It seems like Untappd becomes a competition to see how many different beers you can try. I understand the impulse to constantly chase new beers, I need to restrain it on occasion. There is something to be said about enjoying the same great beer again instead of constantly trying the newest release.
It acts as a trophy case: This is probably a bigger problem on beer Instagram, but there are clearly people who use Untappd as a way to brag about the rare/special release beers they have waited in line or traded for.
There is an anti-social aspect to this social app: The issue with checking in every beer you drink on an app is that you need to take out your phone with each beer you drink. I’ve seen groups of people at bars where each person stops to check in each beer they taste, and it’s even worse an beer fests, where too many drinkers spend the whole fest on their phone checking in every taster.
The flood of tweets: My Untappd account isn’t linked to my twitter account, and it never will be. I don’t mind the beer check-ins too much, but I would love to find a way to remove all badge notifications from my twitter feed. I really don’t care that Joey Four Pack earned the level 57 Tooty Fruity badge. Does anyone know how to do this?
It punishes less popular styles: This is an issue with any crowd-sourced rating site, but inevitably scores are higher for more popular styles like IPA and imperial stout and lower for many other styles. There are too many Untappd reviews that dock a beer specifically because of the style.
Spoiler alert: This is a personal reason for me, but I don’t like to check in beers that I will later write up on Hoppy Boston, it would spoil the conclusion of my review!
As I look through the second list it becomes pretty evident that many of the issues I have with Untappd have less to do with the app and more to do with the way some people choose to use it. With that in mind I think I will try to give Untappd another chance, I doubt I’ll ever be a constant user but I will try to check in regularly. Feel free to friend HoppyBoston and follow along!
The advantages of selling beer directly to the consumer have been well documented, but most breweries quickly realize that there is a limit to the amount of beer they can move on premise without distribution. The Mass Brew Brothers recently wrote an article on the top 25 breweries in Massachusetts by volume, and the vast majority package and distribute their beer. The exceptions are Beer Works, which runs a chain of brewpubs, and Tree House and Trillium, which are the two places that can sell large volumes directly from the brewery without relying on distribution. The other breweries on the list need to balance distribution with keeping up a robust business of direct to consumer sales at he brewery. I think Night Shift does an exceptional job finding this balance. It is easy to find their flagship beers at local stores, but they keep good tabs on inventory so the beer is usually fresh. Despite the easy availability of their flagship beers the Night Shift brewery in Everett is still an extremely popular destination (and I would bet anything that the new location in Boston is going to be a huge success). One reason is that the brewery is a great place to hang out, a comfortable and fun space with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. Another reason is the wide array of special beers that are only available at the brewery. Many of the small batch, experimental and barrel aged beers Night Shift brews are only available in Everett, usually on draft and in cans or bottles to go (which is an underrated plus, no growler needed). One beer that I grabbed on a recent visit was Albert, a rye saison. Night Shift Albert is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz cans at the brewery.
Night Shift Albert pours clear deep orange with a solid white head. The aroma is full of fruity and spicy scents from the fermentation. The yeast also leads the flavor, notes of apricot, peppercorn and clove. This is complemented by the malts, spicy rye and bread crust. A touch of earthy and floral hops round out the flavor. Albert is medium bodied and super easy drinking, not too boozy at 5.8% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering flavors from the yeast. This is a really nice saison, a classic interpretation with a bit of a twist from the rye malt. I need to make more frequent trips to Night Shift in order to check out all of the creative brewery-only beers they are brewing! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Mighty Squirrel originally launched as a contract brewery focused on high protein beers for people with active lifestyles. Lots of breweries try to market to the “go on a long run and then have a couple beers” customers, either with branding or with claims about the beer itself. I’ve never really understood it, I’ve run some road races and grabbed beers afterwards but never felt the need to tailor my beer to my workout. I could be wrong, but it looks like Mighty Squirrel has moved on from this, focusing instead on making great beer without any gimmicks. They are also working on building their own brewery in Waltham. One of the new beers added to Mighty Squirrel’s lineup is Cloud Candy a NEIPA brewed with Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo hops. Mighty Squirrel Cloud Candy is available year round on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Mighty Squirrel Cloud Candy pours hazy light yellow with a solid white head. The nose features a big burst of fruity hops. This is a hop-bomb New England style IPA, notes of grapefruit, pineapple, orange and peach along with a soft bitterness. This is complemented by a light malt backbone, hints of bread crust and crackers. Cloud Candy is medium bodied and drinks easy, not overly boozy at 6.5% ABV. The finish is crisp and just a touch sweet with plenty of lingering hop flavor. This is a very good NEIPA, I’m impressed and definitely looking forward to checking out the brewery in Waltham when it opens. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
With all of the breweries that have opened in the last few years, and all of the new ones opening or in various stages of planning, the local beer market is very competitive. Some argue that we are reaching saturation, I’m not sure if that is true, but a brewery needs to make stellar beer and do a great job managing their brand in order to thrive. I’ve written a bit about the pros and cons of contact brewing (lower start up costs and overhead but a reliance on distribution) versus opening a physical taproom (selling beer directly to customers but many more potential headaches). One model that has worked well for a number of local breweries is starting as a contract brewery, building the brand and a following, and then opening a taproom later. One brewery that has built a devoted customer base and has a ton of buzz heading into the opening of their taproom (it’s opening soon in Roxbury, still waiting on an official date) is Backlash Brewing. Backlash has started brewing some beer at the new location and has had pop-up shops with cans to go, leading to even more anticipation for the eventual opening of their taproom. One recent release is Mother of Invention, an American pale ale available on a rotating basis of draft and in 16 oz cans, and hopefully soon pouring at the new taproom!
Backlash Mother of Invention pours slightly hazy orange with a solid white head. The aroma is solidly hoppy, fruity and floral. The flavor is hop forward, notes of orange, grapefruit and pine along with a crisp bitterness. The hop flavor is complemented by a mild malt backbone, hints of cereal and bread crust. Mother of Invention is medium bodied and very easy to drink, sessionable at 5.0% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. Backlash makes a lot of extreme beers, with huge flavors and ABVs, it’s nice to see a beer like this that is easy drinking and lower alcohol while still packing good flavor. I look forward to the brewery opening and hopefully a more consistent supply of Backlash beers! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Bryan Roth has an in depth look at the challenges Craft Beer Cellar is facing. The franchise model with retail is tough, I can see why franchisees would be angry if they don’t feel like they are being supported and I can see why the owners would try to set standards for the brand. I’ve been to a number of different CBC locations and there is a massive range of customer experiences between branches. At the best locations you get knowledgeable staff and great selections of fresh beer. At other sites I’ve experienced indifferent or clueless staff and beer that is way past code gathering dust on the shelves. I love the CBC business, I think it is important to have stores that specialize in beer, and it should be interesting to see how they address the concerns of all involved and move the brand forward.
Boston Magazine has published their annual Best of Boston list, and congratulations are due to Mystic Brewing, which was named the best brewery. Mystic has always made stellar beer, and their move into popular hoppy styles has introduced their craft to a much wider audience.
One of the best things about summer is enjoying a cold beer outside. The Mass Brew Brothers have a rundown of the best breweries with outdoor seating in Metro Boston, Northeastern Mass, Central Mass, and Western Mass. It looks like it will be a warm weekend ahead, so grab a patio chair and cool off with some delicious beer!
I recently wrote an article wondering if a modern brewery can survive without brewing an IPA. One interesting opinion that came out of this discussion was that some breweries use the sales of their hoppy beers to fund their experimental and interesting but lower volume beers. Good Beer Hunting explores this further, showing how flagship beers fund passion projects. A great example is Allagash, where the sales of White fund many of the creative barrel aged and coolship experiments.
The Portland Press Herald examines the tough market for many regional breweries, comparing the shrinking market for Shipyard with the still-growing success of Allagash. I think there are many lessons to be learned here. Slower growth (without taking on too much debt) is good, and it is important to continually innovate and adapt. It is possible for stuggling breweries to turn it around too, for example Geary’s Brewing has been revitalized under the direction of new ownership.
Sebago Brewing is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, mostly thanks to a willingness to adapt to the changing market. Making it to 20 years is impressive for any brewery, and Sebago makes a wide range of quality beers.
Carla Jean Lauter writes about the decline of growlers as more breweries adopt cans and crowlers. This is fine by me, growlers have always been my least favorite beer package and I would be fine to never fill another.
The Mass Brew Brothers compiled a list of the biggest breweries in Massachusetts, based on total production. Some surprising names on the list, and it is crazy how much beer a few of these breweries produce and sell despite limited distribution.
Castle Island has launched a new classics line, which features approachable versions of classic styles. I love to see some less common beer styles get some attention, I’ll be interested to try some of the beers in this line.
Norm Miller picks his top 6 pilsners brewed in Massachusetts. Great selections on this list, but I would need to add Notch Session Pils, one of my personal favorites (Norm told me that was the toughest cut for him).
Good Beer Hunting has been doing a series of articles with their Fervent Few community, asking a specific question and compiling a list of responses. Having all of the different views in one place is enlightening, especially on divisive issues. A recent example looks at the beer app Untappd.
A large number of Massachusetts breweries are in the suburbs, creating challenges for on site consumption. The MBTA can help, as many of these breweries are accessible by commuter rail and there are programs to facilitate weekend train travel for craft beer fans.
A number of new breweries are opening in mid-coast Maine. This is where I’m from and I still make regular trips to visit family and friends in the area, so it will be fun to check some of these places out.
For many years craft beer set itself up as the alternative to light lagers, deriding the style as yellow fizzy water. The pendulum has started to shift, the fastest growing segments of craft beer are now dominated by lighter lager styles like pilsner and Helles lager. These beers are inspired by the easy drinking but flavorful and nuanced lagers from Europe. There is a reason the light lager styles became so prevalent in the US after prohibition. Lots of people love boozy stouts and hop-bomb IPAs, but these aren’t always the best beers for a BBQ or tailgate. Some situations call for a full flavored lighter beer. It is no surprise that we are now seeing a bunch of lager-focused breweries to meet this demand. One local lager focused brewery is Dirigo Brewing out of Biddeford Maine. Dirigo brews a variety of lagers styles ranging from very traditional takes to Americanized versions. Their flagship beer is Dirigo Lager, a traditional Helles style brewed with European malts and noble hops. Dirigo Lager is available year-round on draft and in 16 oz. cans.
Dirigo Lager pours clear light orange with a small white head. The aroma is mild, some floral hops. This is a crisp, clean and very easy drinking lager. The light malts contribute notes of bread crust and cereal. This is complemented by grassy, herbal and earthy hops. Dirigo Lager finishes clean with minimal aftertaste and is sessionable at 4.7% ABV. This is a well crafted, easy drinking lager beer, perfect for warm summer days. Looking forward to drinking more Dirigo lagers in the future. I’m headed up to the lake in Maine this weekend, might grab a few of these to enjoy while I’m there! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
With the incredible number of new breweries that have opened in the last five years it is interesting to see how each brewery tries to stand out and establish their unique place in the local market. This is especially true for new contract breweries. Contract brewing has some advantages, especially the lower overhead that comes by not maintaining a physical brewery. It also makes it harder to connect directly with an individual community, having a physical brewery builds an immediate clientele from a specific town or region. It is really important for a contract brewery to have a concrete business plan and solid branding. One of the newest local contract breweries is Small Change, run by a husband-and-wife team who have experience home brewing and working in local breweries. Small Change is focused on brewing quality takes on under appreciated beer styles. Their first release is called A Little Rain, a sessionable American pale ale dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. Small Change A Little Rain is available now on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Small Change A Little Rain pours clear light orange with a small white head. The aroma is a nice burst of hops, rich with tropical fruit. The flavor is hop forward but not overdone, notes of mango, grapefruit and tangerine along with a mild bitter bite. This is complemented by a light malt backbone, hints of crackers and bread dough. A Little Rain is super light and sessionable at 4.9% ABV. The finish is crisp and pretty clean with a little lingering hop flavor. This is a really nice session APA, plenty of flavor but also well balanced and very easy drinking. Great start for the brewery, looking forward to trying their future releases! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Last week I picked 10 beers for the inaugural class of the New England Craft Beer Hall of Fame, the beers that were most important in building the amazing craft beer scene in the region. I knew that the article would be of interest, but I was blown away with how much, in one week it is already my second most viewed article of the year. I then threw it to my readers to make their own selections following the same criteria. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked for ballots first. I had a number of people who said they liked my selections, maybe would make 1-2 changes but not enough to do a ballot of their own. I was surprised by this, I thought there were 3-4 obvious choices and then a ton of possibilities for the rest of the ballot. Fortunately, I got a few well thought out ballots, enough for the follow up article at least. The Ithaca Beer Guy (who went to school in Boston) even wrote his own blog post complete with near-misses and explanations. If you still want to vote but don’t want the hassle of writing anything I set up a poll for voting, using the selections here as a guide but allowing write-ins too. Find the poll HERE. Overall I had nine ballots submitted (although one had 7 votes instead of 10), here are the results!
Received votes but weren’t eligible: Maine Beer Co. Lunch, Mayflower Daily Ration, Notch Session Ale, Peak Organic Harvest.
Notes: All of these beers missed the “10 year” rule. Lunch is definitely worthy of the title, it is an incredibly important and delicious beer, but was first brewed in 2011. The Mayflower vote might have been intended for their Pale Ale, which is 10 years old, if so you could move it to the next category.
Received 1 vote: BeerWorks Bunker Hill Blueberry, Berkshire Brewing Dean’s Beans, Cambridge Brewing Company Amber, Geary’s London Porter, Gritty McDuff’s Black Fly Stout, Ipswich Ale, Ipswich Oatmeal Stout, Long Trail Blackberry Wheat, Moat Mountain Bone Shaker Brown, Peak Organic Nut Brown, Pilgrim ESB, Portsmouth Brewing Kate the Great, Sam Adams Boston Ale, Shipyard Export, Smuttynose Finest Kind, Switchback Ale, Tremont Ale, Wachusett Country Ale, Watch City Titan.
Notes: Homebrewer Jason Chalifour was adamant that a blueberry beer should be on the list, and the beer from Boston BeerWorks was one of the first. Jason also voted for Wachusett Country Ale, a beer that is special to me because it was on draft at my wedding. Reader Dave Jerome cited both Ipswich and Switchback ales as great introductions to ale styles in a time when macro lagers dominated. Maynard Brewer nominated Kate the Great, a beer that caused huge lines to form on it’s release (long before that was a daily event at Tree House) but I never had a chance to try. There were a number of breweries here that placed a second beer later on the list, showing that they had an impact beyond a single selection.
Received 2 votes: Berkshire Brewing Steel Rail, Mayflower Porter, Pretty Things Jack D’Or.
Notes: Three excellent selections that were mentioned frequently but caught in the numbers game for some voters when they narrowed their lists to 10. Mayflower Porter is one of my favorite versions of the porter style (and would have been next if I extended my list to 11), longtime reader Kyle Robidoux credits it to introducing him to darker beers.
Received 4 votes: Long Trail Ale, Magic Hat #9, Narragansett Lager, Shipyard Pumpkinhead.
Notes: This is the highest number of votes any beer not on my original list received. Magic Hat #9 has clearly had an enormous impact, the Ithaca Beer Guy mentioned it as a great gateway beer, turning people onto craft. I wasn’t surprised that Pumpkinhead got a lot of support, as reader Chris Bentson noted, it might not be the best pumpkin beer but it played a huge role in starting the pumpkin beer craze.
Received 5 votes: Allagash White.
Notes: I actually though Allagash White was one of the easiest picks, I had it with the final 3 beers on the list in the no-brainer category.
Received 6 votes: Smuttynose Old Brown Dog.
Notes: A classic from a local stalwart, no surprise that many voters loved this beer.
Received 7 votes: Geary’s Pale Ale.
Notes: The beer that started the vibrant Maine beer scene. Still a great gateway craft beer.
Received 8 votes: The Alchemist Heady Topper, Harpoon IPA, Sam Adams Boston Lager.
Notes: I think these three are the most obvious choices, clearly three of the beers that had the highest impact on the local beer scene. I was more surprised that each was left off a ballot.
Another big thank you for the thoughtful lists put together by these voters. Now it would be great if everyone took the time to fill out the poll HERE. Cheers!