Steeped in history, Boston should be on everybody’s bucket list of places to see. It has been 8 years since I last set foot in this iconic bastion of expensive seafood and hit-or-miss Lyft drivers. In 2008, I spent two nights there and did only a miniscule amount of craft beer related things. I did many of the obligatory tourist things: walked the freedom trail, went to Cheers, spent an intimate couple of hours below deck of “Old Ironsides,” and even found time to tour the USS Constitution. I did the Sam Adams tour because Jim Koch, the owner of Sam Adams, would be on the Mt. Rushmore of craft beer if such a thing existed. The only other craft beer stop in 2008 was to Harpoon Brewing Company before they expanded into the massive expanse of a beer hall where they now serve wonderful pretzels and all of their beer. After doing a fair amount of research on the craft beer scene in and around Boston it seems that things have changed since 2008; both in Boston and the rest of the country in regards to craft beer. Not only are there a fair number of breweries, there are also a lot of really great craft beer bars. Were these craft beer bars around the last time I was here? Yes. Were these breweries around in 2008? Well, some of them were, but there are a host of new ones that have arrived on the scene in the last couple of years. Admittedly, back in 2008, I was not nearly as in tune with how to navigate the craft beer destinations in a city. This time is going to be different because of a dedicated focus to finding the best places in town to taste craft beer.
There is one problem though. I committed to spend the better part of four days attending a teacher’s conference and so I am slightly worried about seeing enough of the city given the fact that my days will be full of conference stuff. Being the intrepid multi-tasker that I am, I’ll make it work. I caught a flight out of MSP at 6:50 in the morning with the hopes that I would be able to enjoy some fun in Boston before the conference started. Before I knew it, I was enjoying my brief landing inner-monologue of, “Oh shit, what if the wheels on the plane break off?!?!” and “Thank God the wheels of the plane didn’t break off!” Not long after that, I was on the T(Boston subway) on the way to the Sheraton Boston. I checked in and then booked a Lyft ride to the North End for some lunch.
The Lyft rider arrived and immediately my “Sweet Jesus, does this person know how to drive?!?!” senses kicked in. She seems more concerned about the brightness of the sun than actually navigating the intense city traffic. She is wearing a beige visor that is way too oversized for her head. I thought that curious until she busted out a fleece blanket and started stuffing it under the visor to act as a Hancock Fabrics-inspired human version of a horse blinder. She must have seen the look of bewilderment on my face in the rearview window because she exclaimed in a very not-inside-voice, “Too much sun today!” Well, I figured that makes sense, but so does being able to see out of the corners of your purview if one’s one job is driving a car for a living. The other disturbing fact is that either this car had a governor on it that kicks in at 25 MPH, or this was the world’s most timid Lyft driver. Either way, her erratic changing speeds was rankling the “Massholes”(a term that people have coined for the aggressive drivers in Massachusetts), and they are honking their horns with a fervor of a thousand Star Wars fanboys after hearing the role of Kylo Ren is being replaced with Jar Jar Binks in the next installment of the series. The icing on the cake of this excruciating ride through Theregoesmypatienceville occurred when a cop had traffic stopped briefly. This created a back-up of cars and brought traffic to a standstill. The Lyft driver proceeds to put the car in PARK and then fidget with the mount of her GPS device as if she were disarming a bomb. As this clinic in distracted focus was taking place, I kept thinking to myself that if she channeled this level of focus and dedication to driving, I would probably be at my destination by now. As the cop drove away, the levy on the stoppage burst and cars began moving; every other car except ours. I looked up in the front seat only to see that her eyes were closed. Either she was trying to start the car using the Force or she had dozed off. That’s when I exclaimed, “I think this means we should be moving!” She hit the gas with gusto, but instead of jolting forward into the fray of oncoming traffic, a brutal revving noise that only a poorly-maintained Toyota Corolla can make screeched from beneath the car. You see, when a car is still in PARK, it will not move forward. I know this and you know this, but the driver of my chariot seemed to forgot this important nugget of knowledge briefly due to her Deepak Chopra state of meditation. When she did put it into DRIVE, we were off, still being passed by cyclists given her aversion to going over 30 MPH. Perhaps she had seen a low quality and grainy bootleg of Back to the Future where the time travel hit at 38 MPH instead of 88 MPH? Eventually, I could see that she was going to attempt to turn down Salem St. in the North End which is a dicey gambit for a good driver; it would spell certain disaster for Ms. Andretti and at the stoplight, I bailed.
I bee-lined it for Neptune Oyster to put my name in on the list. To my surprise, it was a mere half-hour wait! I got on the list and then walked down the street. Remembering that there was a bakery off the beaten path that has cannolis to die for, I started looking. In two blocks, I looked up and saw the familiar Italian Flag on the sign above the door. I walked in and every olfactory tingling scent you can imagine from a great bakery was now soothing my senses. I scanned the bakery case and felt like Sam from Game of Thrones after walking into the Citadel’s Library. My eyes settled on the pistachio variety and I immediately knew that my search was over. I walked out, cannoli in hand, and found a little bench. I wanted to make sure I was away from the masses while I enjoyed this treat. I thought of how off-putting it would be if I went all When Harry Met Sally Deli Scene on this cannoli. The crunch of the outer cannoli shell along with the rich and creamy filling was not too far from nirvana. What really set this cannoli apart from every other cannoli I have ever had was the pistachio flavor that added such a unique element to it. When I finished weeping and put my pants back on it was time to head back to the restaurant.
Living in MN all of my life the act of accessing fresh, authentic seafood can be a bit tricky unless you have a Wells Fargo line of credit. Living in this reality prevents me from ever ordering oysters. The cost analysis of it just doesn’t make sense to me. However, here on the East Coast, I figure Neptune Oyster is the perfect place for me to check oysters off my culinary bucket list. Seated at the bar, I start perusing the list of oyster offerings. I decide on the first 6 and prepared to either be disgusted or transformed. The oysters come on a circular tray, artfully abed a layer of crushed ice. They come with what I assume is the standard accoutrement of lemon and hot sauce with a dollop of horseradish. I squeeze a bit of lemon on each one and get a smidge of hot sauce and a bit of the horseradish on the first one. Saying a little prayer to whatever saint it is that protects you from getting the runs while on vacation, I dive in. I know that some people just swallow their oysters, but if I came all this way, you better believe that I was going to chew and savor the flavor nuances of these glorious gifts from the sea. It turns out the the mix of briny, buttery, and sweet flavors of oysters is very pleasing to my palate. I make short work of the oysters just in time for my lobster roll and pint of Harpoon IPA to arrive. The Harpoon IPA is the perfect beer to go with a lobster roll because as IPAs go, it is not overly aggressive. More of a floral and fruity hop presence. Along with the effervescent nature of the beer, it really paired well with the creaminess and sweet nature of the lobster meat. The lobster roll is an efficient way to enjoy lobster. I prefer it lightly dressed with mayo and celery and some herbs. The combination of the lobster meat along with the slightly charred and buttery roll it comes on is a great marriage of textures and flavors. I’m done eating and now it is time to walk to Harpoon and meet my coworker who is also now in town.
Harpoon Brewing Co. is located in the Seaport District of Boston. It’s a 45 minute walk, but this was a good thing because I wanted to see and smell the water and the weather was beautiful. I arrive at the brewery and smell the distinct and heartwarming aroma of malt in the air. As I ascend the steps, I am reminded of the Surly Beer Hall in Minneapolis. Harpoon has long rectangular tables that allow you to sit as you would in a German Beer Hall. My friend Chris is already tasting his way through the Harpoon portfolio in the form of a curated tasting flight. I am not a huge fan or a pre-set flight because I am a grown-up and can choose my own beers, but for whatever reason, Harpoon curates your flights for you. I know that breweries don’t want someone who is new to craft beer starting their tasting experience with a 3X IPA and then doing a Pilsner, but I do like to have the flexibility to choose. That being said, I got a different one of their pre-set flights and joined the fun. Looking around, we could see a nice mix of younger college and grad students along with some people that looked like they were just off of work ready to have a Happy Hour beer. Remembering what I really liked from Harpoon from my previous visits, I know that they really do a good job with many different styles. In my first flight, the Sticke Alt really stands out from the rest because of a fabulous malt presence in the beer. Smooth, roasty, and with just enough hops to balance it out really made this one a favorite of mine. My second favorite of the first flight was the Camp Wannamango, which is funny because years ago, “Old Ironsides” asked me if I would accompany her to Camp Wannabango. . . Heyoo! Camp Wannamango is a Pale Ale with mango. I thought that the aroma of this beer was right on, but I would have liked more mango in the flavor. The other beers in the flight were an Irish Dry Stout and a low alcohol Golden Ale. After my first flights it was onto pint of their UFO Hefeweizen. This is a really good representation of this style, and along with its counterpart, the UFO White, I enjoyed the refreshing German styles along with some great conversation.
It isn’t long before a couple asks if they can share our table. Of course we say yes because we love the prospect of meeting some new people. It is a couple from Tampa, FL, and they are in town for the same conference. I’m glad that we weren’t the only thirsty teachers at Harpoon that night. We start chatting and it turns out that Kathy is there attending the conference while Tyler, her husband, is going to be doing what we all want to be doing; out drinking beer. Tyler and Kathy could not stop talking about the happening Tampa craft beer scene and I figured that it wasn’t a coincidence that the Craft Beer Bloggers Conference was taking place as we speak in Tampa. Tyler and Kathy were playing Gin and in between hands, would chat with Chris and I. It was time to move on and we said our goodbyes. I leave the Harpoon Brewing Co. with a feeling of accomplishment because meeting people from other places is really at the heart of why I love travel centered around craft beer. Boston is shaping up to be a wonderful way to learn about the New England craft beer scene.
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