Boston has always been a city of beer: Drinkers here have been fiercely loyal to their homegrown suds for more than two decades. Samuel Adams, one of the first American craft breweries when Jim Koch opened it in 1984, is now the country's largest, churning out 5.5 million kegs a year. In 1989, Cambridge Brewing Company became the city's first brewery-restaurant – and it's still top of the charts for local hopheads.
But if those names are what come to mind when you think of Boston brews, you have a lot of catching up to do. A new wave of innovators is mixing things up, riding a wave of cool confidence in the city born of MIT-bred entrepreneurs and weathering the economic downturn with only a few scratches.
Pretty Things, for example, is a "gypsy brewery" run by Dann and Martha Paquette. He's worked in the brewing business since the 1990s; she's a scientist who worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2009, they started a beer business with just $8,000. Today, they make fantastic suds – still on a shoestring budget – by occupying a host brewery for a day or two. The couple produces a regular lineup, but also works with Ron Pattinson, an Amsterdam-based beer historian, to brew their "Once Upon a Time" series of beers made to the specifications of recipes dating back to the 1700s.
Also new in Boston is Enlightenment Ales, launched this year by Ben Howe, a fromer brewer at Cambridge who still waits tables there part-time. The nano "urban farmhouse brewery" makes a signature sweet and spicy sparkling Bière de Champagne using both ale and champagne yeasts.
Each year in June, the brew scene comes together for the weekend-long American Craft Beer Festival. But who wants to wait that long? Boston's plethora of cozy bars, upper-crust gastropubs and loveable dives make it tempting for an ale aficionado to hop on a plane any weekend. But where to begin?
Here, three Boston brewmasters share where they like to belly up to the bar.
Martha Dann, co-owner Pretty Things
Deep Ellum This bluesy beer and cocktail joint in a student 'hood equidistant from MIT and Harvard gets an A++ in Dann's book. "The beers are served with the greatest respect I have found anywhere in America. Max Toste, who owns the bar, has a diverse beer list, with a mix of local, European craft and artisanal American beers. Start with a house-made soft pretzel with coarse-grain beer mustard." 477 Cambridge St., Boston, 617-787-BEER; deepellum-boston.com
The Independent in Union Square "Off the beaten track, and better for it! It's a neighbourhood hangout, with quirky DJs most nights on the pub side, and casual food, like burgers and oysters, on the other side. I love it here – I always feel relaxed and welcome when I'm drinking at the Indo. It's the sort of place where the bartenders recognize you." Choose from 32 American craft beers and a few European imports on tap. 75 Union Sq., 617-440-6022; theindo.com
The Publick House "This place is a Boston classic. I love their little side bar, called the Monk's Cell, where you can sit at the bar and indulge in everything Belgian. Sometimes that's the way to go: posh glassware, Trappist monks on the wall, crazy quirky beers and moules frites. Perfect. But hit this one on a quiet night if you don't want to be crammed in." 1648 Beacon St., 617-277-2880
Jim Koch, chairman, Boston Beer Company
Doyle's Café "This is a great Boston bar that's centred on the fellowship of beer: It's both beloved and unpretentious. The Burke family has owned it for over a century, and Jerry Burke tends bar five nights a week. If there were a real Cheers bar in Boston this would be it. The mayor used to come there on Saturday nights, and it's where Ted Kennedy spent St. Patrick's Day. I don't eat beef, but they have a meatless Rueben, and in this sandwich meat isn't the key – it's the sauce, sauerkraut and coleslaw." Tip: A free trolley runs from the Samuel Adam's brewery (a must-do brewery tour) to Doyle's every half-hour. 3484 Washington St., 617-524-2345; doylescafeboston.com
Oak Long Bar "This is a classic Boston watering hole in stunning Copley Square, with hand-carved oak ceilings and a copper-top bar. It's an old-school Boston Brahmins [the city's founding Yankee families] hangout and it's been there about 100 years." You'll find five area beers on tap, and a well-curated local bottle list. "Afterward, go see amazing murals that John Singer Sargent painted in the entrance halls at the public library across the square." The Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 Saint James Ave., 617-267-5300; oaklongbarkitchen.com
Clio "For a great chef and great food try Clio. It's very high-end cuisine with lots of little plates designed by Ken Oringer, who is now one of those celebrity chefs – but this is his original spot. The chef's tasting menu [10 courses, $135] is a great way to spend a big night out." Expect to find foie gras ravioli, lobster and lots of molecular gastronomy tricks. 370A Commonwealth Ave. 617-536-7200; cliorestaurant.com
Will Meyers, brewmaster, Cambridge Brewing
Lord Hobo "This is a can't-miss spot with a draft list that rotates constantly and always features hard-to-find beer. The bottle menu is epic in its own right. And the dinner menu is great, specifically because Lord Hobo lured away my former sous chef to helm the kitchen. Chef Nick has great chops. A can't-miss dish is his duck-confit croquettes. Oh, and the beef heart and garlic with ricotta gnocchi." 92 Hampshire St., 617-250-8454; lordhobo.com
Cambridge Brewing Company, Cambridge Most Boston beer lovers point visitors to the CBC for the ultimate beer and food experience. Meyer explains why: "The brewhouse is in the middle of the restaurant, and chef David Drew features local and organic produce and sustainable seafood and meats, often incorporating my beers into his dishes. Our staff can recommend some killer pairings. We usually have between 12 to 15 house-made beers on draft including traditional styles, barrel-aged beers and wild, experimental offerings." One Kendall Sq., 617-494-1994; cambridgebrewingcompany.com
Atwood's Tavern, Cambridge "To end your night, head to Cambridge's Inman Square neighbourhood and catch some great local live music at this small spot with a great sound system and long draft list. You'll often catch acts like the members of Morphine, the great mandolin player Jimmy Ryan, Duke Levine who's a guitar legend, and folks like the J. Giels Band's Peter Wolf and rock luminary Al Kooper in the audience. It's typically packed with Cantabrigians and Bostonians in the know – as in, we know we've got an amazing beer, music and food scene here and you can count yourself lucky to have shared the experience." 877 Cambridge St., 617-864-2792; atwoodstavern.com
Where to stay
Boston's newest hotel known is modern and fashion-forward, with staff uniforms designed by local design students. Each room has a private balcony; request a higher level for a panoramic view of the city. From $155 (U.S.). 200 Stuart St., 617-482-1800; reverehotel.com
The Charles Hotel, Cambridge
Two of Cambridge's nicest and most talented chefs (Jody Adams of Rialto and Peter Davis of Henrietta's Table) operate restaurants here. Bring your skates, as this family-friendly spot has its own skating rink. From $199. One Bennett St., 1-800-882-1818; charleshotel.com
Housed in Boston brownstones, these airy studios are decorated with murals of the subway's T line. With WiFi, a kitchenette, HBO and the nearby South End Formaggio shop, it's tempting to set up camp for days. From $159.
54 Berkeley St., 617-482-3450; chandlerstudiosboston.com
Crystal Luxmore is the beer columnist for The Grid. She travelled courtesy of Moosehead Breweries. The company did not review or approve this article.