Wicked Awesome Craft Beer

Wicked Awesome Craft Beer

“Marty, don’t be such a square. Everybody who’s anybody drinks.”

– Lea Thompson (Lorraine) from Back to the Future

On New Years’ Eve, I attended a small party at my brother Jeff’s home. He and his family, Corinne and I, and my mom, who traveled from New Hampshire, attended. The night before, my mom asked me what she should bring. I suggested some craft beer from local breweries near her home. She agreed, knowing that Jeff and I might have fun trying various styles. The next day, upon arriving at Jeff’s home, I discovered my mom purchased a growler and two 4-packs of IPA and wheat beer options from Rek’•lis Brewing, located in the heart of the White Mountains in Bethlehem, NH, and three 4-packs of IPA and NEIPA options from Schilling Beer Co. in Littleton, NH. None of these beers were disappointing, and Jeff and I had a wonderful evening.

While traveling, I have visited incredible breweries and sampled delicious beer. I have written about these experiences multiple times on this blog but failed to examine several beer-related adventures. Some of these experiences are local; a beer festival or brewery visit. Other beer moments were in another part of the world in Asia or Europe, and several were a short drive to a neighboring state like Vermont. Traveling for craft beer is a unique way to explore a new area. But enjoying the taste of an IPA, Wheat, or Kolsch style beer is a relatively new thing. It took me years, and miles, to see its value and accept the experience with open arms. Today, I write about those beer moments and breweries that stand out as memorable.

Developing a Taste for Craft Beer

With warmer weather starting to emerge, I feel it’s time to go to the local “packie” and restock the fridge with craft beer favorites and new arrivals. It’s fun finding something new while maintaining a supply of those perfect favorites that I can drink while Jeff and I chat about movie Heat Checks or as I enter Borderlands 3, once more, with Kyle. Aside from a night out with Corinne, or a family event, I rarely, if ever, touch alcohol. Growing up, I saw the negative side of alcohol consumption. My grandfather, with whom I had a cursory relationship, was often inebriated, slurring words, and made conversation uncomfortable. I never got to know the “real” him. During my early adulthood, I didn’t partake in consuming alcohol. It wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii that I learned to let it go.

After a challenging year that concluded with me passing my comprehensive exams, I was at the precipice of starting my dissertation. To celebrate, Corinne and I met up with her coworker at The Standard, a restaurant/club that had opened in a space formally occupied by a well-known eatery, Oceans 808. It was a night, far outside my comfort zone, but one that allowed me to try a couple of craft beers. As my time in Hawaii progressed, I rarely drank, but sometimes, it was fun getting a 6-pack of Seasonal Sam Adams and visiting a Greek Restaurant, The Olive Tree Cafe, which was BYOB, with friends. It wasn’t the beer; it was my ability to move past the stress of my Ph.D. program and enjoy social moments. I saw the world in ways represented by the present, not subjected to past constraints.

After returning from Hawaii, I never drank, and rarely do, unless socially. I was far more excited about alcohol if it included a visit to a brewery, beer tasting, or simply a night out. If we happened to be at a bar, I would scan the menu and question the server or bartender if what they had was local, wheat, or non-IPA, as I had yet to develop a taste for IPA or NEIPA. What I mean by this is I didn’t, and still don’t, order a beer to drink a beer. I won’t order a Bud Light, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, or even Pabst Blue Ribbon. I seek quality, and I enjoy sampling locally crafted concoctions. While at an eatery in Salem, I would order a beer from local brewers. In New Bedford, MA, San Diego, CA, Portland, ME, and Wappingers Falls, NY, I do the same. If I am at a restaurant that doesn’t serve local brews, it’s water for me.

I can credit a few people for helping me become a junior craft beer connoisseur; Jeff, my brother-in-law Kyle, and my friend Chris. Similarly, how Corinne had inspired my coffee obsession, it was under their tutelage that I began to develop a taste for craft beer. I joined these individuals on various beer adventures. Whether an event in Boston, Cape Cod, or a local brewery close by, most beer moments included one of those people I listed above. They inspired me to explore breweries while on vacation, during travel adventures with Corinne, or on solo trips for work on the other side of the world. These visits are just one part that constructs my beer memories. Let’s follow Alice down the rabbit hole to wonderland and recall some of these experiences.

Local Events & Regional Flavors

My beer education began in Worcester, MA. My trips to visit Jeff, first when he was a college student in the city and, later, at his home in Auburn, were where I observed the pure enjoyment of craft beer. Jeff’s friend, Jimmy, lived in Hudson, MA, in the early 2000s and, each October, held a “Hudtoberfest.” Jimmy’s party included local and homemade beer and lasted the entire weekend. When I started enjoying craft beer, it made sense that I wanted to experience Oktoberfest. I got the chance at Harpoon Brewing in Boston. With live music, plenty of food trucks, and flowing taps pouring “Harpoon, Clown Shoes, and UFO Beer,” Harpoon throws a fantastic Oktoberfest event. The first time I attended was for Jeff’s bachelor party. Harpoon’s Oktoberfest was the first stop that evening. Our night ended at Jillian’s, where I purchased food and arranged for ping pong tables, pool tables, and two bowling lanes. Jillian’s is no longer open, now a Lucky Strike Fenway, but it was a night to remember.

My second Oktoberfest was around 2016, and I sampled Harpoon beer, like Pumpkin and Oktoberfest. That night I realized I couldn’t simply recreate new memoirs on top of the foundation of old, seemingly missed moments in time. If I was going to dive into the taste of craft beers, I had to do it my way. I have visited, in total, nearly 100 breweries throughout the country, with a few across both our oceans. I want to share a few beer moments, those I often recall. None will follow any chronological order. Instead, it’s simply a flow of memories connected through craft beer. If there is one thing that proves to be a constant, the city of Boston and its metropolitan area play a significant part during this time. All too often, I rode the train from Salem to Boston and took the subway or an Uber to Cambridge or Everett. For the most part, it all started with Meadhall.

Formally located in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Meadhall was stunning. With over a hundred beers on tap, many local, the bar/eatery had a beautiful design with an enchanting atmosphere. I often visited with Corinne and friends and or family, especially my sister-in-law Kaitlyn. On one occasion, Corinne, Kaitlyn, and I went to Meadhall in December after eating pizza at Area Four. We drank for a couple of hours, sampling several local liquids. At one point, Kaitlyn found a Santa outfit in the women’s bathroom, wedged between the toilet and wall, and proceeded to try it on. After affixing the white beard to her face, gross, a young woman approached her, asking Kaitlyn if she competed. Perplexed, Kaitlyn apologized, thinking the outfit belonged to her. Instead, the woman told her she was with the Boston Beard Bureau and assumed Kaitlyn was a member. It made for a great laugh as we made our way back home to Salem.

Most of these stories occur in the Cambridge area. On one particular night, I met up with Kevin and Sean in Cambridge at Lamplighter Brewing Co., where we began a three-person crawl. With the hip vibe and cozy atmosphere in an ideal industrial space, Lamplighter is a personal favorite. Their beers have great names; Kolsch named Speedwagon and Porter called Werewolves of Cambridge. We spent over an hour there before hurrying to Cambridge Brewing Company. After a couple of mediocre drinks, we journeyed to Slumbrew in Somerville. Although Slumbrew has closed its doors for good, I liked it. One could order a drink, like the blood orange Happy Sol, or a small appetizer, but it was small and nearly impossible to find a table or not slam into someone. After an hour, we visited Aeronaut Brewing Co., also in Somerville. A firmly established brewery in a spacious industrial space, Aeronaut is known for its IPA options, and I remember sitting at their long communal tables, enjoying what I ordered.

About a year later, I helped Sean organize a brewery crawl, one that would take a group of nearly twenty people on an extensive limousine bus to breweries in Chelsea, Malden, and Everett. While Mystic Brewery in Chelsea and Idle Hands in Malden offered fantastic beer, plenty of board games for intoxicated patrons, and tons of space, two breweries in Everett made the evening memorable. Night Shift Brewing and Bone Up Brewing Co. are fantastic. I have gone to Night Shift several times. It is one of my favorite breweries in Massachusetts, maybe even beyond state borders. It is in an industrial space, with plenty of delicious options and a vibe unlike any other. Bone Up is a quaint and delightful brewery deserving credit for having the perfect mascot/design and a small beer selection, all superb. These beer crawls remind me of an event that I enjoyed three years in a row.

The Power Beer Festival, organized by the Massachusetts Brewers Guild at SoWa Power Station, was unlike anything I have gone to before. With a ticket costing $55 and lasting 3 1/2 hours, I had unlimited access to over 60 Massachusetts brewers and multiple offerings from each brewery. The first year I attended was overwhelming. While the space was massive food truck options plentiful, there were almost too many beer choices. I was handed a 2oz reusable glass, which I carried to each booth, and had sample after sample. Although the event sold out, it didn’t appear crowded, and I waited in no lines. Each year was a blast and certainly inspired me to visit breweries months later. I was partial to those located on Cape Cod, but famous brewers Tree House Brewing Co. and Trillium Brewing were present, pouring their best, or most experimental, selections. I even tried a craft beer inspired by Japanese Sake. That sample ended my night, and I have sought it out ever since.

Adventures in Breweries Near & Far Away from Home

I have not visited as many breweries or have as refined a taste as my buddy Chris, whose beer exploits are legendary. I have heard, all too often, of his pursuit of perfect beers in Berlin, Germany, or Prague, Czech Republic, or anywhere in Europe, pouring countless hoppy blends. His stories of never-ending drinking, and loss of time at the Delirium Café-Leesburg in Brussels, Belgium, never get old. Like any good student/teacher or master/apprentice, Chris has taught me the most about beer, its history, and intricacies and helped me appreciate it on several different levels. Chris has, without knowing it, genuinely inspired my beer fascination. His comprehension of all types of beers is outstanding. I eagerly request his input on beers and seek opportunities for us to visit an emerging brewery.

No matter what brewery I visit, Chris is the first person I contact. Together we have explored several breweries in Massachusetts, mainly on the North Shore; Gentile Brewing, Notch Brewery, Ipswich Ale Brewery, and True North Ale Co., or Cape Cod; Barnstable Brewing in Hyannis with its blueberry wheat beer, and Naukabout Brewery in Mashpee with its nitro stouts and fantastic NEIPA. I have fond memories from those trips, but when we visit places separately, we often go back and forth, usually through text, conferring opinions about places the other should visit, like Black Hat Brew Works in Bridgewater, MA. Black Hat Brew Works, with its Strawberry Kolsch, is my new constant. Jeff and I regularly visit. Black Hat is a brewery I can’t wait for Chris to see with a great patio, continuous supply of food trucks, and a quaint interior.

Massachusetts has stellar breweries, but other states have provided great beer moments. Corinne’s aunt Lisa has a husband, Larry, one of the nicest people I have ever met. They own a home near Burlington, VT. While he doesn’t enjoy the craft beer scene, Larry always has local beers available whenever Corinne and I visit, usually something from Long Trail Brewing Co. or Switchback Brewing. Recently, Larry supported our trip to a couple of local breweries, one that offered a wonderful flavor in an unassuming package, while the other is world-famous. Larry and I went to 14th Star Brewing Co. and ate delicious barbecue as we enjoyed a sampler/flight of beer, presented in a wood tray shaped like the State of Vermont. I enjoyed their wheat the most. I appreciated Larry taking me there and showing me around the area.

Several of us were in Vermont for the MLK Jr. holiday weekend on another occasion. The weather was poor, so we decided against skiing. Instead, we visited the Ben & Jerry’s factory and the Cabot (Cheese) Farmers’ Store in Waterbury. We then headed north on route 100 to Stowe, VT, where we came upon The Alchemist Brewery. Serving and canning favorites like Heady Topper, Alchemist Beer is, for someone like myself, Chris, and Kyle, a little like visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Set off from the road, Alchemist Brewery stands alone and impressive. There were roughly fifteen of us, and the brewery didn’t have a taproom yet but allowed you to sample its craft IPA options, then buy a restricted number of 4-packs to take home. I left with several 4-packs of Heady Topper and Focal Banger. The Alchemist Brewery is fantastic, a Vermont staple, and you won’t stop talking about it.

Nashville, San Diego, Denver, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, are locations that have amazing breweries, and I wrote about them previously. I enjoyed Portsmouth, NH, where I had an excellent blueberry wheat beer, with Maine blueberries, at Portsmouth Brewery. At Border Brewery and Barbecue in Salem, NH, Corinne and I stopped for dinner, leaving satisfied by the wings and pulled pork while raving about the beer. At 603 Brewery & Beer Hall in Londonderry, NH, where I visited with my dad, I had a wheat beer and delicious 603 Burger. I went on a Brew Bus tour of breweries in Tampa, FL. The group of us, present for a bachelor party, wore matching shirts, and the company provided a signature brew. My favorite, Blueberry Wheat, was named “My Boy Blue,” referring to Old School. Still, NY has a fantastic scene, and the Hudson Valley is Corinne’s home. It makes sense that an area of such importance, historical and personal, would offer incredible beer.

My mother-in-law Mary has made sure that I get to visit a brewery, from time to time, while visiting. She has driven me to Obercreek Brewing Co. in Wappingers Falls, NY, Two Way Brewing Co., and Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon, NY, with a shout out to Draught Industries, also in Beacon, for having 24 beers on draft, all hard to find elsewhere. Mary recently told me she has a running list of places she wants to bring me, like Newburgh Brewing Co. in Newburgh, NY or Sloop Brewing in East Fishkill, NY, or even Zeus Brewing Co. in Poughkeepsie, NY. Relaying these stories makes Kyle and Chris incredibly jealous, which I enjoy. We have also had our fair share of misfires, like our journey to Plan Bee Farm Brewery, which was heavy on the “sour” style of beer. Still, there has been no better brewery adventure than one organized by Mary after I had run the Walkway Over the Hudson Half Marathon.

It was fabulous going on a beer tour shortly after running 13.1 miles. We began at Hyde Park Brewing Co., in Hyde Park, NY, home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. We got an appetizer and their popular beer, Big Easy Blonde, a refreshing session. Then we headed to Blue Collar Brewery, an instant favorite thanks to their fries and satisfying beers. In an old industrial building in Poughkeepsie, NY, Blue Collar is a rustic type of place where one could spend hours, and we did. We headed to Mill House Brewery, a brewpub in Poughkeepsie. I had visited before, numerous times, and love it. We ordered food, mainly appetizers like poutine and antipasto. I maintained allegiance to their staple Kold One as my beer of choice, a Kolsch, a true gem, and delicious. The night concluded at Schatzi’s Pub, where I ate a giant warm pretzel, with spicy mustard, in the beer garden on a gloriously warm summer evening.

Enjoying a Beer in a Different Language

The breweries I have visited often come with a story. Rarely inadequate, these moments were with friends, family, and acquaintances. I have visited far more breweries in the U.S. than I mentioned and far more memories than I care to share. Those are American memories, of which I am not short, but my tank runs on memories from afar. While sitting in a beer hall, bar, and brewery in a country flying a different flag, I acquired beer memories. I have mentioned some stories on this blog, whether it was drinking a pint in County Clare, Ireland with my mom, or sitting alone, outside, at a brewery in Shanghai, China. I will briefly retread one of these moments, the Shanghai beer scene, while another, a trip to Bruges, Belgium, I have yet to write down, but I discuss constantly.

In 2007, Corinne and I joined an academic trip to France and Belgium focused on World War I. We explored battlefields like in Peronne, France, where soldiers fought the Battle of the Somme and Metz, where the Battle of Verdun occurred. We visited the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in Belleau, Northern France. Located at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood occurred, it is stunning and deeply depressing. We went to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, a solemn place and final resting place for those Americans who fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918. We visited French and British cemeteries, battlefield trenches, and museums. It was a life-altering trip. After seeing memorials to American forces, alone, in a pasture far away from Paris or Brussels, I visualized the terrible cost of war, and the entire experience has stayed with me.

Half-way through the trip and on our way to Brussels, Belgium, we stopped for two days in the city of Bruges, Belgium. I fell in love. Distinguished by its “canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings,” Bruges is what I had pictured a small European city to look like. It’s Burg Square and Market-Square, which I toured, offer visitors the chance to see a “14th-century Stadhuis,” ornately carved ceiling. Market Square “features a 13th-century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and tower with panoramic views.” The city lived up to its reputation as having most of its “medieval architecture intact, making it one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe.” Years before my visit, the “Historic Centre of Bruges” was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the second such site I visited that year, the other being in Guatemala. Other than the history Bruges, I toured a brewery; Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan.

The brewery, located in the center of Bruges and down the beautiful brick-lined Walplein Street, amongst buildings of similar design, has been in operation since the 1800s. The brewery offers tours of the facility known for brews such as “Brugse Zot, Straffe Hendrik, and Brugs Tarwebier.” I can recall touring the old installations learning the history while enjoying the smell of beer. I appreciate the attention to tradition the brewery maintained. Towards the end of the tour, I walked atop the roof deck, gaining magnificent views of Bruges, seeing the medieval roofs of brick buildings and homes, and observing a classic European city. At the end of our tour, I enjoyed a complimentary pint of the Brugse Zot. I drank in the cafe, a modern part of the brewery, with ceilings that extended to the heavens. It was beautiful, and Corinne and I sat at a large circle table drinking unfiltered Belgium beer.

I would go back to Bruges in a heartbeat, if for nothing else, to walk the cobblestone streets, observe the medieval architecture, eat the incredible food, and end the night sitting outside with a Brugse Dot in my hand and leaning back, feeling content. It was glorious. But if that drink in Bruges sparked a curiosity that would take several years to ignite, my trip to Shanghai finally observed my actual craft beer ascension. Over ten years after my European journey following WWI, I flew to Shanghai to teach US History for nearly forty days. I have, of course, written about this trip a few times. I have explored the brewery scene in the city for one of my first posts on this blog. That should illustrate its importance.

Before leaving for Shanghai, I researched the brewery scene in the city for days, but this was a nearly impossible task since maps of Shanghai on Google are inaccurate. Brewery websites are never updated, so anyone can guess whether they are still in business. It made preparations challenging. Once in Shanghai, I threw caution to the wind and explored the city. I hadn’t expected the craft beer scene in China to be as good as it was, nor that Shanghai would have various options or be so impressive. I had company for these adventures. Either with a colleague, or Corinne, visits to Boxing Cat Brewery, DAGA Brew Pub, and Liquid Laundry, were exciting and entertaining. I learned a lot about the type of traveler I wanted to be. I organized two legendary beer crawls, guiding colleagues through the streets of Shanghai, from one place to another. If I assumed I was a timid introvert, who would crack under pressure, Shanghai proved I was otherwise.

Closing Time

“Closing time, one last call for alcohol
So, finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time, you don’t have to go home
But you can’t stay here”

– “Closing Time” from Feeling Strangely Fine, Lyrics and Music by Semisonic

There is that moment when you look at your watch and can’t believe that the night is ending. At the end of the second beer crawl I organized in Shanghai, when three of my colleagues and I threw down our sixth beer at DAGA, after a couple at Boxing Cat Brewery next door, I remember feeling content. I wanted to bottle that moment. Our Chinese currency, anchored by empty glasses, was on the table. Each of us was smiling. It was the end of a long month away from home, but we went out drinking craft beer, genuinely enjoying the moment’s beauty. It’s a moment I wrote about previously, and I discuss it often, but I think about it constantly. I feel, at that moment, those empty DAGA Brew Pub glasses on the table; I got as close to knowing myself as ever before.

Searching for the perfect craft beer hasn’t been much of a search but rather a journey and, ultimately, an adventure. I never set out with some rigid plan; instead, I allowed craft beer to be a point of enjoyment, something to use as a bridge to doing things that I often turned my shoulder away from in a tantrum. As I said, it’s not really about the alcohol. The beer is a byproduct, a mechanism, or pathway, to exploring the world around me and getting to know the people who join me or I meet along the way. It’s a guide, not necessarily as a drink, but as a place, ushering me to a new social understanding. I am eager to travel with Corinne to faraway places, and when we do, I am sure I will visit a brewery and enjoy a local staple. It’s time to live and think back to those empty glasses in Shanghai. I need a refill.

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