Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New England Trip, July 2005: Day 1, Boston

I flew into Logan Friday morning. I was originally going to meet my buddy Dave that morning for a quick Boston pub crawl before heading out to Jamaica Plain for the Beer Advocate Boston Beer Company Tour but work responsibilities prevented him from coming down from Maine that day. I was left to my own devices and with an afternoon to kill, I headed to the T to hit a couple brewpubs before the tour began that evening.

First on my list was Cambridge Brewing Company which enjoyed a very good reputation in Boston and deservedly so. I ordered the salmon chowder (which really hit the spot) and a draft of Three Threads. Three Threads is a porter made in the traditional way by blending three different beers together. In this case, they blended a brown ale, a sour Flemish-style ale and their Red God IPA. While this made for a porter that starts a bit sour, after a couple sips that sourness seems to fade and a roasted coffee bitterness takes over. Some persistent hoppiness too. The flavors were all very distinct at first but them began to mesh into a smooth drinking, amazing porter. If you ever have a chance to try a traditionally blended porter, I highly recommend it. It really gives you a new perspective on flavors and blending beers.

I hopped back on the T and headed down to the Fenway Park area, first to visit the Boston Beer Works location and second to tour Fenway Park. The Beer Works was nearly empty and I thought I had time for a couple drafts. Unfortunately the service was so slow, I barely had time to drink one in the 45 minutes I was there. It wasn't the bartender's fault as she was covering the bar area and a couple tables in the next room as well. Many taps were available; there were 10 house beers on tap. I had a Back Bay IPA from the tap which had a biting herbal bitterness and was really tasty but I had no time for another as the Green Monster was calling.

After the (very cool) tour of Fenway Park, I hopped on the T and headed over to Jamaica Plain where the Sam Adams Brewhouse is housed in the old Haffenreffer Brewery building. While most of Boston Brewing’s production takes place in Cincinnati and other breweries through contract, this is the test brewery and produces a lot of special releases especially in keg form for the Boston market.

It had been arranged by Beer Advocate to have Jim Koch give us the tour that day. While we waited for everyone to arrive, Jim sent some pitchers of Boston Lager and Summer Ale for everyone to enjoy.

From watching him on the Sam Adams commercials, you wouldn’t think that Jim Koch would be a dynamic public speaker but he is so passionate and so knowledgeable about his product that he is very entertaining to listen to.

He talked about the history of Boston Beer, the colorful characters that used to populate Jamaica Plain when they first bought the property, passed around a bunch of fresh hops and then showed off the brew kettles. “I could explain the intricacies of the brewing process but you guys know how that works. Would you rather just head to the tasting room?”, asked Jim. A cheer of approval from the crowd and we were on our way.

First up, Jim brought out glasses of the Boston Lager. He said that he doesn't believe that any of the beers that Boston Beer have brewed have ever surpassed the first beer they brewed. In a weird way, I think he really believes that.

Next were two beers that were soon to be unveiled in the first "Drinker's Choice" promotion for later that year. The first was a crisp and hoppy Bohemian style pilsener that I liked quite a bit. The second was a brown ale (that eventually won; it's now a regular product) that Jim kept tasting and saying "it's not ready yet" but he let us try anyway. I would have voted for the pilsener regardless.

Imagine this scene: Jim Koch carrying a tray with dozens of snifters containing Utopias and placing them on your table. I don't have to imagine this because that is exactly what happened next. Utopias famously sells for over $100 a bottle so this was indeed a rare treat. It drinks more like a sherry (Jim Koch described it in terms of a cognac but I've never had cognac...), it's rich and oaky with vanilla and toffee notes. No head whatsoever. Again, if I didn't know it was a beer, I would guess it's an aged sherry. I had my snifter and another given to me by a lady who did not want to try hers.

I met some pretty nice people, especially a gentleman from Denmark and his wife. I found the Alstrom Brothers and thanked them for the event. They asked if I wanted to continue the festivities over at Doyle's Cafe but I needed to go get some sleep and get on the road the next morning. I was on my way to Bangor the next day...

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