Boston is known for a few things: clam chowder, Fenway Park, the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre, Harvard, MIT, and traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. Unbearable traffic. Some of the world’s worst traffic on some of the world’s most confusing streets – one-ways, cobblestone, dead ends, and an area around the Public Gardens that’s like F-1 Racing while everyone is trying to parallel park.
But Boston also has some amazing outposts to grab a beer and eat some world-class food. It has been overshadowed by cities like Austin, Los Angeles, and New York City in some publications. But it has its share of excellent beer outposts that rival the other cities in New England like Burlington and Portland, even if it doesn’t get the same amount of praise or hype as the others.
Don’t worry, people in Boston will tell you about how great their city is and while shifting from normal sounding New Englander to an Affleck brother in Good Will Hunting.
With the horrible traffic in mind, we broke the city into parts so that you could pick out the very best places to drink and eat, no matter where you are in Boston.
At any moment, Cambridge could be the smartest seven square miles in the world. With institutions like Harvard and MIT bringing in the Ivy League geniuses – and Jared Kushner types with lots of family money – it can be easy to forget that Cambridge is also a city and a place with its own identity and neighborhoods. And in those neighborhoods, there is some world class beer.
Any trip to Boston that doesn’t involve a stop at Lord Hobo is a shame. Named one of the best beer bars in the country, Lord Hobo has a never ending rotation of local and world-renowned beer on draft – including their own offerings that are brewed in Woburn – and a bottle collection that will make you rethink your savings account. But they also have some great food and hitting it up on a weekend for brunch is a good way to start a journey.
Head down Hampshire street a few blocks and land at Lamplighter Brewing Company, one of Boston’s newest breweries specializing in the new New England IPA scene. Birds of a Feather and Rabbit Rabbit are strong entries into the New England beer scene, but it’s their Porter, Werewolves of Cambridge, that sets them apart.
Werewolves of Cambridge is "under-appreciated, based on our retail sales,” says Fabian Vasquez, the man behind Albert’s Market’s amazing beer and wine selection. “As usual, everyone's always after the hoppy stuff," he signed. Werewolves in Cambridge "hits all the right notes for a porter, plus the slightly higher ABV [at 7.5%] seems to contribute to more body and a touch more sweetness. There's still a nice roasty bitterness on the finish to balance that sweetness out, though.”
After Lamplighter, stop in at Cambridge Brewing Company to drink at one of New England’s most underrated and important breweries. Brewmaster Will Myers has been working at the brewpub since 1993 – four years after it opened – and he’s helped create one of the most balanced breweries in the country. His team can handle any style of beer and innovate while keeping their beers balanced.
He’s also helped break in and mentor a slew of brewers who have branched out on their own to start their own breweries – Ben Howe of Enlightenment Ales (RIP) and Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri in Denmark, and Jay Sullivan and Sean Nolan at Honest Weight Artisan Ales in Orange, Mass. To mix up the day, look for one of the barrel-aged beers Myers is working on or get your hands on a pint of Sgt. Pepper, a beer that’s brewed with black, green, white, and pink peppercorns and some spicy hops, a nice malt backbone and their house Belgian yeast.
If it’s been a long day, there’s no better place to close out a night than Atwood’s Tavern. Grab some nachos, listen to some live music (cover charge if a band’s playing) or hang out on their enormous patio with a glass of Saison Dupont on draft.
Winter Hill’s claim to fame is that it’s a place where the infamous James “Whitey” Bulger and his gang used to hang out. Now, though, the gentrifying neighborhood in Somerville has its own brewery and coffee shop. Winter Hill Brewing won’t make the rounds as one of the city’s biggest or baddest breweries – the modest brewpub has a small, but smart, rotating tap list that curates to anyone’s taste – but the team of experienced brewers and cooks can also put out a mean cup of coffee and food at any time of day.
For a bigger and more varied experience – not to mention louder and weirder – Aeronaut has drinkers covered when it comes to good beer and an experience. The cavernous taproom has endless events going on, including live music two to three times a week and food pop-ups, and ample space for people to hang around for hours.
The "bring your own food" policy allows people to order and bring in any food they like to enjoy while crushing a few pints of Aeronaut’s excellent Pilsner Robot Crush or their flagship IPA A Year With Dr. Nanadu. On Friday and Saturday nights, the chefs at The Tasting Counter nearby, one of Boston’s most upscale and renowned restaurants, serve up late night bits after 10 p.m.
Drive past the large Teddy’s Peanut Butter sign and find Night Shift Brewing, which has gone from a small start-up making funky, barrel-aged, and infused beers that explored the outer limits of flavor combinations to one of New England’s premier breweries thanks to its strong IPA game.
A growing taproom with a regular rotation of food trucks and in-house pop-ups, Night Shift takes drinkers to places they might not have expected to go. Harborsside, their Gose made with oysters, is a perfect Boston summer beer: briney, dry, salty, and refreshing. If that doesn’t work, then try Whirlpool, their flagship pale ale packed with peach notes that helped launch Night Shift as one of the fastest growing breweries in the city.
While Night Shift and Aeronaut favor new brewing techniques and panache, Bryan Greenhagen’s approach at Mystic Brewery dates back to turn of the century brewing techniques that have served breweries in Europe well for a long time. Greenhagen’s love of farmhouse beers and natural and local yeast propagation and bottle conditioning put him on the path to making standout saisons. Like a rich sourdough from an experienced baker, Mystic’s beers have layers of flavor and aroma. Something as unassuming as Mystic’s Table Beer reveals new layers with each sip.
A trip to Boston isn’t complete without some clam chowder and fresh seafood, so make sure to put a stop at Row 34 on any itinerary. The restaurant has some of the best and freshest local seafood in the city – some of it still with its head and tail attached when it arrives at your table – and a draft list that includes Blackberry Farm, Cascade, Brouwerij't Verzet, To Øl, Jolly Pumpkin, and local favorites like Castle Island, Night Shift, and Trillium. Grab a table and enjoy a night out or sit at the bar and scoff down a few fresh oysters while banging down a few beers you never thought you’d see on draft.
Or, you could skip all this and spend an entire day waiting in line at Trillium, which is next door to Row 34. Trillium was recently named one of the ten best breweries in the world by RateBeer and it’s original outpost in Boston bumps with beer and hype. Oh, and they’ve just opened a beer garden on Boston’s beautiful Greenway this summer.
We didn't even get to Bone Up in Everett, Slumbrew in Somerville, or Idle Hands in Malden, but we did give you a managable list of the best beers in Boston.