How Harpoon Turned a Boston Pastry Icon Into a Beer

March 19, 2020

By Taylor Tobin, March 19, 2020

Between the coronavirus crisis sweeping the nation (during St. Patrick’s Day, no less) and Tom Brady’s decision to end his tenure with the New England Patriots, the denizens of the country’s far-northeastern region find themselves feeling more than a little adrift, apprehensive, and uncertain. That said, it will take a lot more than a pandemic or an iconic sports figure’s departure to quash the determination and downright stubbornness of New England, and residents from Bangor to Greenwich already feel fully prepared to rally and show off our local pride once again.

I say “our” because, although I’ve spent the past decade and a half living in New York City, I’m Massachusetts-born and Connecticut-raised… a true New England girl at heart. As a kid, I made regular trips into the capital of Massachusetts and the unofficial capital of New England: Boston, of course. First up on my parents’ agenda was always a stop in the North End, Boston’s famous “Little Italy”, to pick up an assortment of sweets at my folks’ favorite panetteria, the venerable Mike’s Pastry. Our Mike’s shopping list always included a parcel of sesame cookies (my mom’s favorite) and a box of Mike’s legendary cannoli.

Full disclosure: I don’t generally like cannoli very much. But the team at Mike’s still uses the recipe developed by their founders in the mid 1940s, and their cannoli remains a North End institution for excellent reason. The fried-dough shells made at Mike’s offer up a delicate sweetness and rich, buttery notes, which work harmoniously alongside the creamy ricotta filling. Mike’s is famous for its novelty cannoli flavors, which include everything from Oreo to Amaretto, but my parents always opted for the classic Chocolate Chip. Why gild the lily, after all?

When I learned that Massachusetts brewery Harpoon planned to release a limited-edition “cannoli stout” infused with Mike’s Pastry desserts, I found myself immediately intrigued. When asked about the brewery’s decision to partner with Mike’s on a specialty brew, Harpoon brand manager Tim Kast explained, “With our Boston brewery just a couple of miles from the North End, it’s almost a daily occurrence that we see people bringing the classic white-and-blue boxes with them to the beer hall after a stopover at Mike’s Pastry.”

Kast and the Harpoon team also felt drawn to Mike’s in particular due to its commitment to the Boston community and its status as a defining North End destination. “What sealed the deal for us, though, was getting to know the Papa family [the owners of Mike’s] and all the folks from Mike’s and realizing what great people they all are,” Kast said. “Mike’s has been able to maintain its legendary status because the folks there are such a big part of the local community, and that’s something we really admire and look for when collaborating with other companies.”

I’m a bit of a cannoli skeptic—there’s just too much room for error in this particular dessert—and I’m also a dessert-stout skeptic of the highest order. These beers frequently take on a thick, almost syrupy texture and often strike me as heavy and overwhelming. But when I first sipped the Harpoon x Mike’s stout, I was pleasantly surprised by its comparatively light weight. The Harpoon team included Mike’s cannoli shells in the brewing process. “For the cannoli shells, we treated them just like a specialty malt,” Kast said. “So we crushed them up and added them straight into the mash at the start of the brewing process. Like the rest of the grain bill, the shells add some fermentable sugars to the wort, but also add in a subtle fried dough-like note.” 

Other ingredients added to the brew include vanilla, cacao nibs, and lactose, which result in a silky mouthfeel and a multilayered, dessert-friendly flavor profile with a welcome backbone of bitter notes and a slight whisper of acidity. The beer rings in at a moderate 7.3% ABV, and while it pairs nicely with a dessert course—especially one involving cannoli—its dimensionality and appealingly gentle sweetness let it stand alone as a digestif on par with other Italian-inspired sippers such as amaro.

Harpoon and Mike’s Pastry Cannoli Stout will be available for purchase throughout New England and in other select markets until March 31, and interested parties can find out whether they can access this beer by looking up their location on Harpoon’s Beer Finder. Kast hopes that this collab will be the first of many for Harpoon. “We're always looking to give beer drinkers something to get excited about and are constantly churning out new pilot beers at our Boston and Vermont breweries,” he said. “Anyone who knows New England knows that there are few things locals love more than celebrating the people and the brands that make our home special, so any time we can align that with a beer idea, we’re always game.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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