So here we are again… talking about beer. I know, I know – it’s not as alluring as who is running for president or the gender of the latest Kardashian ba- OK I can’t even keep a straight face with that one! Now that I think about it, you should thank me for interrupting your daily news.
Really though, I can’t help it; I’m surrounded by beer – Massachusetts alone has over 60 breweries. Maybe I did move to the right place after all? Damn, that means I’ve got a lot of work to do, huh? I guess I should stop letting myself get distracted by such things as this video of a raccoon that got drunk after sneaking into a distributor’s warehouse. Seriously, it’s just so funny.
So as I sit here
stealthily placing objects on my sleeping cat to see how long until he wakes up writing, a commercial plays on my TV screen trying to encourage people to vacation in Massachusetts. (Shown repeatedly in Massachusetts – well played advertisers.) You’ve got: baseball, jumping into the Charles River, the T (really now?), penguins, and apparently cranberries. I’ve already said 60 breweries. So you see folks, it’s a good thing I’m here because otherwise I don’t think you would know about this super secret underworld of Boston beer.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Get on with it! We need another wildly fascinating introduction into one of our local breweries!” So I’ll get to it. Recently I had an open Saturday, a thirsty husband, and two friends who had never visited the Harpoon Brewery. The conditions were rife with possibility.
On the latest episode of “How to Tour Beer” you will follow along with the always adorable and ever-so-humble Ashley (Smith. Not “…and Mary-Kate Olsen”.) as she ventures into the ale-filled world of Boston’s Harpoon Brewery. Cue slightly-more-edgy version of the Full House theme song. Maybe add an electric guitar and some heavy bass.
Picture this, you’re cruising down the Zakim bridge in your red convertible with your whole family in tow (or more realistically, your red Subaru because let’s face it, you live in New England and a convertible is just a dumb idea), Atlantic breeze blowing your hair into your lip gloss. There are potholes and traffic accidents everywhere you look. Your rad, leather-wearing uncle whines, “Man, I could really use a beer right now.” You reply, “Look! The Harpoon Brewery is right over there!” Smooth Uncle J runs his comb through his greasy pompadour and declares, “Have mercy….”
Now, a trip to the Harpoon Brewery is more than just a tour. It’s a whole day of palatable fun. The tour lasts about an hour but you will be here long after that. If you know what you’re doing in terms of life-living, that is. Let me hit you with a little background… (This next scenario needs to be imagined in black and white for the full effect.)
Harpoon’s story begins the way you would expect any great beer related story to start: with a couple of dudes in college. Dude #1 (Rich Doyle) meets Dude #2 (Dan Kenary) in some sort of co-ed beer-related meet cute* at the Smash Club at some point in the ’80s. Like they both reach for the beer pong ball at the same time, or more chronologically appropriate, they find themselves tied for first place in the local bar’s George Michael look-alike contest. So embarrassing. As it turns out, the beer they drank was just no good. How rude! It wasn’t until the fellas were traveling around Europe after college that they finally experienced decent beer. “Cut. It. Out. This is what we’ve been missing this whole time?” After returning to Boston they decided it was time for a change. They partnered up with a Dude #3 (George Ligeti) and the Harpoon Brewery was born to bring deliciousness to America.
*This is all complete speculation.
So now that you know the gist, let’s get to the good stuff. You’re in the Boston area and want to see this stuff firsthand? I thought you might. Lucky for us, Harpoon Brewery opens its doors to the public with tours everyday that include a barrel of interesting information and a beer tasting.
STEP 1 // ARRIVE
The Harpoon Brewery is located in Boston’s Seaport District at 306 Northern Avenue (I’ve already stated that this is located in Boston, Massachusetts but if you’d like to send some love letters their way you can add 02210 to the end of that.) You can’t miss the giant yellow harpoon and what looks to be a fort made out of kegs by some employees who are no doubt satisfied with their career choices. Needless to say this is not where you board for the whale-watching tours.
The tours themselves cost $5 but y’all, they have free parking. I’ve mentioned before how even the sight of an open parking space in downtown Boston is like a shining beacon of hope for humanity, but a free one? Sometimes things just don’t get any better than this. Oh but then you get free beer! I should mention though that the on-site parking is limited, as is everything that is free like food samples at the grocery store and your introductory HBO offer. Really, they’ll only let you have so many mini muffins before they call store security. That being said, personally I’ve never had trouble finding parking at the brewery.
Next, as with anywhere you want to go that’s worth going, there exists a line. I’ve been told that the earlier in the day that you arrive, the shorter the line and this has proven true. No one wants to stand in that line. ⬇⬇⬇ This is quite a popular place around here and quickly becomes a, ahem, full house, especially on weekends. I mean, just look at the girl 4th from the left – she’s obviously crying. Don’t let this be you. Let the powers that be at the entrance know that you are here for a tour and they will let you know what to do next.
STEP 2 // ACQUAINT YOURSELF WITH THE BEER HALL
This part is great because BEER HALL. You are advised to arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of your tour and to kill that time they have provided you with a massive beer hall. Genius! This is not your dermatologist’s waiting room. This one serves beer, and fat pretzels, and like all the (male) employees have beards. Seriously, it’s kind of weird… is that a condition of employment?
My advice for this part of the process: order something as a tasty preview (they have a number of beers that are available exclusively at this brewery and nowhere else) and order it fast because this place is always jammed and the service is about as fast as it took those beards to grow. This beer hall may remind you of the spectacular German beer halls only without the oompah – sub Montel Jordan. It’s got the wooden love-thy-neighbor style tables in a wide-open room. But not everyone knows about Gemütlichkeit and the friendly German beer hall tradition. I’m talking to you, snotty girl saving all the seats.
STEP 3 // GOGGLE UP, MOVE IN, THE TOUR BEGINS
Safety first everyone! Before your tour can begin you must first choose a pair of goggles from the bin. I’m pretty sure they’re Gucci. They have small goggles and big ones for the 4-eyed visitors as well. I kid – y’all should have seen how thick my glasses were before I got LASIK. Or the look on the Italian optometrist’s face* when I handed her my prescription. “This must be mistake?”
The goggles are for your safety because, as you will be told, Harpoon is a working brewery and should be respected as such. “This is not Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory!” said our guide, Patrick. Me: Gasp! “He knows!” He must have read about my last brewery tour. Message received, sir! The first half of the tour takes you through a much more accurate representation of the company’s background than I have presented here, beer, brewing, and some other B words.
And since you’ve been wondering, probably since you clicked your way here, I won’t hold you in suspense any longer… Yes, you will get to smell things! Because “smelling makes the heart grow fonder.” That’s how that saying goes, right? Or is it, “I just like to smell. Smelling’s my favorite!” Either way, I possess an abnormal super-heightened sense of smell. So look out Supergirl, there’s a new super hero in town and she wears clear plastic goggles. (Sometimes this is a less-than-super power like at work when there is a chemical or sewage leak and I’m the one they call to sniff it out.) This is a favorite tour stop for me because the smell of beer ingredients takes me back to my youth. While y’all were out playing in your sandboxes and kiddie pools I was touring breweries and this is a stone-cold fact.
* Oh, by the way, I got robbed in Italy and the thief stole my glasses. What. An. Asshole.
STEP 4 // WHAT’S BETTER THAN SMELLING THINGS? TASTING THEM!
Especially when those things are beers and not burst sewage pipes. Every brewery I have toured around the country has had a different way of doing the tasting. Some involve a sit-down, beer by beer lesson on swirling, sniffing, mouth feel, etc. where only a tiny selection is individually dissected. Some are like, “Here’s a free beer sample, now get out.” Some are a little in the middle. Harpoon’s is nothing like any of those. Here, you can taste up to 12 beers and you choose which ones. This is helpful for when you are in the gift shop afterwards trying to decide which 4 or 5 cases you’d like to purchase or what you want squirted into your growler. I mean, you wouldn’t want to overdo it.
The tasting lasts approximately 15 minutes?* and you can taste as many as you’d like in that time. Just get your glass filled and return to the end of the line. If you are with a good group then this becomes sort of an awesome race against time conga line. Sometimes people just don’t get it. The tour guides are there to answer any questions you have about a particular beer but in reality the only question you need to ask is, “How much time is left?” But the real question is, “Why is your mouth available for asking questions when it should be full of beer?”
* I should probably know this since I am the fact-giver in this scenario but I was a little busy. So yeah, something around there…
And if you need a break during your sampling race, take a look at their wall of vintage beer cans. They have some pretty rad stuff up there.
STEP 5 // BECAUSE YOU’LL REGRET IT IF YOU DON’T
The bathrooms are strategically placed right outside of the tasting room and… just don’t be an idiot. There’s still like half the tour to go after this and you’ll be pissed (ha) if you skip them. It would be wise for you to take the advice of the “Nah, I’ll just wait.” queen.
STEP 6 // HANG IN THERE, YOU CAN DO IT
To end the tour you will be introduced to the canning/bottling/quality control process and why some beers just “taste like sadness”.
The tour ends where it began and yay for that because BEER HALL. Now you have all the time in the world for beers from the bar and pretzels from the kitchen. If you want to follow in my footsteps, order the Harpoon Ale (Harpoon’s original beer and my favorite – one of the handful of beers only available at the brewery), a parmesan pretzel with marinara sauce, and of course a cinnamon sugar pretzel. Yes all of that at the same time. DO IT. This is why the word “delicious” exists in our vocabulary.
STEP 7 // SHOP… FOR BEER
Harpoon Brewery has its fair share of merchandise and apparel as any gift shop worth its weight in hops does, but as a step above the rest, this one offers beer – cold, room temperature, and angry… because it’s in a growler? No? Nobody? Fine. Use all of that fancy beer information you’ve just been given and pick some good ones to take home.
STEP 8 // CHILL AND FILL (YOUR BELLIES)
You are now free to enjoy the beer hall at your own pace. I imagine rarely does the end of the tour end a person’s day at the Harpoon Brewery. At least, that’s never the case with me. Pretzel time! They have a simple menu of beer and pretzels but really, what more could you people want? This is the secret to a happy life, right behind “finding an open parking spot in the city” and “watching Mrs. Doubtfire”. Kick up your feet*, relax, enjoy the views, rock out to the music from your seat or over in the corner if you’re that kind of drinker, judge people who can’t take their eyes off their cellular.
*Don’t actually kick your feet up
Well as it must be our adventure here is ending. Cue sappy lesson-learned music and a round of generous bear hugs. But don’t worry, there are 58 more breweries just in this state alone.
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Well, it’s official – “will work for beer”. Go ahead, tell your friends – my blogging career has reached a new level. I don’t say “a new low” because I’M WORKING FOR BEER. It’s like you aren’t listening… I have finally joined the ranks of New York City subway performers, unpaid college interns, and house bands that play beach bars on weeknights.