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A tale of a great beer city: Craft beer in Boston

Wednesday - 4/16/2014, 7:17am  ET

GranaryTavern1.jpg
WTOP Beer Contributor Rob Fink recently traveled to Boston for Extreme Beer Fest and sipped his way though the city. He gives recommendations for Boston's best beer spots. (Courtesy Rob Fink)
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By Rob Fink
WTOP Beer Contributor

WASHINGTON -- Boston: It's one of the premier craft beer cities in the country.

From the original Boston Beer Company to nascent upstarts such as Trillium or Night Shift, the Boston area is teeming with breweries seeking to continually redefine and expedite the evolution of craft beer.

Similarly, the Boston area boasts its share of reputable craft beer bars and restaurants, from the loveable grit of The Publick House and Sunset Grill and Tap to the radiant sheen of Row 34 and Lord Hobo, all of which help define what is a top-tier craft beer city.

I recently traveled to Boston for my fifth Extreme Beer Fest (EBF), a festival organized by the hard-working folks at BeerAdvocate. Over the years, EBF has become the embodiment, or at the very least, the "State of the Union" of craft beer, proving time and again that craft beer is not teetering off the edge. If anything, it's only strengthening its armor.

Below is rundown of my latest Boston adventure and best bets for craft beer lovers.

Row 34

Fresh off the plane and hungry for lunch, I headed to recently opened Row 34, a highly acclaimed oyster and craft beer bar. The restaurant's natural light and tall windows give you the impression of being outside while enjoying the comfort of the indoors.

The food and beer did not disappoint. Spicy lobster tacos fired on all cylinders while Mahr's Ungespundet-hefetrüb (a delicious German Kellerbier) served as a palate cleanser and excellent overall accompaniment.

Unfortunately, the service was not on par with the delicious fare; it was painfully slow despite not being that busy (at least half of the tables were empty during lunch). If you're town, it's still worth checking out, but you're better off cozying up to the bar for faster service.

Lord Hobo

I make sure to stop into Lord Hobo every time I'm in Boston. It's arguably the preeminent craft beer bar in Cambridge.

Lord Hobo does a wonderful job pouring beers from the West Coast, especially ones that are difficult and/or impossible to snag on the East Coast (Lost Abbey Deliverance and Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin are both on draft).

However, the bar does not dismiss local favorites such as Jack's Abby, Trillium, and Cambridge Brewing Company.

My favorite beer at this spot was a peanut butter and raspberry-infused version of Jack's Abby Framinghammer, a sturdy 10 percent lager-fermented, bourbon barrel-aged Baltic porter.

Virtually every component of the flavor profile could be discerned while being seamlessly integrated, and somehow, the overall balance never waned.

I will remember that beer for a long time.

Sunset Grill and Tap

Sunset Grill and Tap boasts one of the largest draft selections in the entire Boston area, and it's location is an easy choice for an after-dinner beverage.

I only had one beer here, and thankfully I made a great choice. John Laffler, the man who at one time was in charge of Goose Island's barrel-aging program, teamed up with Dave Bleitner, formerly of Two Brothers (both were previously interns at Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing) to form Off Color Brewing in 2013.

One of the brewery's first releases of 2014 was Dinos'mores, a 10.7 percent ABV imperial stout, brewed with marshmallows, graham crackers, cacao nibs and vanilla beans. American imperial stouts are often very fully bodied with considerable residual sweetness. However, Dinos'mores was pleasingly dry for the style, which beautifully off-set the impression of sweetness from the chocolate and vanilla additions.

Granary Tavern

On the Saturday morning of EBF, my group picked Granary Tavern to alleviate our lack of sustenance and our headache surplus from the night before.

I found solace -- or a rationalization -- that I was following the protocol of my Bavarian ancestors by ameliorating my situation with a hardy mid-morning breakfast and of course, more beer.

Delicious egg omelette with ham and caramelized white onions? Check. Fresh pint of Troegs Nugget Nectar? Check.

Night Shift

After a wonderful brunch at Granary Tavern, and with plenty of time on our hands before EBF, my group decided it would be a good idea to walk 3.4 miles through the north end of Boston, over the Mystic River (there were no wooded areas to travel through, unfortunately) and all the way to Night Shift Brewing in Everett, Mass.

All and all, Night Shift was worth the trip. All of the brewery's beers tend to operate on a Belgian paradigm, defined by boundless American bravado.

I tried the pepper beer, Viva Habanera. Brewed with copious amounts of malted rye and agave nectar, Viva Habanera is then aged on fresh habanero peppers post-fermentation.

There wasn't much residual sweetness to off-set the heat, but the beer didn't need it as the habanero presence was prevalent, but not overbearing. I enjoyed it as an aperitif. The restrained intensity of the habanero enlivened the palate while the beer's dryness beckoned another sip and asked that I continue drinking.

EBF

Extreme Beer Fest is an event that merges brewing prowess and ingenuity where style boundaries are stretched by non-traditional brewing techniques and ingredients. This year was certainly no different.

Held in the Seaport World Trade Center for the first time, this year's festival took advantage of the larger venue and brought together over 300 beers from over 70 breweries.

Below are my top three beers from EBF:

  1. French Toast Double Brown from Funky Buddha: An amplified interpretation of traditional English brown ale is morphed into breakfast incarnate by purposeful inclusions of maple syrup, cinnamon and other adjunct ingredients reminiscent of your favorite breakfast.

  2. Bo & Luke from Against the Grain: Beautiful layers of subdued smolder coalesced into rounded vanilla notes which effortlessly balanced the charred roast of the base beer, while the Pappy Van Winkle did its magic to join together the flavors in harmonious fashion. What a beer.

  3. Mornin' Delight from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company: Powerful wafts of roasted coffee, milk chocolate, sweet molasses and maple syrup overflowed out of my 4-ounce plastic cup -- all despite the small sample size. Far and away my favorite of my entire Boston trip.

Editor's Note: Rob Fink lives in Arlington, Va., and is an avid homebrewer. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink. Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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