Category Archives: Bars

Barfly’s View: Watch City Brewing Co. in Waltham, MA

Watch City Brewing Company Waltham MA

I’ve been drinking at Watch City Brewing Co. in Waltham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, for years, and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the brewpub. (Waltham is known as The Watch City due to a massive, but now-defunct Watch Factory that’s not far from the brewpub.)

I love Watch City Brewing because I love the area it is in; Moody St. in Waltham is the city’s “restaurant row,” and it’s packed with unique bars and eating establishments. The people who work at Watch City, or “The Watch,” are also great, and I know a number of them well. And the atmosphere is unique, thanks to a number of different styles of clocks on the walls alongside a bunch of local artwork.

But the beer at Watch City is subpar, plain and simple, especially for a joint that prides itself on brewing. I’ve honestly never had one single brew at Watch City that really impressed me. And I’ve had all of its flagship brews many times, as well as lots of other beers Watch City makes. They’re all just kind of “meh.” And The Watch really needs to clean its tap lines more frequently.

Watch City Brewing Company Waltham Massachusetts

Watch City makes decent food, but it’s way overpriced. The bar itself has uncomfortable wooden seats that are fixed to the ground so you can even shift them into a more comfortable position. And again, the beer is weak. That’s hard to ignore.

If a beer nerd asked me for recommendations in Waltham, I’d have a hard time suggesting Watch City. I’d be much more likely to recommend The Gaff or Bison County Bar and Grill, both of which are located on Moody St., and both of which have impressive craft beer selections.

I honestly wish I had more good things to say about Watch City. But as I wrote earlier this week sometimes bad people drink really good beer. And on the flip side, good people sometimes make not-so-great beer.

UBN

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Barfly’s View: Cantillon Zwanze Day 2012 at Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA

Zwanze Day 2012 at Lord Hobo

Yesterday, Saturday, December 1, 2012, was Cantillon Zwanze Day, and beer nerds across the world simultaneously celebrated by toasting this year’s Zwanze lambic at 3 PM ET. (Zwanze 2012 continued to be poured until it ran out, but the official toast was at 3PM.)

I attended the Zwanze Day festivities at Lord Hobo, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a medium-size, dimly lit bar just outside the city’s Kendall Square neighborhood, home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—and the Cambridge Brewing Co., my favorite Boston-area brewpub.

Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA

The 2012 Zwanze lambic, a recreation of the original 2008 Zwanze lambic made with rhubarb, was poured at 3PM, but wise beer nerds arrived at Lord Hobo hours before the pour. I walked through the doors of Lord Hobo and pushed back the thick curtain that covers the bar just after noon, and it was already packed; my girlfriend and I were able to nab two seats at a communal table, but the bar and most of the other tables were full three hours before Zwanze was poured. The staff stopped letting people in around 1:30, and by 3 o’clock a line of 20 or so drinkers were lined up outside—in the snow—along the front of the bar.

Barfly's View Lord Hobo Zwanze Day

Lord Hobo is known for its extensive bottle and draft list, and the staff took it a step further for Zwanze Day, with 9 different Cantillon lambics available in bottles and an extremely-rare, unblended two-year old Cantillon lambic on tap, in addition to countless other rare beers, including the 2003 Anchor Brewing Our Special Ale, a 2005 Dogfish Head Pangea and multiple Hill Farmstead brews in bottle and on draft. I can honestly say that Lord Hobo’s Zwanze Day 2012 beer list was the most impressive list I’ve ever seen.

Cantillon Zwanze Day 2012 Tap List at Lord Hobo

To kill time until the Zwanze 2012 pour, my girl and I sidled up to a few Cantillon bottles (Cantillon’s 2012 Fou’ Foune and 2012 Kriek 100% Lambic), a couple of glasses of the two-year-old unblended lambic and some grub; I got fried chicken and waffles and the chef made a special vegan-friendly dish for the lady. Lord Hobo’s menu is not at all vegan or even vegetarian friendly, but we were pleased to see that both our waiter and the chef were more than willing to whip up a vegan offering. They came up with a fruit/granola dish along with hash and a fried-rice patty thing that was much more than either of us expected. And the service at Lord Hobo, even during the crazy period just before and just after the Zwanze toast, was impeccable.

Cantillon Two-Year-Old Unblended Lambic

Glasses of Two-Year-Old Cantillon Unblended Lambic

Just before 3PM, the owner of the bar stood up on a chair to address all of the anxious beer nerds awaiting the Zwanze. He spoke about how important the Cantillon brewery and its head brewer Jean Van Roy are to him personally and why it was an honor to host Zwanze Day at Lord Hobo. You could feel real passion in the man’s words, and everyone else in the bar fed off of his energy; the noise level in Lord Hobo immediately increased. When the Zwanze was poured and distributed—six ounces each for about 100 people in the bar—and three o’clock came around, everyone raised their glasses in a salute to Lord Hobo and the Van Roy family and yelled out in unison, “Cheers!” It was a special moment, and I am glad to have been a part of it.

Two Glasses of 2012 Cantillon Zwanze lambic

Glasses of Cantillon’s 2102 Zwanze

I visit Lord Hobo relatively frequently, but I’d never been to a Zwanze Day celebration there. The next time I stop by for a brew, which will likely be sooner than later, I’ll picture the barroom filled with excited Cantillon drinkers, all of the tables covered with spent bottles, and I’ll remember that Lord Hobo is not just another beer bar. Lord Hobo is run by people who love beer and brewing as much as I do, and the bar and its staff deserve to be recognized for that.

If you’re ever in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I strongly suggest you make some time for a beer or six at Lord Hobo.

UBN

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Reminder: Cantillon Zwanze Day 2012 is Saturday, December 1

Just a quick reminder that the 2012 Cantillon Zwanze Day is this Saturday, December 1. Lambic, sour and Belian-beer lovers won’t want to miss it. The 2012 Zwanze lambic is a reproduction of the 2008 Zwanze brew, and it will be made with rhubard. More details on Zwanze Day and all the 31 official locations across the globe can be found here. I’ll be attending the event at Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA. If you’re there, just scream, “Yo, Urban Beer Nerd, where you at?” and I’ll come say hello. Cheers, salute, slainte, prost and all that good shit.

UBN

Image via 100Beers30Days.com

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Barfly’s View: Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub in Portland, ME

Gritty McDuff's Brew Pub in Portland, Maine

Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub in Portland, Maine’s Old Port neighborhood is “Maine’s original brew pub”—it was Maine’s first brew pub since the end of prohibition, and it opened in 1988. I stopped by Gritty’s for a few pints a couple of weeks ago during Portland Beer Week, and it turned out to be one of my favorite watering holes I found in a city that’s packed with quality drinking establishments.

The brew pub is just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, and you can see the waterfront area through a back window on clear days. The bar is topped with shiny, battered copper. The bartender was friendly and quick to offer recommendations for other nearby bars and attractions. I didn’t have any food, but I Gritty’s offers a wide range of pub grub.

All of the “real ales” at Gritty McDuff’s are brewed on premise, and it shows; the beers I had were extremely fresh. I’d had a few different Gritty’s beers before my visit; Gritty’s Black Fly Stout isn’t difficult to find in my home city of Boston. But the draft version I had at the brew pub was even more delicious, a truly fine stout.

Gritty McDuff's Mug Club mugs

Gritty’s Mug Club mugs hanging above the bar

Gritty’s regulars can pay $75 a year to join its Mug Club, which gets you a 21-ounce, white ceramic mug of your own and five more ounces of brew for the same price as the standard 16-ounce pints. Five-year Mug Club members get special colored mugs that are even larger. And every Gritty’s pub—there are two more of them, in Freeport and Lewiston/Auburn, Maine—offers two-dollar drafts for Mug Club members two nights a week.

If you’re ever in Portland and have a hankerin’ for a real ale, you’ll find a friend in Gritty McDuff’s.

UBN

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5 Maine Breweries That Should be on Your Radar

State of Maine Map

Earlier this month, I hopped a train from Boston to Portland, Maine for Portland Beer Week. And I quickly realized that Portland is not only a beautiful city on the Atlantic ocean, but it has an amazing craft beer scene. Portland and the entire state of Maine are home to a handful of world-class breweries and beer bars.

Here’s a list of five Maine breweries you should be aware of, two of which you’ve probably heard of and three you’ll very likely be hearing more about in the not-too-distant future.

1) Allagash Brewing Co.

Allagash Brewing Co. Dubble Ale

Portland-based Allagash is already well known, thanks to its top-notch Belgian-style white ale, which is available throughout the United States. In fact, many folks outside of New England simply call that white ale “Allagash,” and they’re not aware that the brewery also makes a number of additional high-quality Belgian styles. (I’m partial to its Confluence wild ale and Hugh Malone Belgian IPA.) Read more about Allagash on the brewery’s website.

2) Maine Beer Co.

Maine Beer Company's Lunch IPA

Maine Brewing Company, also based in Portland, is the Maine brewery that I’m most impressed with. I’ve been drinking Maine Beer Co. brews for a couple of years now, and I’ve never met one I did not like. I would be very surprised if the popularity of this small, humble Maine brewery—with the motto, “Do what’s right”—doesn’t spread like wild fire through the United States and beyond. Maine Beer’s Lunch IPA is one of the best IPAs I have ever had. (Read my review of Lunch here.) Learn more about Maine Beer Co. on the brewer’s website.

3) Oxbow Brewing Co.

Oxbow Brewing Co. goblet glass

Oxbow Brewing Co. in New Castle, Maine, calls itself an American farmhouse brewery that makes “loud beer from a quite place.” I attended an Oxbow tap takeover at Novare Res Bier Cafe during Portland Beer Week, and I was very impressed with the range and quality of the brews. I had a fantastic IPA with tropical-citrus flavors and Brettanomyces called Funkhaus, and another solid IPA called Freestyle No. 8, both of which were complex and unique. Learn more about Oxbow Brewing Co. on the brewer’s website.

4) Bull Jagger Brewing Co.

Bull Jagger Brewing Co. logo

Bull Jagger is a newcomer to the Portland, Maine beer scene, but it’s quickly making a name for itself with some solid lagers and other noteworthy brews, including a fantastic porter, called Baltic Porter No. 19. I also attended a Bull Jagger tap takeover during Portland Beer Week, and I was very impressed with a tart, strawberry infused limited-release lager called WILD BJ. Visit the brewer’s website for more information.

5) Shipyard Brewing Co.

The Shipyard Brewing Co.

You’ve very likely heard of Portland’s Shipyard Brewing Co., makers of the insanely popular fall seasonal Pumpkinhead ale. (FWIW, I hate pumpkin beers; here’s why.) Shipyard also brews an export lager that’s widely distributed across the United States. I visited Shipyard’s brewery while in Portland, and as a New Englander, I’ve been drinking Shipyard brews for years. My favorite is probably its Monkey Fist IPA. For more on Shipyard Brewing Co., visit the brewer’s website.

(Honorable mentions: Baxter Brewing Co.; D.L Geary Brewing Company; and Rising Tide Brewing Co.)

UBN

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Pretty Things to Launch New ‘Once Upon a Time, Old Beer’ Dec. 9 in Boston

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project OUAT Old Beers

The Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project on Saturday announced via Twitter that it will pour four beers from its Once Upon a Time collection of “old beers” at Deep Ellum in Boston’s Allston neighborhood on Sunday, December 9, including a least one brand new brew called 1879 IPA

Pretty Things is a small, Somerville-Massachusetts based brewery that’s making waves on the New England craft beer scene thanks to some great beers, unique bottle art and a lots of grassroots marketing. (I sat down for a chat with Pretty Things brewers Dann and Martha Paquette a couple of weeks ago.) Pretty Things’ Once Upon a Time Old Beers are recreations of lost styles of beer brewed in the 1800s and early 1900s.

From Pretty Things:

“Our historical projects begin by working with brewing historians such as our present collaborator: Ron Pattinson, a resident of Amsterdam. Ron provides us with brewsheets and insight from breweries often long shuttered. These sheets are the actual records written in the brewer’s hand at the moment he was brewing a batch of beer. This allows us to reach through the mists of time and pick up exactly where they left off.

“We do not interpret or attempt to commercialize these beers in any manner. In fact you have our pledge that if history presents us with a less-than-desirable beer, you will taste this beer as it was. That’s our unique commitment to you.

“Why do we do this? We do this because no one else does. We do this because despite the fact that beer played a much more significant role in our cultures years ago, we’re still unclear of what it actually tasted like. This is of significant interest to us and hopefully you too.”

The initiative is not unlike Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales effort, but Pretty Things focuses on a very different era of brewing.

It’s unclear whether or not the additional three OUAT beers Pretty Things plans to pour on December 9 will also be new or if they’re previously released Old Beers. I’ve had a number of the OUAT beers, and they’re all interesting, particularly the “X Ales” from 1838 and 1945, which were based on recipes for similar English mild ales made almost a hundred years apart.

If you’re in the Boston area on December 9, swing by Deep Ellum and get your Old Beer on.

Learn more about the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project on PrettyThingsBeerToday.com.

UBN

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Pucker Up: 12 Sour Beers that’ll Have You Hooked in No Time

Russian River Supplication Sour Ale

Sour beers aren’t for everyone. They’re definitely an acquired taste, and not everyone will acquire the taste for tart ales. Those who are daring enough to push their beer boundaries a bit, however, will very likely be rewarded. (Check out this post for details on the difference between “sour beer” and “wild beer.”)

I started drinking sour beers about a year ago, and I’m absolutely hooked today. It took a bartender at the Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston, Mass., to convince me to give sours a try beyond that first challenging sip. Now the first thing I do when I visit a beer bar is scan the draft/bottle list for sours.

It pays to start off slowly when wading into the waters of sour ales, though. The following list spotlights a dozen of my favorite sour beers, starting with some less-challenging sours and finishing up with some seriously sour brews. Most of these beers, with a few exceptions, can be found in quality craft beer shops throughout the United States. (Note: The Russian River beers at the bottom of the list are very hard to find outside of California, but they’re so damn good, I had to include them.)

UBN

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Barfly’s View: Novare Res Bier Café in Portland, Maine

Novare Res Bier Café in Portland, Maine

Last week I traveled to Portland, Maine, for a few days to celebrate Portland Beer Week. Portland is an amazing New England city by the sea that’s packed with great restaurants, quality breweries and brewpubs, and top-notch beer bars. I hit up nearly a dozen different bars in Portland, but one in particular really stood out: Novare Res Bier Café.

Novare Res is a dark, semi-subterranean beer bar with brick columns and other brick accents, and Belgian-themed decorations throughout, which make for a very cool, laid-back atmosphere. The beer list is amazing; Novare Res has 25 rotating drafts, two hand-pumped casks and more than 500 bottles—I drank some very hard-to-find Cantillon Lambics, Vigneronne and Saint Lamvinus. And Novare Res spotlighted a number of Maine brewers I’d never heard of, as part of Portland Beer Week. (Shout out to Oxbow Brewing Co. and Bull Jagger Brewing Co., two awesome Maine breweries that put on noteworthy events at Novare Res last week.)

Novare Res Bier Café in Portland, Maine

The bar serves a number of meat-and-cheese hors d’oeuvres, and a few small meals, but it’s the beer not the food that makes Novare Res shine. The bartenders are also very knowledgeable and friendly. In fact, one particularly-cool bartender noticed that I was drinking sour beers and went out of his way to let me know that a nearby Japanese noodle bar had one of my favorite gueuzes, Tilquin, on draft. (If you read this, thanks man, the gueuze—and gyoza—at Pai Men Miyake was awesome.)

Boston is home to some world-class beer bars that I frequent. I travel fairly often, and I make it a point to visit all the best beer bars wherever I roam—hence, my collection of Barfly’s Views. In other words, I know my beer bars. But I was blown away by Novare Res Bier Café. Novare Res is not only the best beer bar I found in Portland, it’s one of the best beer bars I’ve ever been to. If you find yourself in Portland, Maine, you need to get your ass over to Novare Res.

UBN

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Get Your Cantillon Zwanze on Saturday, December 1, 2012

Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon bottles

Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon, one of the world’s finest Belgian-Lambic beer brewers, is holding its annual Zwanze Day celebration on Saturday, December 1, 2012, in 31 cities across the globe, and 16 of those locations are bars in the United States.

If you’re a fan of Lambic, gueuze or other sour beers—and you’re near one of the few official Zwanze Day bars—this is an event you don’t want to miss.

From Cantillon.be:

“Seeing that we had received numerous requests to organise a Zwanze Day this year we decided to recreate the very first Zwanze produced in 2008. As a reminder, that year’s vintage had been brought about by soaking rhubarb in Lambic. The ultimate result of that experiment was a very delicate and complex product in which the beer’ acidic taste struck a very nice balance with the plant’s tartness and then lingered long on the palate.

“For this new production batch we decided to work with organically-grown rhubarb, and you can really taste this in the beer, which is more structured and full-bodied than the 2008 vintage. We opted to recreate the rhubarb Lambic because very few consumers had been able to taste this beer 4 years ago, when only 300 litres had been produced. On top of this, unlike fruit crops, rhubarb production was not adversely affected by the very poor weather which hit Europe this spring. And finally, the last, perhaps most important reason of all for bringing back Zwanze 2008: my wife tells me it’s one of her favourites.”

Here’s a list of all the Zwanze Day bars/cities:

America – USA:

  • Armsby Abbey – Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Avenue Pub – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • ChurchKey – Washington, D.C.
  • Crooked Stave Barrel Cellar – Denver, Colorado
  • Holy Grale – Louisville, Kentucky
  • Hop and Vine – Portland, Oregon
  • Lord Hobo – Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Monk’s Café – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Novare Res Bier Café – Portland, Maine
  • REAL a gastropub – Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Redlight Redlight – Orlando, Florida
  • Spuyten Duyvil – Brooklyn, New York
  • The Foundry – Kansas City, Missouri
  • The Trappist – Oakland, California
  • Toronado – San Diego, California
  • West Lakeview Liquors – Chicago, Illinois

America – Canada:

  • Canada – Montréal : Dieu du Ciel

Europe :

  • Belgium – Brussels : Moeder Lambic Fontainas
  • Belgium – Brussels : Moeder Lambic Saint-Gilles
  • Belgium – Arlon : Mi-Orge Mi-Houblon
  • France – Paris : La Fine Mousse
  • France – Lille : La Capsule
  • Great Britain – London : The Earl of Essex
  • Italy Rome : Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà
  • Italy Bergamo : The Dome
  • Italy Nicorvo : Sherwood Pub
  • Italy – Quinto Vicentino : The Drunken Duck
  • Italy – Quartu Sant’Elena : Ristopub Margherita
  • Norway – Grimstad : Nøgne Ø
  • Finland Helsinki : Pikkulitu
  • Denmark Copenhagen : Olbutikken
  • Netherlands – Amsterdam : De Bierkoning
  • Sweden Stockholm : Akkurat
  • Spain – Sant Joan de Mediona : Masia Agullons

Asia:

  • Japan – Tokyo: Embassy of Belgium

I will most definitely be attending the Zwanze Day event at Lord Hobo in Cambridge, Mass. As far as I can tell, you don’t need tickets for any of these events; they’re first come, first serve. I was fortunate enough to find bottles of Cantillon Vigneronne and Saint Lamvinus last week at Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, Maine, two fantastic Lambics made with grapes, and I seriously can’t stop thinking about them. And Cantillon Zwanze Day 2012 can’t get here soon enough.

UBN

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It’s the Pretty Things in Life…

The Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Last night, I was fortunate to meet and chat with Dann and Martha Paquette from The Beer Things Beer and Ale Project at a “pint night” event at The Gaff bar in Waltham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. (Check out my recent Barfly’s View of The Gaff.)

Pretty Things is a Somerville, Massachusetts-based brewing duo that’s grabbing a lot of attention in the Boston area right now thanks to some unique, quality brews, cool bottle art and good ol’ grass roots marketing—Dann and Martha frequently visit local bars and restaurants to spread the word about Pretty Things.

One of my favorite things about Pretty Things is that Dann and Martha never really make standard styles of beer, meaning most of their brews are original takes on well-known styles. They’re always coming up with something new and different, and best of all, unique. On the flip side, Pretty Things also brews “Old Beers” as part of its Once Upon a Time lineup, in which the brewers painstakingly recreate beers of yore based on ancient recipes.

I’ve been drinking Pretty Things beers for a couple of years now, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad Pretty Things brew. Dann and Martha make a killer IPA called Meadowlark. I’m also fond of their export stout, Babayaga; and their flagship saison, Jack D’Or.

The Pretty Things website only lists venues in Mass., Rhode Island, New York and Pennsylvania where you can find Dann and Martha’s beer, but I spotted some of the brewers’ unmistakable bottles during a recent trip to San Diego at the Best Damn Beer Shop.

Keep an eye out for Pretty Things, and if you’re fortunate enough to spot a bottle in your local shop or a Pretty Things brew on draft, purchase one and drink it post haste. After all, it’s the pretty things in life that count.

Learn more about Dann and Martha and Pretty Things on PrettyThingsBeerToday.com.

UBN

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