Somehow traveling and finding a good pub go hand in hand. To really experience a place, we like to drink the local draft. Why not make it even more fun and track down the local beverage of choice at its source?
We are living in an era of microbrewery, especially here in New England. I’ve lost track of the number of breweries, brew pups, and even small scale wineries Raven and I have dropped by. There is the Sea Dog, Bar Harbor Ales, Gritty’s, Belfast Bay Breweing Company, Furnace Brook Winery at Hilltop Orchards, Cellar Door Winery, Jost Winery, that little campground/Winery in Bactouche, Long Trail, and Sam Adams Brewery just to name the first ones that come to mind. Two that stuck out to me for being on opposite ends of the spectrum are Long Trail Brewery in Vermont and the Sam Adams Brewery in Boston.
Long Trail is fairly representative of most small scale breweries, perhaps providing a little more than most. The highlight of most small breweries is selling their product, usually driven by a brew pub on site to deliver food and samples. Long Trail has a great little pub with an assortment of tasty food – even vegetarian, thank goodness! – and a busy gift shop sporting T-shirts, caps, souvenirs, and, of course, beer, including limited edition brews. Unlike many small scale breweries, they do a very good job explaining their brewing process through a large sign and a catwalk above the brewery. You might even find an employee explaining what is going on while up there. Long Trail has a great model on being a ‘green’ brewery and they are proud to tell you about it. Between the airy pub, good food (especially the vegetarian!), great beer, and a ‘green’ emphasis that supports local farms, Raven and I were pretty impressed. I had waked into Long Trail as an occasional purchaser of their beers. I walked out a fan. A new Long Trail shirt even made it to my Yule List.
The Sam Adams Brewery for tours is located in Boston. I wouldn’t call Sam Adams a microbrewery unless I was comparing it to Budweiser or Coors. They have a known brand, a fan base, and a product that has won many awards. Boston also happens to be my favorite city in the U.S., so it is easy to like Sam Adams. There are enough flavors that finding a variety of beers to like isn’t too difficult.
Finding the Sam Adams Brewery was a mini-adventure in itself. The tour is free and gives out freebies: quite the deal! The tour is well organized but doesn’t take you far into the brewery. You stand near the vats while an employee explains the brewing process. They do a good job. There are labels and samples of grains in various roasts. But something of the pride, wealth of info, and personal touch of Long Trail just isn’t there. Sam Adams Brewery feels like a business. Long Trail Brewery feels like a family welcoming you in.
One thing I didn’t know until I went on Sam Adams our is that only 3 or 4 types of beer are made in Boston. The rest are actually made in Allentown Pennsylvania! That really surprised me and still does. The employee quickly explained that the Allentown water is specially filtered to exactly match the original water used in Boston, but . . . the image of a proud Boston product has been damaged in my mind. I’ve been to Allentown. It isn’t Boston.
The Sam Adam brewery doesn’t have a cafe, but it does offer a lesson in how to properly taste their beers and what to look for in terms of clarity, smell and color. They do this with the handout of a souvenir glass and a generous sampling of 3 beers in a little pub-esque room. The lesson s fun and can get our pretty buzzed. I did learn something about why or when a beer might be cloudy (and if that is okay or not). And I really do like the taste and variety of Sam Adams, so the free beer and lesson was great, despite a neighboring table that sounded like they had finished a pitcher in the first 5 minutes and wouldn’t settle down during the rest of the 15-20 minute presentation.
I was feeling pretty good and in need of some food after the tour. Conveniently, the gift shop to the store is located at the exit to the tasting, but nothing caught my buzzed eye. We were told of a local pub, rather well known, who would give us a discount when we flashed our tour stamp. We were showing my parents around Boston though, so that didn’t hook us. We packed our glasses and continued our day.
I left Sam Adams Brewery a little better educated but a little disappointed in the brand. Allentown, seriously? I still like the beer but after the two tours if given an option between Long Trail and Sam Adams, I’ll buy Long Trail. Of course, I’m a still a Guinness girl first when it is on draft!
What is your favorite brewery tour, pub, or brew?
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