The mood on the Red Line is hushed, stagnant, and meditational, with serious signs of climatological schizophrenia in the patchwork of clothing scattered throughout the cab: Octogenarians of varying ethnicity stitched up tight in heavy winter coats; pearloid legs with fresh razor burns jutting out of seasonally premature daisy dukes; compression sleeves stretched taut over impossibly brawny calves and descending into battered running shoes. Save for the numinous keening of aggrieved children, the incoherently rhotic crackle of station names, and the occasional robotic sputters of pre-recorded PSAs instructing us to say something if we see something, all is quiet. It is the day after the 118th Boston Marathon, and I am on my way to the Harpoon Brewery.
Harpoon is tucked back amongst wharf detritus and plumes of geometric architecture in the northeast terminus of South Boston. I exit the Silver Line at Northern Ave with a gaggle of neon-cloaked runners, most of whom are hobbling stiff-legged down the curb and clutching bags from the Sam Adams brewery tour. The air is warm and humid, the sunlight dirty and diffuse. A tall black fence hugs the perimeter and wrought iron Harpoon logos adorn the tips. In spite of the clearly marked trail, I manage to veer off course to a loading dock and inadvertently bump into Merrill Allen - Communications Manager at Harpoon and brewer of the Kettle Cup 2014 winner, Citra Victorious - who kindly directs me to the visitor entrance.
Inside, I don a pair of OSHA goggles and queue up behind a raucous group of discordant accents while our tour guides, Matt and Alex, strain against the deafening roar of the kegging plant to our left. The oldest continually operating brewery in Massachusetts, Harpoon was founded in 1986 under the name “Mass Bay Brewing Co.” as part of Rich Doyle’s senior project at Harvard Business school. Rich and his partner, Dan Kenary, wanted to bring European beer culture to the US, so they tapped Russ Heissner, a fermentation whiz at UC Davis, who developed a proprietary yeast strain that they mixed with barley, hops, and (surprise!) good old Boston tap water to create their debut Harpoon Ale. This was the dawn of the local craft brewing revolution – so early, that Rich and Dan were granted commercial brewers license #001. They bought a cheap waterfront depot that once housed Navy destroyers, and 28 years later they’re a two brewery operation with 250 employees, a keg racking plant, two bottling plants, a beer hall, and vendors in 26 states.
Facts are fun, but beer is better. With over 20 taps to choose from, there’s plenty of ways to pickle your liver – but these are my top three from the current roster:
H2: This uncommonly hoppy hef is intensely topaz yellow, bitterly balanced, and capable of delivering some deliciously floral burps thanks to its commanding effervescence (author’s note: delicious to me. May not appeal to less barbaric palates, so please burp responsibly).
Leviathan Imperial IPA: Flooded with Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial, and Chinook hops, this gorgeous carnelian tipple oozes citrus and pine against a boozy backdrop that’s 10% ABV. Like candy for grownups.
Black Forest: Imagine drunk bobbing for tart cherries in an ambrosial ocean of dark chocolate, and you’re pretty close. This intoxicating Porter is black-brown bacchanalian nectar, and only available for a limited time.