Some showcase breweries like Boston Brewing Company excel at welcoming visitors, making them feel valued, ensuring they have a wonderful time in their space but without actually taking you into the main brewing area where all the actual work takes place. Others invite visitors into their actual brewing, packaging and warehousing areas so you can see for yourself just how big their tanks are and feel you have been allowed into a special place. Located in Boston, Harpoon Brewery is that sort of show-you-everything facility.
While serving pretzels, mustard and beer pre-tour may have been something specially laid on for the Beer Bloggers Conference attendees… their tour path is marked out and clearly regularly used. The sheer scale of the place (for a craft brewery) is meant to impress and it does.
Beginning in the warehousing area, surrounded by towering stacks of skids of beer, we were welcomed by one of the founders Rich Doyle. He gave a brief history of the brewery (it was founded in 1986) and explained Harpoon is the largest craft brewery in Boston. Their large facility has ample parking for tourist buses, public dropping by to purchase beer, and party goers.
Harpoon is a destination for many social events and corporate functions. It has long tables and benches for food/beer pairings and an incredibly long bar which serves from all sides, which means Harpoon can easily entertain hundreds of people at once with separation between groups.
However I have to point out that when you have a room with hard wooden surfaces, music and 300 people all drinking and talking, it becomes incredibly difficult to hear and they would be well served by bringing in an acoustical engineer to do some sound dampening or they potentially will have lawsuits from employees affected by significant hearing loss. That however is the only negative I can offer about Harpoon’s operation.
For us, the reason Harpoon was an interesting highlight of the weekend was the actual brewing facility tour.
I was impressed by how big shiny and super clean everything was. But even after so many brewery tours and visiting Alan at the Niagara College teaching brewery, I can only start to recognize fermenters, test systems, etc. However a tour like Harpoon’s for a bunch of beer geeks is a real treat. With the Beer Bloggers, it quickly became apparent there were three types of people in the crowd:
1. Those who were the beer aficionados (for whom the tour was interesting for a quick look-see but don’t actually know or care a lot about the brewing process.) Once they downed their welcoming beer and the tour started, they moved very quickly to get to the end where they knew more beer tasting would be waiting for them. First up and last up to the bar, these folk were generally the group that drank the most. Some of them snapped a few quick photos but some of this group of conference attendees don’t actually even blog – they simply attend to try more beer and connect with other people who love craft beer as much as they do.
2. The serious bloggers who wanted photos for their blog, details on what is brewed there, and jotted notes along the way. They were more knowledgeable, took time to appreciate the tour and made notes during the tastings afterwards.
3. The all out beer geek bloggers who know a great deal not only about craft beer styles and the brewing industry, but brew themselves and along the way asked questions, took dozens of photographs, and were impressed with the operation on a totally different scale. This was a smaller group but because home-brewing is more commonplace in the U.S., this was a fully engaged group. Alan fell into this category so for me a lot of the enjoyment was really just watching him as he peered into every nook and cranny and tried to explain to me what I was seeing and why I should be impressed. When you are married to someone so passionate about beer, following them on a tour like this is just like taking a child to a candy factory or large toy store – their enjoyment is infectious!
Harpoon also provided a lovely food beer pairing menu and sample sheet which provided information about what was provided to taste. Good brew pubs also provide this ‘flight’ of beers. I have no idea why beer samples are called flights (as are wine samples) but here’s a good article that gives as good an explanations as I could find: http://craftbeertasters.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/todays-word-beer-flight/
There are several advantages of a flight. The serving size is usually small 2-4 ounces so you can try a variety of beers and don’t order and pay for a large glass only to discover you don’t actually like the taste. Flights are usually placed on a tray in a specific order (some places don’t serve their flights in a linear line but hopefully in that case the server does their job and indicates what they recommend as the starting beer and what order to move around the circle). Sampling in the appropriate order means that the taster usually is moving from a lighter more delicate tasting less hoppy beer towards a more full flavoured or very hoppy bitter taste. Sampling in the wrong order means your taste buds may not be able to pick out the subtle nuances of flavour of delicate beers which means you’ve just paid for something you can’t appreciate. If the server doesn’t make a suggestion, the flight isn’t presented left to right, and you don’t know the differences between an IPA, wit, pilsner, porter, etc., gamble on starting with the lightest coloured beer and move to darkest colour. The great thing about a flight of beer is that when you finish – you’ll have a good idea of what you like and if there was something you really loved, you can then order a full glass of it (and not the one that made you gag with its bitterness, sweetness, etc.) Unless Alan has already a good knowledge of beers on draught, he’ll often order a flight. Some flights are only 4 beers but some places we’ve been offer 8 samples.
As you can see by the photos, Harpoon really is an impressive facility to visit so if you are in the Boston area and you like visiting breweries, check their website for tour times.