New Pints on the Block
Photos by Adam Detour
The story goes that back before Samuel Adams was involved in politics, he was doing the important and noble work of brewing beer. These days, it’s hard to tell what Bostonians are more proud of: his legacy as a founding father or as a brewer. He may have played an instrumental role in the Boston Tea Party, but the revolution most locals are participating in today is the craft beer one.
Samuel Adams, the brewery that is his namesake, along with Harpoon, helped put Boston on the map as a beer town in the 1980s. In the last decade, as craft beer exploded, upstarts like Night Shift and Trillium carried this tradition forth, making a name for themselves by churning out highly complex and unique beers. Now Boston is undergoing something of a third wave, with the newest batch of breweries focusing on creativity just as much as community. At Lamplighter in Cambridge, Remnant in Somerville and Turtle Swamp in Jamaica Plain, folks are lining up to enjoy the newest pints on the block. We caught up with these breweries to find out what it’s like to be part of the new wave, and how Boston’s rich beer history informs their own creations.
TURTLE SWAMP BREWING
Once upon a time the area between West Roxbury and Fenway was home to 26 breweries. Businesses like the Haffenreffer Brewery sourced their water from the Stony Brook, whose meandering path and overflowing banks contributed to the swampiness of the region. The low-lying, marshy wetland between Forest Hills and Jackson Square was known as Turtle Swamp.
Over half a century after the last of these breweries closed down, Nicholas Walther and John Lincecum had the idea to open Turtle Swamp Brewing. As residents of Jamaica Plain, they wanted to create a local watering hole that could be easily accessed by the sizable and diverse population they lived amongst. They settled on 3377 Washington St., less than three blocks from where they both live as neighbors. Turtle Swamp Brewing opened its doors on Memorial Day, 2017.
The brewery, featuring one of the largest outdoor patios in Boston, is at once raw and inviting. The kegs were once housed in old refrigerators, though now Turtle Swamp has upgraded to a bar with taps, and the picnic tables inside are nestled among old pallets and shelves of equipment. Yet a warmth radiates throughout the place, and the vibe is distinctly welcoming.
“We envisioned Turtle Swamp as a second living room for the neighborhood,” says Walther. “A place people could come and hang out. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who will show up in a rainstorm for a new beer. People like beer, and they like beer that is made locally.”
The All Ears Golden Ale is made from 100% Massachusetts ingredients, with malt sourced from Valley Malt out of Hadley and hops from Four Star Farms in Northfield. Despite being a new-school brewery, Turtle Swamp has an appreciation for the old school, and the types of beer that would have been brewed in Jamaica Plain a century ago.
“As we were developing our first beers, we realized the beers that we liked the best were the ones that harkened back to the older beers that would have been made here: bitters, porters, golden and pale ales,” explains Walther. “Although the beer we make is informed by modern tastes and craft beer trends, the beers John and I like best are these older styles that a lot of craft breweries don’t make these days. But we do make a number of IPAs, too!” he adds.
This investment in what is local and authentic is central to the Turtle Swamp ethos. Walther understands how integral a brewery can be to the community, both economically and socially. “Breweries often act as economic drivers for areas that are sometimes written off,” says Walther. “They tend to be anchor businesses that can help attract other small businesses like restaurants and shops. They also provide steady jobs—from the person serving beer, to the brewer, to someone who can get a good job doing warehouse work without a college degree. I find that breweries seem to integrate themselves into local culture in a way that is somewhat a cross between the local pub and the local sports team.”
In that sense, Turtle Swamp certainly has a lot of people rooting for it. This spring they will have their first sour on tap, appropriately named “FINE. A Sour Beer,” a rose-gold, low-alcohol (3.75% ABV) sipper that features tart notes from hibiscus petals and just a hint of sarcasm.
Across the Charles River from Turtle Swamp, in Union Square’s vibrant Bow Market, is Remnant Brewing: a coffee shop, brewery and gathering space nestled amongst the small-scale eateries and boutiques that comprise the market. The brewery is an anchor amidst the commerce, a place where the food purchased from nearby vendors can be washed down with the eclectic and delicious beers on offer.
Remnant is one of the newest establishments in town, but you wouldn’t know that from the sophisticated beverages on tap. On a hot day on the dog-friendly patio, the Space Junk—a mango farmhouse sour—is as refreshing as they come, with a tart punch and plenty of body. And the Dream Pop—an oat pale ale with a lovely citrus finish—is refreshing just about any time.
Remnant is aware of the tradition in which it arose. “Our name, Remnant Brewing, was inspired not only by our location in Bow Market, which is a remnant of Union Square’s industrial past, but also by the centuries-long tradition of brewing in Massachusetts,” says General Manager Brittany Lajoie. “Somerville is the most densely populated and one of the most diverse cities in New England,” she continues. “It has a rich industrial past and it is currently in a state of revitalizing its commercial districts.”
To this end, Remnant is playing its part. It is a lively space that hosts frequent events. “We strive to make Remnant Brewing more than just a place to drink great beer, but a destination for people to meet neighbors they didn’t know before, experience cool music and events and to connect with surrounding community groups,” says Lajoie.
“We’ve hosted poetry and play readings, LGBTQ socials, comedy shows, a running club and a hula hoop troupe. One of the best parts of living in a city means being around people who don’t necessarily look, think or act like you. We strive to be a place where people from all walks of life can sit and engage one another while enjoying a delicious beer.”
Perhaps the most established of the new wave of breweries, Lamplighter opened in mid-Cambridge in the fall of 2016. The facility used to be an auto repair shop called Metric Systems, and rather than sell to a developer, the father and son who owned the shop sold to a crew of beer lovers from Vermont. Their Vermont hometown—population 8,000—had four breweries, and the recent transplants couldn’t believe a hub like Cambridge had so few, so they got to work learning the craft and building out the shop, though they kept the Metric Systems sign out front.
The popularity of the brewery was evident from the start, with lines stretching down the block on weekends and weeknights alike. To help accommodate the demand, they opened a back taproom in February 2018. “We’re incredibly flattered by the neighborhood reception,” says co-founder Cayla Marvil. “The community around us could not be more supportive and amazing, and we love getting a huge range of customers—anywhere from MIT grad students to someone who’s lived in The Port for the last 50 years and has crazy stories of what this building used to be.”
These customers come for both the beer and the atmosphere. The interior features clean counters, shelves stacked with books and games and even a couch for those long sessions of imbibing, whether it’s coffee during the day or a post-work Rabbit Rabbit, their popular New England– style double IPA, clocking in at a hefty 8.5% ABV but bursting with tropical fruit amid the dank hops.
Lamplighter isn’t afraid to experiment, and clearly finds excitement in bringing the funk. “My favorite beer is Cuppa, our British ale with cold-brew coffee,” says Marvil. “It’s light, fruity, floral and very drinkable, but still complex and malt-forward. Most people shy away from it because it sounds so weird on a menu, but once you try it you can’t stop raving about it.”
Like Turtle Swamp and Remnant, Lamplighter sources ingredients from Valley Malt and Four Star Farms. Trueto their nature, they’ve also found inspiration in unlikely places. Their microbiologist, a resident of Inman Square, harvested wild yeast off of grape vines in her backyard that has found its way into some brews. And last summer they received 1,000 pounds of local blueberries to use in fruitbased sours, a shipment that Marvil says made for a “messy but fun day.”
“Craft beer is a drink that should bring people together,” concludes Marvil. “It’s accessible, it’s fun and it’s a point of pride for the local community. Our goal is to be that place and that product throughout Cambridge.”
If there’s one thing that unites these new breweries—aside from beer, of course—it’s the kinship they feel in a city committed to great beer. It doesn’t hurt that many of their employees cut their teeth at some of the bigger operations in town.
“I used to work at Harpoon,” says Turtle Swamp’s Nicholas Walther, “and it seems you can’t talk about breweries in this area without talking about the massive number of former Harpoon employees that have started breweries or work at smaller breweries these days. This has been a great boon to the area’s breweries: It’s a lot easier to coordinate, collaborate and have fun with what should be rival breweries if they’re not really rivals—they’re your peers and former co-workers, your friends.”
“We’ve had a blast watching other breweries build and open throughout the state: getting the chance to try their beer, visit their taprooms and hear their stories,” agrees Marvil. The bonds formed between these breweries have resulted in a support system conducive to creating world-class beer. “If we need an extra pallet of cans, we call Night Shift. If we need a bag of lactose, we call Aeronaut. If we need some help with sensory analysis, we call Cambridge Brewing Co.,” continues Marvil. “It’s a nice to know that we’re part of a big neighborhood that has your back.”
“One of the best aspects of the brewing world is the noncompetitive, familial relationships between breweries,” says Brittany Lajoie. “We hope when you come to Union Square that Remnant Brewing is not your only stop. The breweries in Somerville, Cambridge and Boston are making some of the best beer in the United States right now.”
Samuel Adams would be proud.
This story appeared in the Spring 2019 issue.