Everything is better with beer. You knew that already, but if you needed proof, you could just take a look at the events calendar of almost any of our local breweries. There are now places in Boston for you to drink a beer while doing yoga, listening to poetry, speed dating, buying farm fresh produce, watching The Bachelorette, adopting a rescue dog, and speaking at a neighborhood zoning ordinance meeting. Breweries are great.
But not all breweries are created equal. To help you sort through them all, we visited each one and ranked them based on a combination of tap room atmosphere, beer selection, food, anything else they might offer. For the sake of defining exactly what is a Boston brewery, we limited our search to places that (1) are on the T or within a reasonable rideshare distance (sorry, Lord Hobo in Woburn), and (2) actually brew beer on site (sorry, Lord Hobo in Cambridge). That left us with 20 spots, so visit two of these a month and then come back in a year to yell at us about what we screwed up.
All the Breweries
Somerville doesn’t have much park space, so everyone hangs out at Aeronaut instead. And you know what? A giant warehouse where you can play a game of Super Mario Bros projected onto the wall and hear live music at least five nights a week is better than a park filled with people who take ultimate frisbee way too seriously, anyway. The beers are excellent, the atmosphere is fun in a camp-for-adults kind of way, and, although there’s no food, you can either bring your own, or slip into the Tasting Counter, one of the best fine dining restaurants in Boston that just happens to be hidden in a small room off the side of the brewery.
Night Shift Brewing
Night Shift’s original Everett location is close to the platonic ideal of a Boston brewery. They have a ton of excellent beer, a giant warehouse space with local art on the wall, and a patio with corn hole, dogs, and a different food truck every day. It gets really crowded as a result, but it’s the good kind of crowded where you feel like you’re at a party with people who are cooler than you, but not jerks about it. Spend a Saturday afternoon here and you’ll realize why everything that’s not a Saturday afternoon pretty much sucks.
One grey, snowy day you should wake up, tell your boss you have pink eye (there won’t be any follow-ups), and then spend the entire day at this brewery built into a converted garage in between Central and Inman. Grab a cappuccino and a breakfast taco from Pepita (the in-house coffee shop), switch over to the Rabbit Rabbit New England IPA when the beers start pouring at 11, order some takeout from the Life Alive for lunch, and then settle in on the couch in the funkier back room as the place fills up in the evening. For dinner, Lamplighter hosts a different pop-up nearly every night, which features some seriously good restaurants (like Dakzen), so try to stay sober enough to enjoy that, too.
It’s a statement that would start a lot of fights, but in our opinion, Trillium makes the best beer in Boston. Their juicy New England IPAs are on a whole different plane than just about anything we’ve ever had. And if that weren’t enough, the brewery in Fort Point has a great rooftop (though it’s almost always full) and an excellent full-service restaurant that’s worth going to even if you’re not drinking. But it doesn’t take the top spot on this list for the simple reason that, for as good as the beer and food is, this is a brewery that doesn’t feel like a brewery. There’s no live music, there are no events, and it attracts more of an after-work and beer-tourist crowd than neighborhood people.
If all the strollers, dogs, and lines at Night Shift get a little overwhelming, head down the street to Bone Up, a tiny little spot that almost has more beers on tap than people inside. It’s a funky place where the beer flights are served in muffin tins and come with a free snack. It also semi-regularly hosts what might be our favorite brewery event, when they pair up their beers with Girl Scout Cookies. Seriously - if you found out that an asteroid was hurtling towards Earth, spending your final day drinking beer and eating Girl Scout cookies would be a hell of a way to go out.
Dorchester Brewing is the only brewery where we’ve ever seen reruns of The Office projected onto the back wall. We’d like it for that reason alone, but it also helps that it usually has 22 beers on tap and a patio to drink them on (a patio that overlooks a giant, fenced-in power plant, but still). They recently opened a giant, four-season roof deck with a fireplace and a glass ceiling, and started serving some solid barbecue, making it as close to a five-tool player as you’ll find in the Boston brewery world.
The best thing about Remnant isn’t the brewery itself, but where it is: right in the middle of Bow Market, the converted warehouse in Union Square that now houses restaurants, a wine bar, a comedy club, and artisan shops selling jewelry made from reclaimed wallpaper. It’s a great place to hang out, particularly when it hosts market-wide events like their St. Patrick’s Day party or Somerfest, when you can grab a beer at Remnant and then wander around the shops. Having said that, the brewery itself is pretty great, too, especially the back patio, which hosts live music every Thursday and trivia on Tuesdays. Bonus points for the fact that it doubles as a coffee shop.
Democracy Brewing Company
Democracy Brewing has one of the most interesting looks of any Boston Brewery. Instead of a giant aluminium warehouse that may have once been a safe house for Operation Treadstone, it’s in a gorgeous vaulted-ceiling bar and feels more like an old-world beer hall. Given the space and location in Downtown Crossing, it could take the easy route and cater solely to Happy Hour and theater crowds, but it makes an effort with things like comedy shows and piano bar sing-alongs. About the only thing we don’t really like about it is the beer itself - they have fewer options than just about every other spot on this list (usually only seven to ten beers on tap) and none of them are particularly outstanding.
Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square is technically a brewery in that it, uh, brews beer. But this place is not really what you think of when you see the term “brewery” - it’s a restaurant, and one that frequently gets packed despite serving pretty standard pub food. The beer is pretty great, though. This is one of Boston’s oldest breweries, and it has a big selection as a result, including a few excellent beers, like their flagship Flower Child IPA and a great Russian stout. If you typically stay away from breweries because you only like to drink in places where you can also get buffalo chicken tenders, then this spots for you.
Other than when they’re hosting something like Brazilian music jams or comedy series, Turtle Swamp in JP tends to be one of the quieter, chiller breweries in Boston. Hanging out on the patio in this converted garage feels like being at a friend’s backyard barbecue - except you’ll be eating Oath Pizza or Masshole Donuts from a food truck instead of a hot dog that has the wrinkled skin of a 92-year-old lifeguard. It doesn’t hurt that we love their flagship Orange Line beer, either.
You shouldn’t visit Distraction in Roslindale without trying both their triple-wit hybrid and vanilla porter - two excellent beers that are just what you’re looking for when you’re bored of mediocre New England IPAs. This tiny corner spot is the smallest brewery in Boston. And while it doesn’t have much of the live music or big events you’ll find at other places in this guide, it makes up for it with a genuine neighborhood pub feel - at times it seems like everyone in here knows each other from sharing several overprotective hours at the toddler playground together.
Idle Hands in Malden has a lot of really good beer, a comfortable tap room, and a quiet outdoor patio that’s a pretty good place to hang out despite being built in a parking lot. But it doesn’t have much going on. You’re not really going to find live music or trivia nights here, and they only even have food trucks a couple of nights a week at most. If you just want a chill place with some beer, this is your spot, but head somewhere else if you want more of a party.
We’re nearing the point where the post-industrial hinterlands of Everett should maybe be renamed The Brewery District, so that’s great if you tend to get thirsty after foraging for scrap metal. BearMoose is the latest addition, a good-sized brewery in a place that looks like it turns into a ball bearing factory overnight. You’ll find darts, cornhole, Jenga, and all the other games adults love to play in various stages of arrested development. The tap selection is still on the small side, with nothing we’re ready to call outstanding, though the smoked porter is definitely an interesting beer worth checking out.
photo credit: Night Shift Brewing
Night Shift Brewing Lovejoy Wharf
We love Night Shift beer and will drink it just about anywhere, but the Lovejoy Wharf brewery is frustrating. It’s very crowded, it’s set up like a restaurant with table service instead of a traditional tap room, and the bar food is exceedingly mediocre. This is a great place to come if you just want to drink a few good beers before going to a game or a concert at the Garden (because, again, the beer is excellent) but we can’t really recommend it for many other purposes.
The only reason to go to Trillium’s Fenway location is because you’ve been banned from Trillium’s Fort Point location. It has a smaller tap selection, there’s no rooftop bar, and it’s so tiny (but still incredibly popular) that a line starts forming around 4PM on weekends - even in the middle of winter. But you can still have a great time here because the beer is outstanding and, being located in a pavilion just outside Time Out Market, you have tons of very good (if overpriced) food options. Keep it in mind especially for the summer, when there’s a pretty good-sized patio on the lawn out front.
Winter Hill Brewing is really a little diner that brews beer. You can come here and get a cappuccino or a beef brisket platter in addition to beer, and if you’re blowing off work on a Tuesday, you should do just that. On the weekends, though, you’re probably going to have to wait to get in, and then with table service and a line out the door you won’t really feel comfortable lingering with a beer the way you do at most breweries. It also has one of the smaller beer selections, with only about six or seven beers on tap at any given time.
Brato is an extremely useful place if you live in Brighton and need somewhere to hang out with a group. It’s a fun, casual spot with big communal tables in a warehouse-type space with art on the walls. But if you’re wondering whether you need to make a pilgrimage here from across the city, don’t bother. They rarely have more than five or six beers on tap, none of which are particularly noteworthy. And while a brewery with a full kitchen is extremely rare, the food here doesn’t rise much above standard bar stuff. Get the hot chicken tenders if you’re hungry, but don’t expect them to have any burn-your-face-off heat if that’s what you’re looking for.
There are plenty of reasons why people sh*t on Sam Adams, and we’re sympathetic to most of them: the most famous Boston brewery isn’t even really a Boston brewery (the vast majority of Sam Adams beer is brewed in either Pennsylvania or Ohio); its beer has mostly been left behind by smaller breweries who aren’t afraid to be more experimental; if you go to their “research and development” facility in JP, you’ll likely be the only person there who hasn’t been trying out their Boston accent on the Freedom Trail all weekend; and hell, the guy on the front of the bottle isn’t even Sam Adams (it’s Paul Revere). We get all that...but we also still love the original Boston Lager, and the outdoor space with picnic tables, greenery, and a bring-your-own-food policy is a perfectly fine place to spend an afternoon. There aren’t a lot of reasons to come here instead of Turtle Swamp down the street, but almost any brewery is a great place to be, and Sam Adams is no exception.
Step into Harpoon in the Seaport for all of five minutes, and someone will proudly tell you that it was they - not Sam Adams - who hold the first brewer’s license issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So it’s been around awhile, it’s become one of the biggest breweries in America, and, as you’d expect, it doesn’t feel nearly as personal or local as most other breweries and the beer is nothing exceptional. But the tap room is a big beer hall with communal tables, views of the seaport, and soft pretzels that you will end up double-fisting - and we love all of those things.
Cheeky Monkey on Landsowne feels less like a brewery and more like a Dave & Busters that happens to brew its own beer. In theory, we appreciate big giant places filled with ping pong tables, billiards, and shuffleboard. But we’d prefer they not come with mediocre beer, standard bar food, drunk bros who are definitely going to get kicked out of the Sox game by the 5th inning, and a technicolor decor that makes us wonder if we’re high on whatever the director was using when they made the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.