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, and to help you sort through them all, we visited each one and ranked them below. 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 21 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’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 Dosa Factory 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.
Down the Road in Everett is one of the only eating and drinking establishments we know of where dogs are allowed inside. Trust us when we tell you that if you’ve never seen a pug quietly sitting on a bar stool while its owner drinks a beer and does a crossword puzzle, you need to. And while a lot of breweries have live music, this is the only one that takes it seriously enough to build a stage and a club-quality lighting system instead of just sticking the band in front of some fermentation tanks. There’s no food here, but there’s great beer, pinball machines, and pretty much anything else you’d want on a Saturday afternoon.
Other than when they’re hosting something like Adult Prom Night or queer bingo, 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.
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 screens movies on Tuesdays. Bonus points for the fact that it doubles as a coffee shop.
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 20 beers on tap and a patio to drink them on (a patio that overlooks a giant, fenced-in power plant, but still). They also have a small selection of snacks like chips and guacamole to go along with the obligatory food trucks.
Mystic’s beer is seriously good. If one of their frappe IPAs is on tap, don’t be one of those beer snobs who refuses to drink fruity beers - get it and enjoy. The tap room also hosts some really unique events like retro video game nights and classes to help you pair vinyl records with beer (seriously). Unfortunately, this place is tiny, a little uncomfortable, and gets hot as hell in the summer. Don’t come here on a humid day in August unless drinking beers in a greenhouse is kind of your thing.
Slumbrew is one of the smallest breweries in Boston. It’s a tiny little bar carved into the corner of their facility in an industrial pocket of Somerville. But in addition to the beers, it squeezes in Sushi-making classes, adult coloring nights, and 50¢ wings on Wednesdays. It’s also one of the few breweries that has a full kitchen, but it’s mostly bar food stuff, and you’re better off sticking to the beers and getting dinner somewhere else.
We love the space at Backlash in Roxbury - a spare, spacious black and white room with hanging plants that reminds of a Swedish coffee shop, despite having never been to a Sweedish coffee shop. They don’t have any outdoor space, they don’t host many events, and they have fewer beers than a lot of places on this list, but the beer they do have is pretty good. It’s a good place to come if you just want to drink and catch up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in years who just quit their marketing job to sell ethically-sourced sponges at farmer’s markets.
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, similar to Backlash, what it doesn’t have, is 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 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.
Winter Hill Brewing is really a little diner that brews beer. You can come here and get a cappuccino or a reuben 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.
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 drag bingo. 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.
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.
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 good, though, and 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.
Why is the staff at American Fresh Brewhouse dressed in vests like it’s a Chotchkies? We don’t know, but it kind of sets the whole tone for this place, which is Slumbrew’s more dressed-up, corporate-feeling location in the Truman Show-esque development that is Assembly Row in Somerville. The beer is still good here, but the food is mediocre, and it’s hard to really enjoy hanging out in what is essentially an outdoor mall.
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.