Updated May 29th, 2023
Despite the puritanical alcohol laws in Massachusetts (no happy hours, no alcohol sales on Sunday morning, very limited alcohol at grocery stores…), the Boston craft beer scene has really taken off. Though there are many more in the surrounding suburbs, this post explores all the craft breweries in Boston proper. If you’re a beer lover in the city, be sure to check one out, or try them all!
- Boston Microbreweries in the Heart of the City
- More Craft Breweries in Boston Proper
- Boston Breweries Map
Boston Microbreweries in the Heart of the City
Harpoon is easily the second most famous of the breweries in Boston (Sam Adams coming in first), and it was actually granted the state’s first commercial microbrewery permit in 1986. Like Jim Koch, the college classmates who founded Harpoon were disappointed with the beers available in the U.S., especially after returning from a trip to Europe. While its first beer was a mild ale, you might know Harpoon for its hoppy IPA, introduced in 1993, at a time when IPAs were brewed almost exclusively on the West Coast.
The most important thing to note about visiting Harpoon is that it’s a production brewery. Unlike Sam Adams, it’s hot, it’s loud, you have to wear safety glasses, and there are a dozen or so workers milling around producing lots of beer. The tour actually takes place on a series of catwalks above the brewing systems so you don’t get in an employee’s way. It’s a great contrast to the quaint, artisanal experience at Sam Adams. If you have time for two Boston brewery tours, I definitely recommend taking both.
On the Harpoon tour, you get to see the nuts and bolts of how thousands of bottles and cans worth of beer go from the barley barrels to your refrigerator. You also get a complete rundown of how each machine in the brewery functions and the chance to see them in action.
Midway through the tour, it’s time for the unlimited (yes, really!) tasting of the beers that are currently in production. Afterward, you have the option of hitting up the Bavarian-style beer hall, where you can get a delicious German-style soft pretzel (highly recommended, especially with the cheese and garlic butter dipping sauces) or a slice of Sicilian-style pizza.
Tours of Harpoon run seven days a week. Tickets are $10 for the full 50-minute tour, only offered on the weekend, or $5 for a 25-minute guided tasting and short walk through the production line on weekdays.
Location: Right at a stop for the SL2 Silver Line bus.
Visit Harpoon if you want to see how beer is really made in America, production line and all (and you like tasty German pretzels). It’s a great place for beer enthusiasts who like to understand the details of how things work.
Trillium Brewing Company
The third of the microbreweries in Boston, Trillium Brewing Company opened in 2013, the year I moved to the city. Their first location in Fort Point was little more than a retail counter selling cans and growlers of their then-unknown brews.
Since then, they’ve moved to a two-story taproom that not only serves some of the best beer in Boston (and in the U.S.), but also upscale entrees like oyster plates and gnocchi. Trillium’s rise in popularity over the past ten years has been nothing short of meteoric, and it now regularly appears on lists of the world’s best breweries.
Trillium’s style brings back fond memories of my home state of Montana, where the hoppy West Coast-style IPA is so popular. One of their earlier offerings, Pocket Pigeon Pale Ale, is still hands-down one of the best beers I’ve had.
Trillium’s flavors are unique and interesting; they’re not trying to please everyone. You get the sense that the brewers just enjoy trying out new recipes, seeing what works. The staff all seem excited to be working there and are knowledgeable about the beers they’re selling.
A couple years ago, Trillium opened a tasting room an hour or so away in Canton, which is now their main production site. I haven’t been out there, but knowing how good the beers are, I’m sure it’s worth the trip. There’s also a location outside the Landmark Center, making it an obligatory stop whenever you’re shopping at REI.
Location: Seaport – Right at a stop for the SL1, SL2, and SL3 Silver Line buses, or a 10-minute walk from South Station (Red Line); Landmark Center – right by the Fenway T stop (Green D Line)
Visit Trillium if you’re looking for the very best craft beer in Boston. Hit up their Fenway post after a Red Sox game or while shopping for your next backpack at REI.
Along with Trillium, Night Shift Brewing has been one of the unexpected stars to emerge from the New England craft beer scene. The three founders started in 2012 with a tiny 3.5-barrel kit in an old warehouse across the Mystic River in Everett.
Now, they’re one of the country’s 100 largest craft brewers by volume. That success led to several expansions, including a location in Natick, several beer gardens throughout Boston and Cambridge, and the exquisite Lovejoy Wharf outpost in the North End.
Sitting beneath the offices of Converse World Headquarters, the Lovejoy Wharf location is all things for all people. Of course it’s a taproom for Night Shift’s extraordinarily good beer; it’s also a coffee bar in the morning, serving their in-house roasted beans. And they’re a purveyor of Detroit-style pizza, the crispy thick-crust variety that’s been sweeping the nation since the start of Covid. They even have huge pretzels and truffle fries – what more could you ask for from one of the best breweries in Boston?
Well, you could ask for great beer – like the Santilli IPA, which won bronze in the American IPA category at the 2016 World Beer Cup, or the Birthday Brownie Porter, brewed with cacao nibs from Boston-based Taza Chocolate. Night Shift is always coming out with small-batch, limited-time brews, so there’s sure to be something new to try on every visit.
Much easier to find than Night Shift’s Everett location, the Lovejoy Wharf outpost is the most convenient brewery near TD Garden (expect crowds whenever the Celtics or Bruins are playing). It’s also located amidst the famed Freedom Trail sights, some of the top attractions in Boston.
Location: Just a five-minute walk from the North End T stop (Orange, Green D, & Green E Lines).
Visit Night Shift at Lovejoy to get a taste of some of the best beer in Boston after a game or in the middle of a day of sightseeing.
Breweries are often located at the fringes of a city – decrepit warehouses, shuttered factories, or suburban strip malls – places where rent is low and a new venture is less risky.
The breweries in Boston are usually no exception, so I was surprised when Democracy opened their brewpub in 2018 less than a block from the Boston Common. Could a microbrewery with such expensive real estate make it? And could they afford to take risks with their beers? Astonishingly, the answer is a resounding yes – and they’re doing it while creating a pro-worker framework for other breweries to follow.
Their name isn’t a cheap ploy to capitalize on the nearby Freedom Trail; Democracy Brewing is a 100% worker-owned co-op. They’re even working with the Massachusetts legislature to create a state-owned bank that’s more receptive to funding co-ops.
Democracy’s taproom has the feel of a small German beer hall, with warm lighting and a line of long tables stretching the length of the bar. The menu consists of classic pub grub and, because it’s Boston, a plate of mussels.
There’s always one or two options for every style of beer – porters, sours, New England IPAs, etc – each of them well-rounded without being boring. The brewery also hosts a variety of events, everything from calligraphy and candle-making to political debate viewing parties.
Location: Just a two-minute walk from Park Street/Downtown Crossing or five minutes from the Chinatown T stop (Orange Line).
Visit Democracy before seeing a show in the Theater District, or grab a bite to eat after spending the day at the Common.
Cheeky Monkey Brewing Company
You might be forgiven for not noticing Cheeky Monkey down at the end of Lansdowne Street, across from Fenway Park. After a long afternoon watching the Sox and drinking Sam Adams, it’s easy to miss. But rather than paying ballpark prices for a Boston Lager, I’d suggest enjoying a couple pints in here before heading to the game.
The Sox weren’t playing the day I visited Cheeky Monkey, so it was pretty quiet inside. I ordered the Harambe’s Ghost IPA (they have a somewhat twisted sense of humor) and watched the Cornhole World Championships. It should be noted that this was during the World Cup, so I was surprised that bar patrons were more interested in a beanbag toss, but it made for an interesting visit.
While the IPA was solid, I didn’t love that, unlike most microbreweries in Boston, this one is also a full bar with a wall of liquor bottles behind the counter. Or that the dining area and bar felt like your average trendy spot, with contrasting lighting and, in this case, a giant light board that says “PEACE.”
Where Cheeky Monkey gets interesting, though, is in the back room, an area you might not even know existed unless you were headed to the bathroom. It’s loaded with pool tables, shuffleboard, and overstuffed couches for lounging. Suddenly, Cheeky Monkey seemed less like the standard trendy bar and more like the best place to hang out after the game. My only regret was that I didn’t bring a posse of friends with me.
Beer and games aside, Cheeky Monkey is actually a brewpub with plenty of food options. They pride themselves on their full menu, which includes a variety of street food-inspired dishes like Korean BBQ beef tacos and Singaporean street noodles. Don’t fill up on hot dogs and popcorn at the stadium when this deliciousness is available after the game.
Location: A ten-minute walk from the Kenmore T stop (Green B, C, & D Lines).
Visit Cheeky Monkey before or after your next Red Sox game (just prepare for the crowds).
Castle Island Brewing
Every Boston neighborhood has its own unique identity, but possibly none more so than Southie (aka South Boston). An area once infamous for organized crime (it was the home of Whitey Bulger, after all!), Southie has been heavily gentrified and is now known for its having the city’s nicest beaches, in addition to the best burgers and dogs over at Sully’s.
Castle Island Brewing got its start in 2015, making it pretty old as far as Boston microbreweries go. Despite the name referencing an iconic Southie landmark, they opened their first taproom out in the suburb of Norwood, where rent is considerably cheaper. Several years later, they had the means to open up a location closer to their Southie namesake.
The taproom features six of the most popular beers developed at their Norwood location, along with a dozen more that are exclusive to Southie, including innovative brews like a strawberry IPA and a chardonnay nitro ale.
There’s no shortage of delicious food either, with Bardo’s Bar Pizza serving up crispy slices of South Shore-style thin crust along with wings, churros, and even lobster rolls. Castle Island definitely has a party atmosphere, the sort of spot to start off a night out. Speaking of, there’s trivia on Tuesdays and live music nearly every Friday.
Location: An eight-minute walk from both the Broadway and Andrew T stops (Red Line).
Visit Castle Island after a day at Carson Beach, just a 15 minute walk from the brewery, or take the No. 11 bus from its namesake park.
Cisco Brewers Seaport
I was on the fence about including the Cisco beer garden; they’re owned by Anheuser Busch/InBev and based in Nantucket, with additional taprooms in New Bedford, MA, Portsmouth, NH, and Stamford CT. So they’re all over the map and with InBev behind them, they lack the ethos I expect from craft beer. That being said, I can’t deny that their Boston taproom is in one of the best locations in the city: in the middle of the Seaport and (only a few minutes’ walk from Trillium, if you’re looking to hit up multiple Boston breweries). They also offer live music every night that they’re open, running the genre gambit from indie rock to reggae.
Chances are you’re already familiar with a few of Cisco’s flagship beers, like the juicy Wandering Haze IPA or the Shark Tracker light summer lager.
Not much of a beer drinker? Triple Eight Distilleries and Nantucket Vineyards also sell their wares out of the same beer garden. For food, classic New England dishes like clam chowder and lobster rolls are served alongside sushi, taco, and burgers.
Location: In front of the ICA, a five-minute walk from the Silver Line’s Courthouse stop.
Visit Cisco during the summer months before hitting up the ICA (Thursday nights have free admission), catching an event at the TD Garden, or just whenever you want to hear some great live music amongst the skyscrapers of the Seaport.
More Craft Breweries in Boston Proper
Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Company)
When people think of Boston beer, they’re almost certainly thinking of Sam Adams. It’s by far the biggest craft brewery in Boston, and their Boston Lager is probably the most popular microbrew in the U.S. today; in fact, its ubiquity makes me reluctant to even call it a microbrew.
Back in the late-80s, Jim Koch founded the Boston Beer Company (the parent company of Sam Adams and sometimes mistakenly called the Boston Brewing Company) in an effort to bring the flavorful and complex tastes of European beer to America, which at the time was mostly serving up bland mass-market brews from the likes of Budweiser and Miller. When Sam Adams Boston Lager debuted in 1985, the company had just two employees and no office, and Koch distributed the beer by going door-to-door asking bars and restaurants to serve it.
But the Boston Beer Company has come a long way since then, developing dozens of year-round and seasonal brews and expanding its distribution to all 50 states and 20 other countries. With the wide distribution network it created, Sam Adams can take a lot of the credit for popularizing microbrews and starting the craft beer revolution that continues today.
Though founded in Boston, most of Boston Beer Company’s product has always been brewed elsewhere, and the main factories are now in Pennsylvania and Ohio. If you’re picking up a six-pack of Boston Lager, you can bet it wasn’t actually produced in Boston.
The Boston brewery is more of a test kitchen, where they work out the kinks in the flavor before scaling up production at the main facilities. However, Sam Adams does produce a couple small-batch beers in Boston that are only distributed in keg form to select bars in the area – most notably the 26.2 Brew that’s created each spring for the Boston Marathon.
The Sam Adams brewery tour is really hands-on; you can nibble on roasted barley (delicious) and rub hops flowers between your hands to release their telltale scent (which will make you smell like you’ve been drinking all day).
Since the brewery is mostly used for small-batch experimentation, it’s relatively uncrowded and quiet. The pre-war brick walls and copper brewing apparatuses give it a quaint feel; you can easily imagine men with large beards getting together to sip beers straight from the brewing kettles, pondering whether they should add a little more hops or perhaps some orange peel and coriander.
The tour doesn’t give the sense of the massive quantities of beer that need to be canned and bottled to send Boston Lager and its sister beers to bars, supermarkets, and convenience stores across the country, but it’s a pleasant environment for learning about the brewing process.
If you’re looking for souvenirs or presents, the Sam Adams gift shop has all manner of Boston beer memorabilia, plus cans and growlers of some of their lesser-known beers. Tasting these beers and bringing a couple bottles home was the highlight of the tour for me. The Sam Adams beers I’d had in the past weren’t terribly interesting, so it was great to try out some of the more unique brews from America’s second-biggest microbrewery.
The regular tour and tastings are $10, last about 40 minutes, and run 7 days a week. For something more in-depth, try one of the new specialized tours, which start at $20. They’re only offered a few times a week, so sign up online as early as possible.
Location: Jamaica Plain – A five-minutes walk from the Stony Brook T stop (Orange Line); Faneuil Hall – a 10-minute walk from Park Street/Downtown Crossing.
Visit Sam Adams for a relaxing experience where you’ll learn the basics of the brewing process in a great atmosphere. It’s the ideal place to take friends visiting from out of town.
Dorchester Brewing Company
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more at home in a Boston brewery than when I walked through the doors of Dorchester Brewing.
The long wooden tables invite people to actually talk to each other rather than stare at their smartphones, and shelves in the back are packed with board games to keep patrons entertained. There’s also a couple of pinball and skee-ball machines, along with a shuffleboard table, to keep things interesting. Plus they host trivia on Wednesdays, a retro game night the first Thursday of the month, and a slew of other events.
White brick walls, exposed pipes, and vintage lighting remind visitors of the neighborhood’s roots without coming off as cringe-inducingly hipster; Dorchester Brewing is a communal meeting place for people who enjoy great beer. The taproom’s newly-built second floor is also designed to look like a greenhouse, with 360-degree views of the surrounding neighborhood, and features a rooftop deck where patrons can enjoy the beautiful summer weather.
I’m definitely getting the warm fuzzies for Dorchester Brewing’s atmosphere, but let’s not forget that we’re here to drink, too. I sprung for the Embarrassment of Riches Hoppy Ale, which was the perfect after-work brew: a medium body with a lower alcohol content (5.5%) compared to some of the stronger IPAs. If you can’t wait to get home for dinner, they have some snacks like pretzels and guac, along with food trucks in the parking lot on weekends.
Location: A 15-minute walk from the JFK/UMass T stop (Red Line).
Visit Dorchester Brewing to see a less touristy side of Boston, and bring a group of friends to challenge to some shuffleboard.
Notch Brewery and Taproom
Similar to Cisco, Notch isn’t exclusively a Boston brewery, with their original location being in Salem. There’s a lot to love about Notch, though, and I’m sure if we still lived in Boston I’d be hitting this spot on a regular basis (it’s right on the edge of our old neighborhood – Lower Allston).
Located inside the historic Charles River Speedway horse track, Notch strives for a German biergarten look. A central courtyard is packed with long tables where disparate groups can mingle over a finely-brewed ale. If the weather is less than ideal or you’re visiting in the winter, they do have an indoor area too, sans the expansive tables for socializing.
Contrary to hophead trends, Notch is shining a spotlight on European-style beers – Czech lagers, German Kolsches, and Bavarian Hefes with only a couple American-style IPAs that are themselves considerably less hoppy than what’s in fashion at most breweries. They also focus on lower alcohol beers, similar to the session ales served in European pubs. Designed for social drinking “sessions,” customers can enjoy a few of them without turning into a stumbling mess.
Of course, it wouldn’t be biergarten experience without the right dishes to accompany those brews. On Notch’s menu are Polish pirogi, crispy Liege-style Belgian waffles, and plates of Bavarian sausages and pickled eggs. Thursday nights are usually the best time to visit, when the weekly 5K fun run circles back to the brewery, followed by live music.
Location: On the border of Brighton and Watertown (take the 70 bus from Central Square).
Visit Notch when you’re craving some lighter – lower ABV beers, half pours, and non-alcoholic offerings. It’s also the perfect mid-ride break when cycling the Charles River Bike Path.
Distraction Brewing Company
I always love an underdog brewery, whether it’s because they’re small-batch, in a remote area, or just because they’re up against a goliath rival brewer. These unexpected gems are what keep craft brewing exciting as the industry approaches a point of oversaturation, and Distraction Brewing certainly fits the bill.
Started by three homebrew-loving dads, Distraction is the only brewery in Roslindale, a neighborhood that’s within the Boston city limits but is far removed from the hustle and bustle.
Sitting in a unique 1,600-sq.-ft wedge-shaped structure, the brewery ushers patrons into the heart of Roslindale Village. Outside, a section of Birch Street has been closed to traffic to create the beer patio, pedestrian mall, and event space (live music Thursday-Saturday throughout the summer). It’s BYOF – bring your own food. Thankfully, there’s over a several mouth-watering eateries to choose from within a five-minute walk of the brewery.
The dozen or so beers on tap offer something for every palate,, from an orange cream IPA to a Belgian tripel to cold brew coffee cream ale. Using their basement that was once a bank vault, Distraction is also hoping to start aging beer soon (and will be one of very few Boston craft breweries to do so).
Location: Practically adjacent to the Roslindale Village commuter stop (Needham Line).
Visit Distraction for a more local experience that’s free from tourists. Make an afternoon of it and take some time to explore the inconspicuously cool Roslindale Village and the nearby Arnold Arboretum.
Roundhead Brewing Company
When I first published this post, there were only three breweries in Boston proper: Sam Adams, Harpoon, and Trillium. In just six years, that number has tripled, and some have added second locations. Now that we don’t live in New England, I can only check up on the Boston craft beer scene every year or so, and it seems I already have a new one to look forward to – Roundhead Brewing, all the way out in Hyde Park, which will be the first Latino-owned Boston brewery.
During the three years I lived in Boston, I don’t think I ever made it out there, so I’m very excited to have a reason to explore this lesser-known neighborhood during our next visit. They opened last November, two months after our last trip to Boston, but at least I have something to look forward to on our next trip!
Location: A 15-minute walk from the Readville commuter stop (Fairmount & Franklin/Foxboro Lines) – an hour-long ride from downtown Boston.
Boston Breweries Map
Click here for an interactive version of the map!
Which of the craft breweries in Boston would you be most interested in visiting?