A look at Boston’s beer past, present, and future.
To get the freshest beer in Boston, you should have been around in the early 1900s.
Way back when, 24 breweries were open in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury alone, on or near Columbus Avenue, Heath Street, and Amory Street. Plus, there were several other breweries in South Boston and Charlestown. Michael Reiskind, who has been researching the history of breweries in Boston since 1995, estimates some breweries produced about 50,000 to 200,000 barrels annually, and about 8 or 10 different beers each; others produced two or three brands.
“I think it was a bigger industry than most people thought it was,”
says Reiskind, who has lived in Jamaica Plain since 1972 and has been at the Jamaica Plain Historical Society since 1987.
The supply of good water from the aquifer that ran along the Stony Brook, as well as the cheaper land available after Boston annexed Roxbury in 1868 and West Roxbury in 1874, attributed to the growth of breweries in the area. German, Austrian, Irish, and English immigrants largely opened and ran the breweries, which brewed German-style lagers and English- and Irish-style ales.
There were 31 breweries in total in Boston before prohibition. During prohibition, there were none—Reiskind says he hasn’t been able to find any that operated illegally, and only five reopened after, only to be choked out by large beer companies like Miller, Schlitz, and Budweiser.
Today, the surviving brewery buildings have taken on a myriad of uses:
an art gallery and studio art space, a storage warehouse, architecture firms, a gym, a commercial kitchen used by food trucks, residential space, and, of course, the Sam Adams brewery, which is housed in one of the old Haffenreffer brewery buildings, one of the biggest Boston-area breweries of its time.
Strictly speaking, beer in Boston today is not as large of an industry—there are only three production breweries in Boston proper, plus brewpubs, smaller breweries located in Greater Boston and beyond, and beer brands that produce their beer at other breweries. However, it is still a vibrant time to be a beer drinker, thanks to the variety of beer produced, the number of new breweries opening up, and the quality of the beer itself.
This issue is an attempt to look at the Greater Boston beer scene from three different perspectives: by looking back into its recent past and local beer boom in the ’90s by staring at it straight-on in the present, and by peering ahead to future breweries and new beers.
But rather than a few snapshots, think of it as an evolution, of a beer scene that is continually getting defined and redefined by the beers produced and the breweries opened and closed.
Hold on tight to your pint glasses and strap on your beer goggles; we’re going back to the brew-ture.
View Boston’s Old Breweries in a larger map
To learn more about Boston’s beer history,
check out our CRAFT BEER ISSUE: B-SIDES AND RARITIES!