In a couple of months, I’ll celebrate my 30th birthday, an event that fills me with existential dread. Thirty is the age that you transition from “technically an adult” to “grown-ass man,” and certain things (like waking up on the floor of the bathroom) are more frowned upon than previously. Staring down the impending onslaught of gray hairs and mortgage payments, I felt I could really use a beer and some wisdom on aging gracefully.
On June 15 a party trolley set out with some fine folks from Harpoon Brewery, visiting Boston bars relevant to Harpoon’s history. Harpoon is also turning 30 this year, and the brewery decided to celebrate with a small gathering of employees, long-time friends, and beer writers who can slink out at 2 pm on a Wednesday. Future 30-year-old me saw this as an opportunity to gather tips on getting older, and current 29-year-old me liked the excuse to go day-drinking.
The first stop was Jacob Wirth, a German restaurant in the Theater District. When owner Kevin Fitzgerald started operating Jacob Wirth, there were only two beers on tap: light and dark, both brewed by now-defunct breweries. Fitzgerald saved a few kegs of the dark and in 1986 convinced Harpoon to duplicate the recipe. “Jake’s Dark” has been on draft ever since (also available at the Harpoon beer hall). I had the rich and creamy Jake’s Dark along with one of Harpoon’s newest beers: Sweet Spot, an updated version of its summer ale with a fuller body and noble hop character.
It was at Jacob Wirth that I sat down with Al Marzi, Harpoon’s chief brewing officer, and asked him the question that was plaguing me: How do you stay hip and relevant at 30?
“We are not our target demographic,” Marzi said, referring to himself, co-founder Dan Kenary, and the other long-tenured Harpoon employees. Marzi spoke of the influence of Harpoon’s younger employees and brewing system that allows Harpoon to experiment with new styles.
The range of Harpoon’s offerings was on display in the retro Harpoon Ale served at the Sevens, Big Squeeze at Warren Tavern, and Camp Wannamango at Bell in Hand. Harpoon Ale is an amber ale based on Harpoon’s original offering: a balanced, malty throwback that went down quickly enough to warrant a second. Big Squeeze, a grapefruit shandy, and Camp Wannamango, a pale ale with new-school fruity hops Mosaic and Equinox, are more in line with the current craft beer trends of strong flavors and hop-forward ales, respectively.
“We don’t chase the trends,” Marzi said, “but we are aware of them.” A good strategy for an established brewery, but also a good strategy to avoid being that creepy old guy at the Justin Bieber concert. Much like Canada’s worst export, these newer brews might not be for traditionalists, but both are excellent summer options and show that Harpoon’s strategy is bearing fruit.
The day closed with dinner at State Street Provisions—which served Harpoon’s new, tropical Double IPA, Hoppy Adventure—and a final gathering back at Harpoon’s Beer Hall. Given Harpoon’s history and relevance to craft beer, this birthday party struck me as a somewhat reserved gathering. But maybe that’s part of getting older: moving away from all-nighters and toward a few beers with close friends, reflecting on past accomplishments while keeping an eye toward what the next 30 years might bring.