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Boston – eat, Bike, & Beer Merry
Having already explored #Boston’s historic Freedom Trail, we decided that on this visit to Boston we would seek to explore the tastes of #foodandrink -- and taps -- that are beginning to make new #history. The #culture and all round splendor is a delight to be amongst!
Our First Seafood Adventure!
Our adventure by the bay began with a visit to one of the city’s newest nightspots, The Merchant.
Like so many of the taverns and restaurants in Boston, the bar has a big screen televisions showing the big game, which makes perfect sense because Bostonians are crazy about their sports teams.
Bostonians are crazy about their sports teams
We dined on oysters fresh from the nearby waters, smoked trout that could make any salmon jealous, a creamy baked gnocchi with mushrooms, and a hearty seafood stew.
We dined on oysters fresh from the nearby waters
It all paired nicely with a glass of white wine and a local brew.
As our server said, "Our place is for real people who love really good food." We couldn't have agreed more.
Our place is for real people who love really good food
Brewin' up big fun!
Bright and early the next day we joined up with the City Brew Tour.
Yes, we were setting out at ten in the morning to spend the next six hours swilling -- we mean tasting -- the best that Boston brewers have to offer.
It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Our designated driver and beer guide, Andy, began the tour with a brief history of beer.
Boston Brew Tour
The Mapparium Guided Tour in Boston
Bike Tour Boston
He explained the basics of brewing, and how it all may have started with a happy accident.
There is archaeological evidence that around ten thousand years ago some lucky hunter-gathering guys left a clay pot full of grain out in the rain. When they returned a few weeks later, the concoction had fermented and beer was born.
the concoction had fermented and beer was born
They liked it so much that they found a way to grow the grains instead of wandering in search of them. This led to settling down, farming, creating societal groups, and perhaps even civilization as we know it.
Wow, all thanks to beer!
Through the years, the process was refined and the end result became much more flavorful.
Then yeast was discovered and beers were separated into two groups. Andy explained how all beers are either lagers or ales, dependent entirely on the type of yeast used.
In ales the yeast works on top of the tank, fermenting faster and is happy with a warmer temperature. Lager yeast likes it cooler, works on the bottom, and takes twice as long.
By the time Andy finished filling us in on all of this beer background we had arrived at the Samuel Adams Brewery.
This struck us as the perfect place to start since the name has practically become synonymous with Boston.
The real name behind the name is Jim Koch, who began brewing his grandfather’s recipe in his kitchen in 1984.
That brew became Samuel Adams Boston Lager, named for the city’s famous patriot who, like Jim, inherited a brewing tradition from his father.
With that tidbit of information tickling our brains, we continued with some hands-on touching, smelling, and even tasting of the ingredients used in the various varieties of Sam Adams.
Then it was time to sample the finished product of the malted barley, yeast, water, and hops.
In the tasting room, we began with the famous lager, and then moved on to their seasonal wheat beer called Cold Snap.
In the tasting room, we began with the famous lager
The fruit flavors of orange peel and plum made this taste like spring in a bottle. To finish up we tried an Irish Red.
From the big dog of Beantown brewers, we made our way to an upstart that technically isn’t actually a brewery, but more Veronica's cup of tea -- or cider -- the Downeast Cider House.
Founders, Ross Brockman and Tyler Mosher, became quite renowned during their senior year of college for taking cast off apples from the family orchard and fermenting up batches of cider in their dorm room.
Before long the operation outgrew not only the room, but the orchard as well.
Now it is run out of a warehouse on the waterfront with tanks, canning machines, workers, and a couple of dogs, all sharing the same space.
After sampling several varieties, we asked about the group gathered around a table in the kitchen area, “that’s marketing and management,” was the answer.
Even though the old orchard can’t supply enough apples anymore, Downeast always insists on using only fresh pressed apple juice from local growers, no concentrates ever, and the result is a taste that even Granny Smith would love.
the result is a taste that even Granny Smith would love
But wait, cider is most certainly not beer! Well, it fits into the tour because Downeast uses ale yeast to facilitate fermentation, so we guess we could still call it a brew.
Lunchtime found us at Mead Hall, and with over one-hundred beers on tap it was the perfect fit.
The name harkens back to the large gathering buildings of the Norse and Germanic tribes centuries ago, but the beer is crafted in every corner of the world.
The food was perfectly paired to go with a good brew too, meatloaf, chicken wings, fries, salad, and hummus. When we finished eating Andy took us downstairs for a look at the logistics involved in serving one-hundred varieties of draught beer.
A special refrigerated room was built directly below the bar to keep the suds from having to travel very far from keg to glass. This way the beer stays cold, and there is much less wasted from being poured out because it goes stale sitting in the hoses.
Our last stop was Night Shift Brewing, another success story of friends that turned their passion for brewing into a business.
What began as home brew in a 5-gallon pot has grown into a thriving brewery serving the entire Boston area.
We began by trying Pfaffenheck, their pilsner, the only one of that style we had all day. It was crisp and light, yet still very flavorful.
Then on to a Whirlpool, their most popular pale ale, and a Lowlander, a Scotch ale with a hint of smoky flavor, but we were most intrigued by the sour beer that Andy had mentioned on our way over.
We ordered a glass of Mainer Weisse, aged with Maine wild blueberries and cinnamon sticks, to share with some of our new friends from the tour.
At first taste we thought that it wasn’t our cup of Boston tea, but it grew on us. In fact, once we stopped thinking of it as beer, we decided that it might just be a fine replacement for tea on a chilly night.
A Meal to Remember for the Rest of our Lives
With our beer tour behind us, we were certain that a nap was our next order of business before making our way over to Copley Square.
The square, which serves as the focal point of the Back Bay, is surrounded by the Trinity Church, Old South Church, and the Boston Public Library.
These all date back to the late eighteen hundreds, but the dominate feature is more modern, the John Hancock Tower.
It would be hard to miss, since it is the tallest building in all of New England.
Our destination, right below the skyscraper, was the OAK Long Bar + Kitchen at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel.
Built as a sister property to the famed Plaza in New York, for over one hundred years this has been the place to be in Boston.
The fabulous Suzanne, from their team, joined us for dinner and gave us the lowdown on the history and renovations of this grand old building.
Beginning with clam chowder, we stayed with the quintessential New England fare of Yankee pot roast (with a beautiful twist) and another seafood stew, this time with lobster, in a coconut squash broth.
As an added treat, we had the hearth baked bread which came with homemade honey butter using honey straight from the bees that live on the roof of the hotel.
After our meal Suzanne showed us the remarkably restored lobby and entrance hallway, known as Peacock Alley.
This was all returned to its original glory, uncovering the mosaic tile floors and refurbishing the fantastic detail on the ceilings, in preparation for the celebration of the building’s centennial in 2012.
The next morning -- to work off all of the ingested calories of the day before -- we made a beeline to Urban AdvenTours for a three hour bike tour (a three hour tour), but the weather started getting rough, the idea might have to be tossed.
If not for the courage of our fearless crew, or um, guide, we may have gotten lost.
Bike Tour Boston
The Mapparium Guided Tour in Boston
Riding the Duck Tour in Boston
But the skipper, no, he seemed more like the professor, wait a minute, his name was Greg, knew just what to do and where to go, and being the hardy souls that we are -- or maybe just crazy -- we were not deterred and set out on our way.
Greg fearlessly led us through the historic North End, then across the Charles River to Cambridge over the locks that control the tides and keep the Back Bay from flooding.
We pedaled through the chilly rain back to the Boston side of the river, proudly braving the elements with the goal of Fenway Park ahead.
We were surprised to learn that America’s oldest Major League baseball venue is not named for a person, but for the Fenway neighborhood where it stands, which refers to filled in marshland, or fens, that created the land.
In fact, Greg pointed out that much of the land that the city stands on didn’t exist until hundreds of years after Boston was founded.
Fenway must have worked some of its magic, because as soon as we rode away from the park patches of blue sky began to appear.
When we pedaled past Boston University, Greg mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received his Ph.D. at the school. We had no idea, so we stopped for a picture at the Free at Last sculpture in front of Marsh Chapel on the campus.
When we looked up, we realized that we had been standing on this very spot after dinner the night before without a clue. Sometimes it’s good to have a guide.
After a quick swing past the harbor (we felt like mole people in the wonderful, bright sunshine!) we bid Greg farewell and decided to get high. Above Boston.
Walking in the sky
After the tour we headed back to Back Bay for the best possible view of the city. The Prudential Center Skywalk Observatory offers a complete 360 panorama of Boston from fifty stories up.
We could trace our entire bike trip and got another look at Fenway, this time from a bird’s eye view.
Who Wants to be an American? We do! We pitted ourselves against each other in the Skywalk's interactive exhibit and tied 10-10. Whew! We get to stay!
A Hotel With Character
Before we left town, we wanted to get the lowdown on the incredible flatiron building that housed our hotel, The Boxer.
We had been so busy that we hardly had a chance to check it out.
Hotel The Boxer
The Mapparium Guided Tour in Boston
Bike Tour Boston
Our first question was about the name. The nearby Boston Garden has dominated this area for years, and was originally a boxing arena, hence the Boxer, but the hotel is happy to give a playful nod to the famous dog breed as well.
While we looked around, we learned that the distinctive flatiron style building was originally constructed by Charles P. Curtis in 1904 as a furniture showroom and warehouse.
It later served as offices, the Bullfinch Hotel, and perhaps even as a hangout for some of the more notorious residents that inhabited the West End.
The rumors have it that Whitey Bulger hung around, and that he owned the little building across the street that somehow stands alone after all the others around it met with the wrecking ball.
We had wondered about that while we watched it out of our window for the past few days.
We may never know about the real Whitey, but we know for sure that during the filming of Black Mass, Johnny Depp was a guest at The Boxer while playing Whitey.
He used a room as his dressing room during shooting, and for reasons unknown, insisted that all of the furniture be removed.
Perhaps in the spirit of Mr. Curtis he wanted to keep the furniture moving out the door.