Liquid Diet: Checking out Harpoon’s New Beer Hall

From the spent grain pretzels to the unusual beers on tap, this spot is a welcome addition to the Boston area.

Welcome to Liquid Diet, where Christopher Hughes finds the extraordinary stories behind the people and places that quench the thirst of the Boston area.

harpoonbeerhallA shot of Harpoon’s newly renovated beer hall. Photo courtesy of Harpoon

Even though Boston helped launch the whole microbrewery craze in the 1980s, they were slow to capitalize on the growing throng of hop disciples and beer-centric tourism. While craft breweries in California, Colorado, and Oregon wooed visitors with sexy interiors and the leisurely atmosphere of a corner watering hole, Boston labels largely neglected those brand-building opportunities. But Harpoon has finally changed all that with their spacious new taproom and beer hall, which recently opened at the end of January.

Guests no longer have to duck around to the back entrance facing the harbor, but instead are ushered through solid, double glass doors on the west side of the building. Upstairs, expansive windows frame the Boston skyline and a lengthy bar has ample room to accommodate the anticipated crowds.

Founders Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary say they were inspired by the Bavarian beer halls they visited after graduating from Harvard, and you can tell from the long Oktoberfest-style tables that line the room, made with Butternut wood salvaged from fallen trees in forests around Vermont and New Hampshire. This sourcing of local materials also extends to the plank wooden floors, which are fashioned from discarded beams purchased from vintage buildings in the New England area.

Dozens of Harpoon favorites are available on tap, including selections from their 100 Barrel Series and two exclusive, small-batch beers. These experimental offerings are recognizable by their black, chalkboard handles that rotate on a regular basis. When I visited last week, they were pouring an Imperial Saison and a cider fermented with a Belgian yeast strain. The cider, made in the bone-dry mold of European examples, was particularly impressive.

To soak up all these libations are soft baked pretzels that utilize the brewery’s spent grain. They substitute butter and their IPA in place of milk in the dough, to delicious results. With a perfectly baked crust and with a warm, fluffy interior, they’re a sublime compliment to a night of prolonged revelry. A serving of pretzels is only $4 and comes with a choice of two dipping sauces. These include a cheese sauce made with IPA, a Dijon/grain mustard mix that is blended with Harpoon Dark, a sweet frosting alternative made with cider, and, my favorite, a roasted red pepper aioli.

Behind the bar is a view into the inner workings of the brewery. Tours are now available seven days a week, and take place on a series of catwalks that overlook the action. Stops include the fast-paced bottling line; the new canning line, which will soon go into year-round production; and the old tasting bar, which now seems as modest as the free 5 oz. flight glass.

Most importantly, Harpoon now has an on-premise license. So, even if you’re not interested in taking the tour—or they’re sold out, which often happens—guests are invited to stay and hang out. Some of my favorite brewery visits have been to Denver’s Great Divide and Lagunitas in Petalumas, California, where you’re not only exposed to limited-edition beers, but to the unique flavor of the local community  and an omnipresent state of mind.

Since it opened its doors in 1986, Harpoon has been an integral part of the local landscape. Housed in a red brick building formerly used by Navy ship builders, it’s a deft amalgamation of the cities’ rich nautical history and its appreciation for great brewing. That might have been obvious to locals, but now everyone else can experience it for themselves.