Bondir Is Becoming a Mecca of Rare Beer
We’re in a brave new world of beer, where cicerones are becoming as bountiful as sommeliers, craft beer tourism is at an all-time high, and formerly unflappable brewing giants like Anheuser-Busch have been on the defensive—most recently taking out a pricey $9 million Super Bowl ad to bash mustachioed hipsters and other persnickety craft beer snobs.
That was never more apparent than when The New Yorker came out with their November 2014 food issue adorned with artist Peter de Sève’s “Hip Hops” as the cover. The satirical tableau, with lumbersexuals and tattoo-laden beer geeks sipping and swirling in a contemplative state, was created to capture the newfound seriousness of beer programs throughout Brooklyn, such as the Michelin-starred Luksus.
Limiting the scope of de Sève’s artistic treatment to just Bushwick and Williamsburg would be a grave disservice, though. That kind of earnest sea change, with restaurateurs and bar managers targeting much more than the Bud-swilling after-hours sect, is taking place across the globe. Right here in Boston, you can see the evidence at restaurants like Eastern Standard with its spectrum of Belgian ales in magnums, jeroboams, and other large formats; at The Brewer’s Fork, Charlestown’s new beer garden, where co-owner Michael Cooney has set aside part of his basement for cellaring age-worthy stouts and barley wines; and even The Hawthorne, where bar director Jackson Cannon has streamlined his lauded cocktail menu in favor of more canned craft beers.
But no one has taken to beer’s potential as a luxury good quite like Jason Bond, the chef-owner of Bondir, whose Cambridge and Concord restaurants are helping blur the line between beer hall and creative fine dining. Since launching his reserve beer list last summer, the chef has admittedly fallen further and further into the rare beer rabbit hole, attending Skinner Auctioneers in Boston’s Back Back every other month to grab various lots of vintage Belgian sours, wild-fermented ales, and other sought-after rarities from the craft world.
“For me, it started about a year ago when I bought way too much at auction and I sort of panicked,” Bond says. “I ended up throwing a big beer dinner to help move it and we just had a great response to the dinner, especially considering that they weren’t cheap tickets [$250 a person]. We sold out almost immediately, and because I love that style of beer, we kept the reserve list and really expanded on it to showcase a broad range of prices. Just like expensive wines, there are going to be people who are willing to pay it because they know how much work is behind it. But it’s also something I happen to have a serious interest in and enjoy.”
That 2013 dinner, featuring a ’96 Cantillon gueze, various selections from Drie Fonteinen, and four different vintages of Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Russian imperial stout was just a small taste of what is now on offer at Bondir Concord. Depending on the day of the week (most selections are purchased one or two bottles at a time), you can find verticals of Stone’s strong ales and double IPAs, several prized lambics, and mature bottlings from Bond’s favorite producer: Cantillon.
Like vintage champagne, cru Burgundies, or any other fine wine of that ilk, each beer on Bondir’s reserve list is stored in a temperature controlled, humidity-free cellar. Prices are also reflective of each bottle’s status, with several fetching hundreds of dollars, something that hasn’t deterred beer connoisseurs, according to Bond. But bar manager Alex Howell has been tasked with rounding out the list with special, less-pedigreed offerings, such as Mystic’s Vinland Three saison, which still has wide appeal and is easier to stomach at just $15.
“We’ve had the reserve list for a good year and it has turned over several times,” Bond says. “I’m not in the beer storage business, so I’m only picking up things that I think people will purchase. But I also want to have some special things because we do have those guests who come in and want to buy that $95 glass of 100-year-old armagnac.”