The 11 Most Essential Craft Breweries in Boston
From Jack’s Abby’s lovely lagers to Distraction’s haze-crazed lineup.
As ODB once famously stated on Mariah Carey’s ninth #1 hit single “Fantasy,” “Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers.” In that same vein, the city of Boston and beer have gone hand in hand since the 1600s, a tried-and-true power couple that’s been handily quenching New England’s thirst from the Puritan era to the modern age.
This lengthy relationship has fostered a truly diverse array of brews scattered all across the Boston metro area, with a wealth of options available for seasoned hopheads and the fermentation-curious alike. Whether you’re in search of a crisp pilsner to stave off the summer heat or jonesing for the most decadent pastry stout on the market, there’s bound to be a Bay State brewery out there with your name on it—and these 11 standouts represent the cream of the sudsy crop.
A relatively recent addition to the Boston beer scene, Distraction Brewing made its grand debut in the heart of Roslindale in late 2019. Though certain global events gave the brewery a pretty rocky start, this cozy spot has become a top summer hangout as of late, equipped with a wide array of refreshing brews including malty stouts and crisp pale ales—though the almighty NEIPA is where Distraction really shines. There are five distinct varieties that call the brewery home, ranging from the boozy tropical fruit-forward Double Distracted DIPA to the Pineapple Daydream, a sweet creation crafted with real piña.
Beers to try: While the aforementioned IPAs are pretty stellar, those who suffer from a fear of heavy hops have nothing to worry about. For maximum refreshment, the crushable RoslinPale Pale Ale is a top-tier choice, while the jalapeño-infused Jalapale provides crisp citrus notes paired with a kiss of heat.
A revolutionary actor in the craft beer space, Democracy Brewing prides themselves on being entirely worker-owned—though there’s far more to this spot than just equitable (and admirable) business practices. Democracy Brewing has mastered the craft of decadent pub food, offering a wealth of savory dishes ranging from stout-infused pulled pork sandwiches to mac and cheese packed with a healthy portion of birria beef. Did we mention the gorgeous interior? Clad in rustic red brick and crowned with a stunning mural bearing the official motto of Massachusetts, there are few spaces in the city that offer such a seamless blend of old-school Bostonian charm and modern sophistication.
Beers to try: For those who prefer their beer on the tart side, the Max Kriek is an ace contender, complete with a charming pink hue thanks to a high concentration of cherry purée.
An ode to Jamaica Plain’s once-booming beer scene, Turtle Swamp harkens back to the JP of yore, when over 20 distinct breweries operated in tandem across the southern reaches of Boston. Selections around here cover all walks of life, with chocolatey porters, crisp golden ales, and citrus-laden IPAs all available for the quaffing on their sunny patio. While Turtle Swamp’s original location is perched just west of the Franklin Park Zoo—making it perfect for a well-deserved pint after a day of gorilla-gazing—those who find themselves further south can hit up their Roslindale location, an airy beer garden brimming with verdant vegetation.
Beers to try: Visiting hopheads are certain to love the Orange Line IPA, a citrus-heavy brew that celebrates Jamaica Plain’s beloved (if not dilapidated) subway line.
Back in 2016, what was once an abandoned warehouse on an industrial stretch of Mass Ave morphed into one of the city’s most popular breweries. Co-founders Matt Malloy, Travis Lee, Holly Irgins, and Todd Charbonneau merged their communal passions for craft beer and community activism to create a gathering place that celebrates both brewing and the surrounding neighborhood. In 2019, the brewery underwent a massive expansion, adding a second-floor greenhouse and wraparound patio to the hulking facility. The spacious deck offers stunning skyline views and even more space to drink locally made brews (or wine—another upgrade), while chowing down on barbecue from in-house purveyor M&M BBQ, located downstairs.
Beers to try: The Dorchequis Salt Lime Lager and O.F.D. DIPA are two particularly popular options covering opposite ends of the flavor spectrum, while the Punch Bowl Sour is an enticing pick for those seeking some puckery goodness.
Another in-city brewery that doubles as a community hub, Aeronaut draws in crowds with small-batch drafts, then keeps them there with nightly events ranging from trivia to live music to drag bingo. The brewery’s original Somerville location and Everett taproom are the brainchildren of three MIT graduates, who concocted their business plan back in 2013 while still in graduate school. Little surprise, then, that science takes center stage in the brewing process, as does an emphasis on sustainability. Drafts rotate regularly, but you can always expect creative IPAs and stouts as well as lesser known beer styles up for grabs.
Beers to try: If the summer sun is getting a little too hot to handle, cool off with a tasty Blueberry Wit or Robot Crush pilsner, or forgo the beer entirely and grab an ultra-refreshing Mojito Hard Seltzer.
Winter Hill has zero interest in pandering to the beer tastes of the moment. Instead, this neighborhood gem keeps its output modest and thoughtful, generally peddling five approachable draft beers at all times. That means two to three year-round choices (IPAs are favored), as well as seasonal choices like a Kolsch-inspired German ale. And you have to love a brewery that also doubles as a morning caffeine stop, serving Counter Culture Coffee brew and espresso drinks alongside pastries and take-away breakfast sandwiches.
Beers to try: The Sun Buzz IPA is the ideal summer crowd-pleaser, packed with intense mango, peach, and tropical fruit notes that make for a stellar warm-weather cookout or pool party companion.
Founded in 2011, Jack’s Abby takes its lagers very seriously. Master brewer Jack Hendler and his team source authentic Bavarian hops and malt and incorporate age-old lagering techniques throughout the brewing process. An airy, wood-laden beer hall stashed away in Framingham, about a half-hour drive from Boston, provides a low-key environment for both loyal locals and beer tourists. Pair offerings like the uber-drinkable House Lager (also a favorite at Fenway Park) and the slightly dry, mildly floral Post Shift pilsner with wood-fired pizzas, schnitzel sandwiches, and a decadent four-cheese baked mac and cheese with Buffalo chicken.
Beers to try: For devoted IPA fans in search of something slightly off the bitter beaten path, the Hoponius Union India Pale Lager is a worthy selection, while those who favor sweet fruit flavors should set their sights on the Blood Orange Wheat Radler.
Rustic farmhouse vibes permeate Cambridge Brewing Company, a longtime brewpub set in the middle of the Kendall Square tech hub. A mix of old and new, it provides historical ambiance with just an air of innovation. The OG craft brewers, who began their operation in 1989, made the very first Belgian-style beer brewed in North America: the 10% ABV Tripel Threat. For a lighter offering, the Cambridge Amber is as good as any, and you can soak it all up with burgers, salads, or an order of legendary Buffalo chicken tenders.
Beers to try: The mad scientists at Cambridge Brewing Company have mastered the art of experimenting with yeast, offering the Moon Buggy IPA—a hazy creation made with sake yeast—alongside the Jack Straw, a barrel-fermented golden ale dosed with lively, funk-inducing Brettanomyces.
Harpoon Brewery got its start decades before taprooms started popping up like wildflowers across Massachusetts. In 1986 -- just two years after fellow Boston brewing giants Sam Adams came on the scene -- Dan Kenary, Rich Doyle, and George Ligeti were inspired by European breweries to found Harpoon. Now best known for the even-keeled Harpoon IPA, the brewery continues to innovate at its headquarters in the Seaport (and its second brewery location in Windsor, Vermont). Summer mainstays include a sweet mango pale ale lovingly called Camp Wannamango and the solid citrusy New England pale ale One Hazy Summer.
Beers to try: Try Flannel Friday, a seasonal amber ale that goes down easy thanks to notes of caramel and citrus. Also consider stocking up on For the Frontline, a re-release of the original Harpoon Ale from 1986. For every case sold, $15 goes to three regional organizations supporting frontline workers during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Boston & Everett
These Everett-based brewers like to experiment with hops—some of the beers at Night Shift even require custom-built pieces retrofitted onto typical brewing equipment. Take the Whirlpool, for instance, a dry-hopped, low-ABV, New England-style pale that has quickly become one of the brewery’s top sellers. Rotating experimental brews fill out the lineup, alongside hard seltzer, wine, a coffee roastery, and a simple but refined food menu, all served in the industrial Everett original or inside a chic taproom situated just steps away from TD Garden on Lovejoy Wharf. A flashy new brewpub and beer garden inside Everett’s palatial Encore Casino recently joined the family, as has three different seasonally operating beer gardens in Allston, Assembly, and Esplanade, all of which are open now for thirsty customers.
Beers to try: The hoppy Santilli—named after the brewery’s original Santilli Highway location in Everett—is a balanced, pillowy hybrid of an American IPA and a hazy pale ale with nuanced notes of grapefruit and lemon.
Easy-drinking session beers is the name of the game for Salem’s own Notch Brewing. The roster here ranges from a Czech-style pale lager called Session Pils to Left of the Dial, an orange-tinged, British-style IPA. Open since 2016, the taproom is a laid-back haunt with a Skee-Ball machine and an outdoor beer garden overlooking the South River basin. Pair your poison with a wealth of snacks including bratwurst sausage, a hearty German soft pretzel with housemade lager mustard, or a healthy serving of locally sourced pickled vegetables. For any Brighton residents out there, be sure to scope out Notch’s second location, a vibrant watering hole that opened in July 2021 at the Charles River Speedway.
Beers to try: The aforementioned Czech-style pale lager Notch Session Pils is a deliciously mellow, delicately herbal brew spiked with earthy Saaz hops. Based off of a similar 4% ABV pilsner called Desítka, this is a very niche Eastern European concoction hard to find anywhere in the states.
Among the newer wave of Boston craft outlets, Trillium quickly shot straight to the tippity-top. In 2013, JC and Esther Tetreault launched their endeavor with the vision of recreating a New England farmhouse brewery right there in the city. Fast forward a few years later and their spacious Fort Point locale feels a bit more like a trendy tech start-up than a rustic backwoods hangout, but that said, the rotating brews on tap—divided into categories like “Roasty,” “Wild & Sour,” “Hoppy,” and “Everything Else”—feature enough big, robust, and fiercely vibrant flavors to fully satisfy the burliest of brewers. Kick things off with the flagship Congress Street IPA—a subtle citrusy selection—then head up to the upstairs dining room for a bounty of charcuterie, seafood entrées, burgers, and BBQ pork sandwiches. Long lines are standard practice here, but the product truly lives up to the hype. And if the weather is cooperating, be sure to pay a visit to one of Trillium’s many beer gardens, with their Fenway and Rose Kennedy Greenway locations operating on a first-come, first-serve system, while the Canton branch currently accepts reservations for parties larger than six.
Beers to try: A rotating selection of incredibly rich, decadent dessert stouts make for some prime indulgences. Complex and sweet (but not too sweet), they’re infused with coffee, cocoa, vanilla, tart fruits, and even coconut cake.