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This Is The Best Beer From Boston's Other Brewing Behemoth

Illustration for article titled This Is The Best Beer From Boston's Other Brewing Behemoth

You know how the adage that you should always "just be yourself" is nothing but soft-headed, recklessly empowering drivel unless all concerned parties understand the unspoken addendum of "I mean, unless you're a dick—in that case, be someone else"? The blogatorial version is that one ought to "write what you know," with the caveat that this only applies to people who know anything worth a good goddamn to anyone outside of the writer's own pants.


This is why I should be attending Beer Advocate's Extreme Beer Fest this weekend. It would better equip me to tell you guys interesting things, plus it's near my home and I could probably get someone else to pay for it. (Ideally Gawker, but if not, then my wife; kinda all the same to me). And it'd be fun, too. The thing is, the event is described thusly:

Extreme Beer Fest is the ultimate throwdown of craft beer creativity. Join us as we celebrate brewers who push the boundaries of brewing and raise a fist at the norm. Minds will be blown. Palates will be inspired. Prepare for epicness.

I'm sure it'll be a blast, or at least an education, but the promotional copy leans a bit too Fieri for my liking. I'm not into extremely ultimate throwdowns of boundaries and fists, particularly ones that blow epic minds. But still, I know I should go to this sort of thing, because then maybe I wouldn't be about to bore you all with another frigging New England beer. It's going to get better soon, I promise. Next week we've got California, another California, Iowa, Virginia, and Oregon lined up. Due for some Delaware soon, too. But for old and current times' sake, let's get into some more Masshole juice.

Harpoon holds Brewing Permit #001 in Massachusetts; Samuel Adams debuted a couple of years earlier, in 1985, but it was contract-brewed in Pittsburgh in its early days, so by that measure Harpoon Brewing is the oldest operation of its kind in the state. Their original flagship beer, Harpoon Ale, has since been replaced by Harpoon IPA, which started out as a summer seasonal in 1993 before becoming the first widely distributed India pale ale on the East Coast.

Until about five years ago, asking for an "IPA" in Boston meant asking for a Harpoon IPA. We didn't carry it at the bar where I worked, and people were often clearly surprised when they asked for an IPA and got a Dogfish Head 60 Minute. It got even hairier when we brought on a second IPA (Lagunitas, I think, or maybe Magic Hat): "Hey, yeah, chief-pal-buddy-bro, gimme an IPA." "Which one?" "What the fuck you mean, smaht guy? The next one you fahkin' pour-ahh."

I still really like Harpoon IPA, but it's been at least a year since I've ordered one in a bar. The last one I drank was probably the bottle I used to compile last June's definitive Drunkspin IPA ranking, where it finished a surprising and respectable 9th among 14 very strong competitors. Harpoon IPA is still good beer. But the thing is, it's no longer anywhere near the best of its kind.


Harpoon, meanwhile, occupies a very secure but slightly awkward position in Boston brewing overall. It's not the dominant craft-beer monster that the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) is; it's not synonymous with Massachusetts beer, for both better and worse, in the manner of its larger contemporary. But it's also not Trillium or Night Shift or any of the other newer, hipper local producers of hoppy pale ales, also for both better (employee-owned Harpoon is rich and ubiquitous) and worse (but it doesn't win awards).

Harpoon hasn't been as promiscuous with the seasonals and spin-offs as Sam Adams, but they still make a bunch of different stuff these days. I try not to miss anything from their 100 Barrel Series of limited-edition brews packaged in 22-ounce bottles, though I've yet to get my hands on the current one, #53, a honey-dosed double IPA called Braggot Rights. Sounds good. If it is, maybe it'll be promoted to year-round status like #37, Rich and Dan's Rye IPA. (Rich and Dan founded the company, so, sure, they can name any beer they want anything they'd like. But let's you and me just call it Harpoon Rye IPA.)


I like rye beers in general. I find that the additional spicy, peppery element from the more ambitious grain allows the brewer greater leeway to mess around with hops and the rest of the malt. Of course, I've never brewed anything other than Trader Joe's coffee, so the preceding sentence may be complete horseshit. But the fact remains that rye spices beer up, and I like it.

Harpoon Rye IPA is 6.9-percent alcohol-by-volume, a full percentage point higher than their base-model IPA. That's a nice feature, if you're one of those rare barbarians who use the precious fluid for its power to intoxicate. (I am.) All that, and it smells just fantastic: A fairly modest rye note hums along behind sharp grapefruit and orange liqueur, with a bit of caramel and a strong pine essence tying it all together. There's a tropical mango-and-pineapple presence come tongue time, along with rye spice and the distinctly tangy Harpoon yeast, before a long, resinous finish.


Harpoon Rye IPA is an exemplar of the style, and it's my favorite regularly produced beer from Boston's quieter giant.

Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.


Image by Jim Cooke.

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