While Boston is a city known for its culture and history, it’s also a city that likes to let loose and have a good time.
Once you have ticked Harvard University and the Freedom Trail off your list, maybe it’s time for some culture that’s a little less… high-brow?
Like a day of baseball and beer.
Since 1912, Fenway Park has been home to the Boston Red Sox. If you’re not lucky enough to score tickets to a game, you can still experience Fenway by taking a tour of the park.
Even though it’s winter, there are 100 people on our tour, rugged up and ready to see the place where baseball dreams are made. The tour starts at Gate A – the oldest gate in baseball history. With the moniker “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark,” Fenway has also starred in many films, including Fever Pitch and Moneyball.
Unless you are a hard core baseball fan, simply walking around a ballpark probably won’t float your boat, but the tour really comes alive in the stories and history, like Babe Ruth, who was sold off to the Yankees after reputedly asking for more money. Our guide explains how Thomas Yawkey bought the Red Sox in 1933 for a staggering $1.2 million. “This was at a time when the Red Sox were the dregs of the League,” she says.
From there, we take a detour through the visiting team’s change rooms before heading up to the “Green Monster”. The 37 foot high wall (painted green, natch. Hard core fans can even paint their walls “Monster Green,” available from Benjamin Moore) was first erected to prevent fans from standing on the top of car hoods at a nearby dealership and watching games for free. The Green Monster has 269 prime seats built into it, its own refreshments booth and one heck of a view of the home plate.
Next stop on the tour is the press box. With around 100 seats arranged in four rows, the guide explains prime seating is arranged by seniority of journalist, save the bottom right hand corner for the game’s statistician.
I take a seat in the third row of the press box (I realize probably the closest I’ll ever come to sitting here again) as our tour guide directs our attention to a solitary red seat in the right field. She tells us the seat marks the landing spot of the longest home run inside Fenway Park back in 1946. According to legend, the man in the seat feel asleep during the game where a home run ball tore through his straw hat and land bonk him in the head.
“How far does one have to sit in this ball park to be safe?” he said at the time.
Each tour can vary, depending on the guide and their knowledge and interests. As it is winter, we spend more time inside and the tour wraps up at the Red Sox lounge, where walls are covered in photos and mementos of the team’s history.
Harpoon was started in 1986 by three friends who met at the prestigious university and after doing Europe like 20-somethings do best (drinking in beer halls), wanted to bring a taste of that beer culture back home to Boston. Today, there is a dizzying array of local craft beer available, but at the time options were limited. So, they decided to build a brewery instead.
Harpoon Brewery is located in an old warehouse space in Boston’s Seaport District. I’ve never seen a brewery with a roped off area before. Tours of Harpoon Brewery and do sell out – especially on weekends. Tours cost a mere $5, a bargain even with the Canadian exchange rate, and include a generous amount of beer tasting.
First stop is checking ID (even if you are well into your 40’s, it’s still mandatory) and pick up a pair of safety goggles before our group steps from the back of Harpoon’s beer hall into the production facility.
The tour begins on the crow’s next inside the production facility as kegs of beer are filled at the rate of 18 seconds. Our guide, Emily tells us Harpoon has a second production facility in Vermont.
“There’s one person fills the kegs by hand with a hose,” she says. The building was a dry dock for navy destroyers built back in 1942. “So we’re safe,” she quips.
Next stop in the tour is the nuts and bolts of the operation – observing how the beer is made. Standing beside the mash tun, our guide invites us to smell, even taste, two examples of hops used in producing Harpoon’s beer and bite into a piece of malted barley and chocolate barley.
Harpoon has been using the same ale yeast since 1986 to make their beers. Emily explains the rough beer is called, “green beer.” (We’re invited to drink a sample, but after giving it a sniff, I pass.)
Learning how beer is made is the preview to the main event – beer tasting in Harpoon’s private tap room. The walls are decorated with shelves of beer cans from around the world (As an Aussie I’m happy to spy a can of Foster’s) and the bar in the centre of the room has about a dozen taps.
Glass in hand, we’re invited to sample as many of the various beers as we like, limited only to the time available until the next tour starts. It’s an opportunity to try the beers I’m sure I’d enjoy, like Harpoon’s UFO R.A.Z. (a raspberry wheat beer; delicious) to ones I wouldn’t normally chose, including the full bodied Harpoon Leviathan IPA.
Emily announces it’s time to put our beer glasses down and for the final part of the tour file past the bottling process. Reminiscent of the opening credits of Laverne and Shirley, glass bottles move swiftly along a convey belt where they’re carefully filled with beer, to prevent oxygenation “Oxygenated beer tastes like stale wet cardboard,” our guide says.
Our tour wraps up where it starts, the next tour of 30 people are waiting to enter the production facility. We stop for a drink in the large beer hall. Filled with long wooden tables and a long bar, the packed beer hall is reminiscent a chilled Oktoberfest hall.
Massachusetts’ law is our gain. It’s mandatory for pubs to serve food with alcohol. Along with a flight of beer, order one of Harpoon’s handmade pretzels (they’re plenty big enough for two). Made in-house, the warm, doughy pretzels are topped with malted barley from the brew house and come with choice of toppings, including ale mustard, red pepper aioli and maple cider icing.
Tours run once an hour from 12 to 5 pm Monday to Thursday, and extended hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit http://www.harpoonbrewery.com/