Boston’s Second Most Famous Brewery Offers a First-Rate Tour

If you watch television, you’ve likely seen the iconic Sam Adams commercials featuring the owner, Jim Koch, waxing poetic about his beloved Boston-based beers and his passion for brewing all to the sound of George Thorogood’s hit, “Who Do You Love?” Obviously, Jim Koch loves his beer and his brewery and yes, it shows in the product he makes. Yet, there’s a lesser-known brewing gem tucked away in Boston’s seaport district which offers tourists a fantastic tour of a modern brewery and the opportunity to try (in copious amounts if you so choose) many of their fine offerings: Harpoon Brewery.

I’ve taken tours of both facilities, the Sam Adams Brewery in the neighborhood of Roxbury, and the Harpoon Brewery on Boston’s up-and-coming waterfront. If you are in the area only for a short while and want to get a chance to tour either of these two facilities, plan ahead. The Sam Adams brewery will often be booked hours in advance and does not take telephone reservations for its free-to-the-public tours. The Harpoon Brewery is a frequent backup destination for beer fanatics visiting Boston and, though they charge a small fee, will likely have more immediate availability for a tour, even if only on weekends.

Each tour has its advantages. The Sam Adams brewery tour is free (they ask a small donation to go to charity), it’s offered every day of the week, it’s a much shorter tour and therefore better for those who are short on time, and is in an old-fashioned, brick brewery with a pre-prohibition charm. The drawbacks to this tour are that you’re seeing a very small brewing operation where they only do research and development of upcoming beers, you can’t actually buy their beers on site, and you only get to sample a small amount of whatever three beers they are offering that day.

The Harpoon brewery offers views of a more modern brewing operation, is a little bit easier to find as it’s not tucked away in a residential neighborhood like the Sam Adams brewery, sells their beers in their gift shop, offers a longer tour and, best of all, it offers a half hour open bar to cap off the tour! Hooray for beer! The small price tag (some of which does go to charity) and weekend-only schedule are the only factors that work to this brewery’s detriment.

On either tour you get an 8 ounce glass bearing the logo of the proprietary brewery and the freedom to shop around in the brewery’s gift shop. I’d recommend either brewery tour for those of you planning a trip to Boston and both tours if you have the time, but think twice before immediately heading to the Sam Adams brewery. Harpoon may not have the name recognition of Sam Adams, but it offers a fantastic tour which will leave you satisfied no matter how much you drink. Cheers!