Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Boston magazine’s top picks in three of 15 beer categories go to Cambridge and Somerville companies.

Mennies, top, and Vickman.

You can’t help but notice that three of the four names immediately under the giant headline “Best New England Craft Beers” in Boston magazine’s May issue are associated with Cambridge: Pretty Things, by longtime Cambridge resident Dann Paquette, Porter Square Porter by Somerville’s Slumbrew and Kendall Square’s Cambridge Brewing Co. (The order of the listings are arbitrary, not ranked.) Three of the seven “Top of the Pubs” are also in Cambridge: Lord Hobo, Meadhall and Cambridge Common.

There’s plenty of other beer-related content in the magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Craft Beer in New England. “It really felt like the right time to do a feature of that size about beer in Boston, because there are just so many small places starting up and people are just paying so much more attention to what they’re drinking. It’s just an extension of our renewed food obsession,” Boston food editor Leah Mennies said.

It made for a lot of brews to test. A Boston magazine team of five held two tastings, one with 20 or 30 beers and the other with about 50, all sampled over the course of a few hours. “It’s one of the better parts of my jobs,” Mennies said. “It was fun, but we were taking it very seriously. We weren’t drinking a couple of beers each; we were having a couple of sips, and sips of water between. We had to make sure we could really compare and contrast.”

“But I probably wouldn’t have driven anywhere afterward,” she said.

We talked with Mennies to find out why Cambridge and Somerville got so much hops props in the package:

There seems to be a lot of Cambridge and Somerville in the package. Is there a reason?

It’s really difficult in terms of red tape to rent space to brew in Boston. I don’t know if Slumbrew is in a cooperative workspace, but I know Pretty Things is, and that’s kind of indicative of an attitude in Cambridge and Somerville that helps these grassroots companies thrive.

Did you discover a theme among the Cambridge brands and pubs — something that sets them apart? 

The beers we covered from Cambridge are really fantastic, but I’m not sure there’s any one big uniting thread — except maybe that the packaging is pretty creative. But what Slumbrew is doing, working with local companies such as Taza Chocolate, is very interesting and reflective of a marginal, upstart beer.

For pubs, there’s definitely a little bit different of an attitude. They’re somewhere you can go and have a really deep conversation about what it is that you’re drinking, because the bartenders at the bars we mention in Cambridge really, really know their stuff. The other ones on our list, aside from Publick House, have a super college vibe and are much more boisterous.

Were you and your team Cambridge drinkers already?

I don’t live in Cambridge, but I hang out there quite a bit. The writer who did the pub piece, Anne Vickman, lives in Cambridge.

So who should be Cambridge beer drinkers? Who should stay far, far away?

The first time I ever went to Lord Hobo, probably a few months after it opened, every person there had a plaid shirt. And a beard. And glasses. And I said, “Wow, they really know their crowd.” But I love that place, I think it’s great, and I think that it’s definitely shifted. It depends what you’re looking for, and it depends what bar, but for the people who are looking to drink casually instead of because they care about what they’re drinking, they might be — aside from Sunset Grill & Tap or Deep Ellum — partying somewhere in Allston. Or maybe they’re going to Tavern in the Square if they’re in Cambridge.

You can be a beer snob anywhere in Boston, it’s not a Cambridge thing. There just happen to be a couple of really great spots in Cambridge. Sometimes people who live in Boston don’t go over because they think it’s too far or too much of a hassle, but there are a lot of great places you’d miss out on if you just stayed in Boston.

A lot of people are afraid that if they want to drink a Bud Light or if they want to order a Narragansett there that people are going to frown upon them. At least the places in Cambridge I’ve been, especially places like Brick and Mortar, they don’t care. They just want you to have a good time. Don’t overthink it so much. But if you are looking to take shots and party like crazy, maybe you don’t want to go to be going to Lord Hobo.

This interview has been condensed and edited.