There are many ways to explore the city of Boston. Duck boat, trolley, freedom trail. But all of these ways lack one thing…good beer. That is where the Boston Brew Tours comes into play. Launched in Burlington, Vermont by Chad Brodsky, the tour takes riders to several of the areas best breweries and includes a special meal and beer pairing.
Earlier this week I had the chance to share a beer with Brodsky, who spoke about creating his business, City Brew Tours, quitting his finance job and, of course, beer.
It is clear within a few minutes of chatting with Brodsky, that beer is his passion. Before launching this business, he was a home brewer and took a beer making course at the University of Vermont, while a business student. This company is born out of his love of craft beer.
“First off it’s delicious,” Brodsky said. “I love the aspect of trying beers and each beer is very different. If you have several of the same style you can pick out the nuances of each. It’s an art form and brewers are the artists.”
The company started in Burlington in 2008, which has a rich craft beer culture that dates back to the 1980s. Just old enough to drink a beer, Brodsky set out creating the company in his spare time while working a finance job.
Burlington has all these breweries in close proximity and I would see the same people going from one brewery to another brewery. They would be getting in their car and driving. At that point you could drink as much as you wanted in these breweries for free at a lot of them and that’s not safe to do. How amazing would it be if you could create a tour that does what their doing and adds another element to it with a home brewer as your tour guide and a beer food pairing lunch or dinner, that way you are not drinking on an empty stomach. And then you get private access to these breweries.
This is where the value of Boston Brew Tours really starts to come out. Many smaller breweries really only have a taproom and a limited tour schedule (if one exists at all). While it is a chance to sample a number of beverages from one specific brewery, the experience is the same as going to a bar. Pull up a seat, try some beers and head home. Boston Brew Tours gets you exclusive, behind the scenes access to these Breweries.
Brodsky, used Night Shift Brewing in Everett as an example. The small brewery has been making major waves in the local scene for the past few years. It has a taproom that is open seven days a week but only does tours on Friday and Saturday on the odd hours.
“We have worked a deal where we give the tour inside their brewery,” Brodsky said. “We have been going there for two years now and they trust us enough to conduct our own tours. We know their history, their processes and all the new things that are happening, just as well as their own staff. It’s a benefit for them because we do not impact their operations at all. Once we finish the tour, one of the founders or tap room staff gives the beer appraisal and provides a one-on-one experience that you don’t get if you just went in for a beer.”
In the case of the Downeast Cider House, there was no tour before Boston Brew Tours came along, it was only growler fills. Now, they have a full tour with the help of Boston Brew Tours. Brodsky joked that they have even asked him if his tour guides can work the occasional weekend when they have been short staffed.
Taking the tour to Boston
With the tour growing more successful in Burlington, the time came to expand and Boston was the logical next step in 2012. It was a huge market that didn’t have anything like this. So Brodsky quit his job and focused on the tour full time. Despite living in Vermont, he commuted to Boston to get the tour off the ground in its new market. He did eventually move to the city.
“Boston had a thriving beer community,” Brodsky said. “Plus the breweries here are so different. They are industrial and unrefined and not these beautiful vessels. You have that with Sam Adams and Harpoon, but most of them are not like that and I love it.”
He added that a lot of people think of a brewery as all shiney and new, but they don’t start like that.
Brodsky reached out to a number of breweries of all sizes right at the beginning and they were all receptive. While they handle the tours at the smaller breweries, it is a different feel when at the larger homes of Sam Adams and Harpoon. These are typically crowded tours with long lines. On a Boston Brew Tour, you take the standard tour but get VIP access by skipping those lines and not worrying about actually being able to get on a tour, which can sell out quickly. The Brew Tour guide also adds some supplemental information during the tasting times like the differences between different styles or some relevant beer history.
This creates a unique experience. Instead of hearing the same basic information at three different breweries, you get the basics of brewing at either Sam Adams or Harpoon and then learn more in-depth information while visiting Night Shift, Idle Hands, DownEast, Mystic Brewery or more. There is also a food and beer pairing at either Meadhall or Beer Works.
Boston Brew Tours is a 4.5 to 5.5 hour experience. Pickup happens at the Starbucks at 443 Boylston St. and if you are not there within 15 minutes of the start, it leaves without you. Tours need a minimum of six people to run (though you do not need to bring six people yourself). The average number of people on a tour in Boston is 10 to 12 people. While a van is typically used, larger groups, private parties and corporate outings could see school buses or coaches used to accommodate the larger groups.
Per person, tours costs between $85 and $95 depending on time of day and whether it is during the week or on the weekend. There are also private tours were the group can pick their breweries and even add on a trip to Hopster to brew their own beer.
The tour starts with an icebreaker where everyone gives a name and favorite style of beer. This lets the tour guides know what level of beer drinkers are on board. That is followed by a brief history of beer.
While driving, those on the tour will be able to get a history of the Boston beer community as well as the basic history of the city. Brodsky mentioned that all of his drivers have been on or are former trolley drivers, so they know the key areas to hit. Many of them also have a background in improv so they are comfortable on their feet and are entertaining.
There is NO drinking on the van or bus, though purchasing beer and other merchandise at each stop is highly encouraged. There is even a cooler on the van to keep purchases cold.
At the end of the tour, everyone will know how beer is made. There is even a bit of a quiz to make sure everyone was paying attention.
Future of the tour
While Boston is still growing, the company has officially launched DC Brew Tour in Washington DC. Brodsky mention that there are other cities being tossed around for the future but right now the focus is on the current tours.
Right now there are eight tour guides between the two cities and he just hired the company’s first full time employee. Slumbrew and Aeronaut will also be added to the rotation of breweries soon.
The Boston tour will be launching a shorter tour known as the Samples Tour that will forgo the food paring stop and just focus on the smaller breweries. Riders will get some snacks but not a full meal. The Samples Brew tour will run $60-65 per person.
More than transportation
This tour is not just a way to get to several breweries in one day. It is a full beer experience and the transportation element is rather minimal in the grand scheme of things.
“I want anyone that loves beer or hates beer to come on the tour,” Brodsky said. “I’ve had people that say they don’t like beer in the beginning and after trying 15 to 20 different styles, I’ve introduced them to brew they can’t get enough of.”
He added that really the tour is all about the joys of the beer community and making friends.
“We are essentially taking strangers at the beginning of the tour and turning them into drinking buddies by the end of it,” Brodsky said. “I constantly see after a tour guests hugging each other, hugging our guides, exchanging numbers and emails and lots of I love you mans.”