Salem Beer Works

Beer Works Logo

3 straight months dominated by 12-hour work days nearly drained every bit of my goodwill toward humanity (which tends to be on short supply to begin with), so last week I cashed in some vacation days and hopped a plane to Boston. Ostensibly, I was there to visit family and friends, but, obviously, my true motivation was beer. East coast beers don’t appear on WI shelves in the same abundance as west coast beers, so this trip offered a prime opportunity to explore some exotic refreshments.

As the hometown of Samuel Adams, one might naturally assume that Boston is a happening spot for brewing. Unfortunately, it is not. While there are some great breweries in the area (Ipswich, Clown Shoes, Slumbrew), there are only a handful in the city proper. Aside from Sam Adams, the dominant force is Boston Beer Works, a “brewpub” with 7 locations in the Boston Area. I had the good fortune to visit the Salem location not once, but 4 times in the same day.

Witch History Museum. This animatronic doll is way creepier than an actual witch.

Salem, MA, famous for hanging, pressing, and stoning some folks a few years back, is both a quaint and charming seaside town and a tacky tourist trap. Nestled among Colonial-era homes and storefronts are classy gems such as the New England Pirate Museum, whose front window features a 6-foot diorama that looks to have been constructed in the late 1960’s, and the Witch History Museum, which conveys the story of the witch trials using life-size animatronic dolls.

Though my traveling companion and I set out with the intention of visiting some of these highly educational cultural establishments, it quickly became clear that we weren’t really in the target audience for any of them. Instead, we decided to go on a boat trip. We failed at getting on the boat several times, though, and instead ended up going to the Salem Beer Works four times:

1. Lunch, while waiting for the first boat trip to depart

Pumpkin Works Ale: An amber ale, more or less, brewed with pumpkin pie spices; fairly pleasant, as far as these things go – not too sweet and pleasantly low in alcohol (5% ABV) as compared to many pumpkin concoctions.

RIPA: Imperial pale conditioned with rosemary. My travel companion likened this to drinking a Christmas tree, but I thought it was delicious. The rosemary’s savory, herbal flavors contrasted the sweetness of the high-alcohol (7% ABV) Imperial nicely, and (in my opinion) were not too strong at all. I should caveat this by mentioning that I’m known to ward off colds by eating whole cloves of raw garlic and drinking tea laced with oregano oil, so my ability to identify unpleasantly strong flavors is likely a little suspicious.

2. Waiting for the second boat trip to depart, after missing the first one

Custom House IPA: A pretty standard, yet solid, IPA. Fairly hoppy, but well-balanced and suitable for mass consumption.

3. Meeting a Salemite friend, after missing the second boat trip

Black Bat Stout: A smooth, velvety oatmeal stout; not too sweet and pretty delicious overall.

Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale: I typically find fruit beers appalling, but I this one looked so bizarre that I had to try it. Who care what it tasted like – this beer has whole freakin’ blueberries floating in it! And they come out of the tap! Amazing!

4. Waiting for a ride after missing the train back to Boston

Things get a little murky at this point. We’ll assume that beers were had. There was also a minor zombie attack.

The facts:

Salem Beer Works

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Location: 278 Derby St, Salem MA
Established: 1996
Specialties: Training blueberries to flow out of beer taps without anyone losing an eye
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My TAKE: Large selection of surprisingly great beer, including some creative offerings like rosemary IPA. If you’re going to miss a boat trip and/or a train in Salem, this a great place to do so.

Milwaukee Brewing Company

MIlwaukee Brewing Company

Still broadcasting from Milwaukee, where day 2 of WordCamp Milwaukee 2013 brought not only a bonanza of geektacular mind candy, but also an afternoon bacon bar and an entire evening of free beer. Before waxing poetic about free beer, it’s worth noting the obvious genius of a bacon bar; it should be a mandatory feature of all gatherings longer than 2 hours, including weddings, funerals, business meetings, and court hearings.

At any rate, following 10 hours of WordPress edification, we were turned us loose at Milwaukee Brewing Company, conveniently located 3 blocks down the street. Though food ran out just as my colleagues and I walked in the door, fine ales flowed freely for the duration of the evening. In either a brilliant or reckless move by conference organizers, we were each handed a pint glass to be refilled without limit.

As mentioned in a previous digression, Milwaukee Brewing Company has been around for a fair bit (since 1997), but only recently adopted its “MKE” brand identity and current lineup of beers. As noted above, beer was dispensed without limit, so I was fortunate enough to “sample” most of them. The only problem is, well…I sampled most of them. Here’s what I remember of it:

Hop Happy (Year-round, 7.7% ABV, 51 IBUs): Tasty IPA with plenty of hops (Columbus, Cascade, Fuggle), and a bit of malty sweetness. Bonus: it was served with a light dusting of freshly-ground hops, courtesy of a repurposed pepper grinder. No kidding. More at:

Booyah (Year-round, 6.5% ABV, 20 IBUs): Farmhouse ale formerly known simply as Milwaukee Brewing Co. Farmhouse Ale. An exemplary specimen; one of my favorites for hot summer days. More at:

Outboard (Summer seasonal, 6.5% ABV, 13 IBUs): Cream ale; highly reminiscent of Lake Louie Coon Rock. That’s about all I remember. More at:

Black Iron (Summer seasonal, 7.5% ABV, 48 IBUs): India Black Ale. I bet it was delicious. More at:

Milwaukee Brewing Company

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Location: 613 S 2nd St, Milwaukee, WI ‎
Established: 1997
Specialties: Tasty beers in pretty packages
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My Take: The beer was free, but I would’ve paid money for it. Definitely worth a stop – tours on Fridays and Saturdays, which include lots of free beer and a token for more beer.

Water St. Brewery (Milwaukee)

Water St BreweryBroadcasting on location from Milwaukee this weekend, where I’m spending three solid days hanging out with other IT nerdburglars at a WordPress developers conference. In addition to indulging my geekiest tendencies, it’s a perfect opportunity to investigate the downtown brewery scene.

Four hours perched on folding chairs inside a converted warehouse during Friday’s afternoon session demanded a fermented remedy, so my compatriots and I headed straight for the nearest brewpub, Water St. Brewery.

Allegedly Milwaukee’s first brewpub, Water St. has been around for about 25 years, and has spawned 3 locations during its existence – downtown, Delafield, and Grafton. We visited the downtown outpost, which occupies an expansive, century-old building nestled among the many popular eating and drinking establishments along historic Water Street.

From the interior ambiance to the newsprint menu, Water St. Brewery bore an uncanny resemblance to Madison’s downtown Great Dane. Its beer was also similarly mediocre. The selection of 9 house-made taps spanned the usual brewpub styles – light, lager, weiss, amber, pale, marzen….seasonals included Belgian wit, black lager, and raspberry weiss.

Between my dining companions and I, we tried the amber, marzen, Belgian wit, and black lager. My selection, the black lager, was billed as a Schwarzbier, but more closely resembled a stout. Its thick texture and malty sweetness were not entirely offensive, but it didn’t offer the fizzy, refreshing experience of a quality Schwarzbier. Overall, I’d characterize it as “meh.” Reports by my dining companions on the others beers were similar, resulting in a score of 4 meh’s overall.

Water Street Brewery

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Location: 1101 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI (Satellite locations in Grafton and Delafield)
Established: 1988
Specialties: Unadventurous beers for the masses
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My Take: A near carbon-copy of Madison’s Great Dane, right down to the mediocre beer. 4 out of 4 nerdburglars give it a “meh.”