Most Samuel Adams beer is made at breweries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but Boston Beer Company calls Boston home. More than thirty years ago, the brewery rented space in the historic Haffenreffer Brewery—a renovated brick complex dating back to 1871, in the city’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood—and began giving tours.
A small brewhouse followed, along with packaging and expanded tour facilities. Then came a larger gift shop, a barrel-aging facility—home to the biannual Utopias—and staff training areas. An outside picnic area was added along with a research and development nano brewery and even more space for tour visitors, who had made the brewery one of the city’s top-ten travel destinations.
Throughout all this development, the tour—an experience designed to keep people entertained for a short period of time with some education, some samples, and general merriment before turning them back into the world—was the focus. It’s not that the folks at Sam Adams didn’t want a taproom; it’s just that there wasn’t room for one, brewery officials said. They talked about it for a while, but it wasn’t until new space opened up in the Haffenreffer Brewery complex that they could entertain the idea.
Last summer, everything started falling into place, and in November the brewery opened its new Tap Room in a space that once held staff training. The education center moved across the complex to a building that now holds the Bier Keller, where the brewery is aging experimental non-sour beer.
All Kinds of Experiences
The brewery used the expansion to look at how it was serving its customers and to find new ways to keep people interested and engaged.
“Fifteen years ago, the tour was the most important thing from an educational point of view,” explains Jennifer Glanville, the director of brewery programs for Samuel Adams. “Now craft drinkers have evolved quite a bit, so we’ve adjusted our location for that.” Some folks might want to come for a tour where they can learn about the history of the brewery and Founder Jim Koch, see how a brewery works, ask a question or two, and after a sample, exit through the gift shop.
Some folks might just be interested in learning about the wild-beer program, home to Utopias, and they can do so as part of the “beyond the brewhouse experience.” There’s a beer-and-cheese tasting available in the Bier Keller as well as the opportunity to sample beers as part of the “Samuel Adams barrel-aged experience.” Or folks can just stop in for a pint with friends without any added brewery show.
“We wanted to offer all kinds of experiences for all drinkers,” says Glanville.
In designing the Tap Room, the brewery wanted to be true to itself and to the beer. Glanville, who has visited hundreds of breweries and taprooms around the world, started thinking about what she liked and what she didn’t and how all the positives could fit in with the Samuel Adams philosophy.
Already being in a century-plus-old complex, they wanted to play off the nature of that place and let the structure speak for itself, so the walls are mostly clear. Also important was a big long bar where people can gather and have a conversation with a bartender. Equally important were long communal tables for friends and strangers to gather together. Leather couches are a comfortable touch, along with a shuffleboard table—not something too often seen in breweries anymore. While all of this is visually appealing, it’s muted into the background to let the beer shine brightest.
“For us, it’s about the beer. People come because they want to drink the beer, so it should be the star of the Tap Room,” says Glanville. “Beer should be the star of any taproom.”
There are risks in going from being a place where folks would stop in for a quick visit before getting back on the Red Line and on to other Bean Town activities to suddenly being a spot that could compete with neighborhood bars and be burdensome for neighbors. Glanville says the brewery took the necessary steps before making any moves, meeting with community groups and other local businesses.
As a result, they still steer folks to the area bars and restaurants and keep delivery menus (the Boston Brewery Tap Room doesn’t serve food) from those places on hand. Hours are restricted (from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday), and since the last brewery tour goes off around 3 p.m., in the evenings the Tap Room has become a local hangout, complete with local food trucks and events such as karaoke nights.
They’ve taken this approach because, while there will always be a good mix of visitors and locals, Glanville says it’s important for any brewery taproom, regardless of size, popularity, or recognition, to remember where they are and who their neighbors are. “We are asking [the neighbors] what they want,” Glanville says. “They are here, hopefully a lot. We want them to be comfortable.”