BOTTOM’S UP: BEER HOPPING IN DOWNTOWN CAMBRIDGE
WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘Wanna try something straight from the tank?’, head brewer of Foundry Brewing, Geoff Wiseman, asks while I’m gauging the natural light in his brewhouse – deciding where best to take photos in this snug space. My TOQUE Partner Cai and I glance at each other before nodding enthusiastically in unison. ‘Sounds good,’ Geoff says, grabbing some tasting glasses, ‘at the moment I’m brewing a sessionable IPA, a pretty straightforward pale ale, and a crushable lager – any preferences?’ Before we have a chance to reply, he pushes on: ‘How about we try all three?’ Words to live by.
And what a wonderful way to start the afternoon.
Cai and I are in Downtown Cambridge – affectionately known as historic Galt – this early March afternoon. We are on a singular mission: to check out this cozy community’s beer scene. While we’re well acquainted with much else Galt has to offer (like Witty & Co, Phidon Pens, Art of Home, Sugar Daddies, Idea Exchange, Monigram’s and more), we’ve never actually focused on its diversely-textured beer scene.
And where better to begin such a sudsy exploration than at Galt’s second newest craft brewery, Foundry Brewing, located in HIP Development’s Tapestry Hall – a magnificent wedding and event space and the hub of HIP’s grandiose Gaslight District adaptive re-use project. While Geoff hands us each a sample of the ‘crushable lager’ – a low-carb, low-alcohol content beer – he explains the
philosophy behind the brew, and brewery. ‘Because we brew exclusively for Tapestry Hall [and for a small bottle shop on location], we know that our clients are primarily folks who attend weddings and other celebrations on site,’ Geoff tells us. ‘They’re here for a good time and to enjoy a few drinks. It’s best, then, to serve them something that’s not too heavy or boozy.’ Makes sense to me. And tastes great too. Indeed, as I move away from the hop-forward phase of my life (with some exceptions, mind you) I have a real appreciation for a light drink like this one.
After chatting some more we bid Geoff adieu and – traveling on foot – make our way past the Cambridge Sculpture Park onto the Grand River Pedestrian Bridge, which offers wonderful sight lines of the quaint downtown along the riverbank. We’re off to Farm League Brewing, across the river from Foundry.
By the time we arrive at Farm League (which was until recently the former home of Grand River Brewing and which began over a century ago as the Cambridge Knife Company) I’m excited to enjoy a bit of time in their beautiful taproom. With patina’d yellow brick walls facing massive windows, a wooden accent wall with painted signage letting people know that Farm League brew is ‘Best Paired With Good Times’, it’s just what I’m looking for. We’re greeted by co-owner and head brewer Mike Mayo and taproom manager Kirstie (both of whom we know from their tenure in Guelph), and Matt, one of Mike’s business partners in the enterprise.
While Kirstie sets us up with flights – including ‘Hauler’ lager, ‘Fun Police’ IPA, ‘Big Ticket’ Kolsch, ‘Lief’ American Farmhouse Ale, and ‘Sun Dive’ Cranberry Gose (a collab with Wave Maker Craft Brewery) – Mike gives me a quick tour of the brewhouse itself. While we walk through what seems like never-ending rooms of brewery, he lets me know that Farm League, which opened its doors only last summer, is focusing right now not only on its own recipes but also on collabs with other breweries. ‘We’ve already made a DIPA with Counterpoint in Kitchener, for instance,’ he tells me, ‘as well as a smoked lager with Powerhouse in London, a pale ale with Old Galt Bottle Shop, and ‘Brave Noise’ pale ale – an international collaboration that promotes a more diverse, inclusive beer industry free of discrimination.’ Busy times. And an impressive output.
When we return to the taproom for flights, I embrace the warehouse vibes – and take special pleasure in the ‘Lief’ American Farmhouse Ale. But we need to move on. Our next destination: Local 13. Not before popping into EVO Kitchen & Bar (located right on Water Street) along the way, though. (While a cocktail might seem too great a diversion from our beer-focused afternoon, a whiskey sour in EVO’s industrial-chic space is just too pretty not to shoot for this story.)
Local 13 is actually two restaurants (Local Taproom and 13 Food & Beverage) stacked on top of each other. It’s fast becoming a favourite bar for Cai and me. Besides the great beer list and full menu, it’s the interior design that tugs at our heartstrings. The heavy wood and brass and exposed brick give the place a real Boston vibe. Gritty. Romantic. I half expect to see Mark Wahlberg’s character from ‘The Town’ walk in the front door while Cai and I settle down for food and drinks. Fish Tacos. Wings. And incredibly juicy pints of Wishbone Brewing’s ‘Hazy IPA.’ (What can I say – old habits die hard.)
While we eat and drink, Cai and I peruse the bar top’s elaborate display of vintage inscribed miniature brass placards – sponsored by patrons over the years to support the local Firefighters’ Gift Basket Fund. We could go on reading these little jewels forever. With lines from poems, declarations of love, inspirational quotes, and plenty of inside jokes presented for all to see, the bar top at Local 13 is one of the region’s ‘seven wonders.’ (And the bar itself, and bar back – a century-old piece that was purchased at an antique shop in Philly – are just as impressive.) With food in our bellies and jovial messages in our heads, Cai and I pay up and begin our short amble down Water Street to our next stop: The Black Badger.
If going to Local 13 has me feeling as though I’ve traveled to Boston, then The Black Badger definitely has me feeling as though I’m back in small town England – where my family and I traveled extensively when I was a kid. With its Tudor-style wood beam and stucco exterior and dark, carpeted interior, the place is Cambridge’s home to all things British. Indeed, even the regulars seem to have British accents. Once Cai and I have seated ourselves at a corner table, I order a pint from our affable server. ‘I’ll have a Guiness, please,’ I tell her, before correcting myself. ‘No – make it a Kilkenny.’ When in Rome – or, in this case, Britain-by-way-of-Downtown Cambridge. Behind us a screen plays a football match. Around us regulars regale each other with tales of mischief. Cai and I are drawn into conversation from across the bar. The place feels like it’s one big family. While I nurse my pint, Cai and I nibble on nachos with deep fried jalapenos. By the time we leave, the place has filled up. I imagine it’s going to be a good night here. But onto the next.
Our last stop on this beer hopping tour of Downtown Cambridge is the Old Galt Bottle Shop – back on the side of the river where we started hours before. We’re well-acquainted with the place. Indeed, it’s one of our favourite stops in the region. A bottle shop that’s also got a handful of rotating taps, ‘OG’ is where, as Cai says, ‘you’re guaranteed to find the best beer around.’ We post up on benches at one of the place’s three family-style tables and order one last flight for the day – Dominion City’s ‘Strange Rain’ pale ale with blackberry and prickly pear, Blood Brothers x Third Moon’s ‘Chug Marry Trill’ DIPA, Jackass Brewing’s ‘Haze #3’ sabro lemondrop, and Town Brewery’s ‘Breaking Tables’ English bitter.
‘Holy smokes,’ Cai exclaims, ‘you’ve gotta try the ‘Strange Rain’ – it’s like kool-aid with bubbles.’ I take a sip and am swept up into a sweet cloud of childhood happiness. We make a note to grab a few cans on our way out – because that’s the beauty of this bottle shop. Co-owner Robert Quilty joins us for a while before leaving us to train a new hire. And so we sit – and sip. Taking in the day that was.
From brand new craft breweries to an old-fashioned British pub; from event spaces and a killer bottle shop to a ‘Local’ that everyone wishes could be their local, Downtown Cambridge holds its own, and more, when it comes to beer.