Two Breweries, One Day: Pulling Off the Sam Adams/Harpoon Double

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Officially, the Harpoon Brewery in Southie and the Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain are separated by 5.3 miles of I-93 and Roxbury back roads. It shouldn’t be hard to take a visit to the city’s “mainstream” “craft” (technically accurate) breweries, and if all you want to do is stand outside the two active brew houses, it can be done. But who goes to Breweries to look through the factory windows? You go for the beer tastings and the bad jokes from tour guides while they entertain you in between samples.

What if you want to add this so called challenge of “beer” to the Brewery double? Can it be done? There are limitations at hand such as the hours of operations for the two locations and fighting for tickets on the tours with out-of-towners and other locals. To figure it out, we sought to put the best and brightest of WLBT on it (and when they weren’t available, it got assigned to me).

We had our strategy session, we mapped out the options and we devised a way to pull it off. Here are our best laid plans to make the best of both brewing worlds.

The biggest problem is that Saturday is the only day of the week where it is possible to get tours at both facilities (Harpoon only does tours on weekends – although the afternoon tastings happen throughout the week – whereas Sam takes Sunday off but runs tours the rest of the week). Added challenges to really do it right: use public transportation to stay safe and find the right balance between making sure you are early enough in the day for tickets without having to wait around too long in either area.

I recruited a friend visiting from DC to join in the adventure and we stocked up on supplies for our journey, leaving a little after 9:30 in the morning. Obviously, a loaded Charlie Card was necessary, as was this author’s camera and notebook, but we also added one key component: a dish towel. Since both tours give you a tasting glass for the road, we knew we would want to tuck away our first glasses into a bag before arriving at the second. Did we get made fun of by others? Yes. But then they borrowed the towel, too, so I’m counting it as a net-win.

Starting at South Station with a cup of coffee, we walked the first leg to Harpoon – a nice morning deserved a nice walk. We got there around 10:30 and asked for 3 pm tickets. Good thing we were early; while some of the other afternoon tours were open, two large groups had just come through and taken most of the slots in the tour we had picked.

One bus followed by a red line and an orange line train later, it took about an hour to get to the Sam Adams Brewery. Walking in at 11:30, we were able to get tickets for 12:20, not enough time to get far (so, neighboring bar and Sam-partner Doyle’s was out of the question), but luckily there was time for a quick bite at a cafe called Ula on the other side of the parking lot.

We walked back into the lobby with about 15 minutes to spare, and I happened to notice another couple standing around with what appeared to be a fresh Harpoon growler. Justin and Christine were attempting the same game we were, but they took a different approach. They made the first tour at Harpoon at 10:30 a.m. and made it to JP to get tickets for a 1 p.m. at Sam. We had a great talk with them, but it was clear their effort wasn’t as nerdily overplanned as ours – they would have to carry around that Harpoon growler for the rest of the day (you can’t drink those on the premises, or at the other brewery for that matter) and they also would have to wait longer in the less-populated area around Jamaica Plain.

The Sam tour is a pretty quick jaunt through a few staged areas in the brewhouse floor before you get settled into the tasting room – long tables, and a bit of beer being passed up and down among the tour group. The walkthrough of beer tasting, along with Sam’s succesful history, certainly makes this the more educational tour – plus who doesn’t love learning how to taste beer?

Around 1:30, we were able to get going to head back to Southie. After waiting for trains, we made it back to South Station a little before two. This is when our plan went from “don’t jinx it” to “I think we pulled something off”. With time to spare and tickets in hand, we stopped at Jerry Remy’s for a bite and a full-sized beer. Also, it was a good thing we had those tickets, as Harpoon was sold out for the day at 2:05. We would have had to hustle a little bit more to get into one of the last tours if we hadn’t gotten our passes earlier in the day.

It wasn’t all perfect, because we got caught really quickly by the Harpoon staff. One of the guys noticed within about two minutes that we were tagged with a Sam Adams handstamp – actually, he called it the Boston tramp stamp. Luckily, he noticed because we was pouring us a fresh beer to start off the tour (the biggest difference between the two tours is that Harpoon makes sure your glass is filled with more regularity, including during the tour of the facility).

We had a great time at both breweries, and sure we were a little tuckered out from our multiple cross-town jaunts, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend a nice Saturday in town. Special thanks to Katie at Sam Adams and Anchor and Mike at Harpoon who served as our MCs while we were at each location.

The moral of the story is, yes, the Boston Brewery Double can be done. We weren’t even the only ones who did it the day we tried. Working it out in advance, though, gave us more time to spend at other places and made sure we weren’t waiting around. It let us focus on the most important part – and my friends, we were pretty good at drinking beer.