“Happy hours are illegal in Boston…”
Ah the perils of moving to a new city and discovering its unfortunate quirks. After living in Japan and Colombia— two countries without open container laws— the curbing of wild debauchery will take some getting used to. But fair enough, Boston sort of has a history (hiccup, let’s throw some tea in that there harbor). However, in much need of a happy hour after happily moving into the North End this weekend, we had to find a workaround. Cue in Downeast Cider House.
Cider, cider everywhere.
One of my first pleasant surprises about New England was its plethora of cider. Makes sense given the endless fall and rolling orchards that the region is known for and celebrated. It also doesn’t hurt that— in my absence— the gluten-free revolution became a thing. And though I’m not a glutard myself, I tend to opt for the cider since I find most beer icky. And that’s when people here in Boston usually throw me a Downeast Cider.
Downeast Cider started its humble beginnings in 2011 by a couple of Bates College graduates, the name being an homage to Maine. (Here’s a great interview with the founders by Bevspot.) What started as a side hobby— thanks to one of the founder’s supply of apples from the family orchard— soon became a successful masterpiece. Their small-batch cider creations are crisp, unfiltered, and unique: classic to cranberry to a summer blend with hints of lemon and ginger. So we were delighted to find out that their Cider House, once in Charlestown, is now located just a short Uber ride across the bay in Jeffrie’s Point, East Boston.
The new Downeast Cider House opened one year ago and now boasts exceptional real estate. It’s right on the waterfront, allowing for a pre or post-drink stroll to take in Boston’s skyline… or a tumble into the toxic bay. If you have the money— our Uber was considerably less— a water taxi can make the $12 trip over for extra scenic fun. The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston will soon expand and to join the Cider House neighborhood, giving visitors another reason to leap across the bay.
Free booze? Yes please
We showed up on a crisp Friday night and were immediately handed 5 of those raffle-looking tickets. “These are for five free samples of our cider. We have 8 on tap so feel free to share if you don’t mind cooties.” Huh? We stared at the guy in dumb disbelief then ran to the bar just in case he changed his mind.
It seems excessively awesome, but is most definitely true. According to the marketing manager I spoke to, Downeast Cider House is only legally allowed to sell 16oz per person (yes, it’s still only about one pint but free is free). What better way to guarantee this than by a monitored system of free samples? After all, you are not allowed to buy a pint to drink on the premises. But you sure are welcome to purchase takeaway (or somehow end up with a whole damn case).
The free samples aren’t just about getting customers tipsy enough to buy merchandise. Downeast wants you to get excited about their brews. To talk up the ones that are limited editions to the Cider House. They want you to spread the good word about how damn delicious a cider can be. It obviously worked in my case.
Plus, they are delicious. As I mentioned, the Cider House has 8 ciders on tap for you to try. Besides the classic and seasonal varieties, a few are available that aren’t even in stores yet (or never will be). Survivor Bob is their newest one-time-only, a berry-infused cider that just came out this weekend and will be on store shelves in a few weeks. That means you can go to the Cider House and beat out the rest of New England for an exclusive taste. If Survivor Bob ain’t your flavor, they also have last year’s one-time-only called Lo Ha Friday. Hawaii in a can without the jet lag.
The Bourbon Barrel Project was another pleasant surprise or as they describe it, “a rotation of barrel-aged fuckery” (I love these guys). The one currently on tap, #15, was 8% and certainly the strongest cider I’ve ever had. Strong yet deceivingly easy to drink. It was brewed in bourbon barrels, each barrel only being used twice. I was thrilled to learn about their next project: cider brewed in rum barrels. Heavenly cocktails await.
The Downeast Cider House does its thing from Thursdays to Sundays if you want to get in on the free action. If 5 samples aren’t enough, opt for a pre-arranged tour and earn yourself a cider flight. Book online for the free tour. Note that they tend to be quite popular so plan ahead. Or just show up and get lucky.
I’ve also heard fun things about their weekly running club (see photo below). Drinking clubs are always made better when running is involved.