Dear travelers, please don’t visit Boston until you’ve understood these 10 things

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Source: Dear travelers, please don’t visit Boston until you’ve understood these 10 things

1. Don’t let The Town fool you into thinking Charlestown is some organized-crime-ridden place.

Charlestown, portrayed in the Ben Affleck film as some sort of townie hub for bank robberies, is really quite a nice place. A walk around the winding, thin colonial streets today will show you nothing more than a square mile-long working class suburb that’s slowly being gentrified by Boston yuppies (Young Urban Professionals).

Sure, Charlestown has flirted with organized crime like the Irish gang war in the 60s between the Charlestown Mob and the Winter Hill Gang in Somerville. And the townies there definitely didn’t come across as the forgiving type during the “busing” conflict in the 70s. But this town is, if anything, fiercely proud of their heritage, tradition and role as one of America’s oldest cities. After all, Paul Revere galloped at high speed from here to the battle at Lexington and Concord to warn that “the British are coming!” John Harvard himself lived in Charlestown, Samuel F.B. Morse was a born and bred townie and the Charlestown Navy Yard is home to Old Ironsides, the oldest commissioned vessel in the US Navy.

2. But yes, Whitey Bulger is our resident gangster.

Bulger’s story might be a bit more common knowledge now to people outside the state of Massachusetts due to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of him in Black Mass. The notorious Boston crime boss of the Winter Hill Gang is both feared and iconized after terrorizing South Boston in the 70s and 80s, then disappearing in an attempt to escape an FBI indictment. In 2011, he was finally found in Santa Monica, California, strapped with an arsenal and over $800,000 hidden in the walls.

If you spend a lot of time in Boston, talk of Whitey isn’t uncommon, and neither are very distant relations to him. One friend of mine swears her dad worked in one of Whitey’s bars, another says his dad lived on Whitey’s block in Southie. Hell, I even met Kevin Weeks, Whitey’s right-hand man and leading rat in the case against Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly. One of my BU journalism professors, Phyllis Karas, wrote his memoirs with him and brought him into class to talk to us about the trial that was being held in 2013. Whitey was found guilty on 31 counts, including racketeering charges. He was found to have been involved in 11 murders, and later that year he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus five years.

South Boston is still a rougher part of Boston with embedded Irish working class residents still kicking about. However, the location and proximity to Boston’s downtown cannot be beat. Old triple deckers are making way for shiny new duplexes and not-bad pubs likeLincoln’s. I probably wouldn’t hang about some areas too late, though. Andrew Square, for example, still has the ghosts of brutality about it.

3. The Tea Party is much more than an uber-conservative activist movement.

Nowadays, when people hear the words “Tea Party” they think of painfully backward Republicans like Michele Bachman who see lowering taxes and limiting social freedoms as a pathway to getting our nation out of debt. But let’s not forget the Boston-based revolutionaries who once gave a ‘tea party’ a whole new meaning.

The Boston Tea Party was originally a badass political protest against the Tea Act of May 10, 1773 in which the Sons of Liberty dumped an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company into the Boston Harbor. It all went down on December 16, 1773 and was one of the straws that broke the Patriotic camel’s back and started the American Revolution. You can walk around the Harbor and sail along the Harbor Islands today, watching for whales and envisioning what truly revolutionary shit went down among that gray-blue salty water.

4. Beware the ‘Methadone Mile.’

It is easy to notice what drug addiction has done to many residents in Boston as you walk along the one-mile stretch of Massachussetts Ave near Boston Medical Center, otherwise known as ‘Methadone Mile’. Just a few blocks away from the clean brownstones and trendy cafes of Boston’s South End is a strip of methadone clinics, homeless shelters and drug treatment centers that have surfaced to try to combat Boston’s massive opioid addiction problem.

Residents walking their dogs would know to steer clear of this street for fear of their pet stepping on a used needle or picking up an empty heroin bag. I’m not exaggerating. The debris of addiction and the presence of junkies isn’t limited to the ‘Methadone Mile’– you can see the effects of the drug from Dorchester T stations to the lovely Fens gardens to Revere Beach. But in this location, however, it’s not uncommon to find addicts openly cooking and injecting drugs like it ain’t no thang. And to them, it isn’t, which should put it into the tourist’s head to be wary of people suffering and how that might affect their time in Boston.

5. We will always be proud of our role in the American Revolution.

Boston is rife with revolutionary history due to its role as a commercial center and home to some of the radicals we remember today like Samuel Adams (after whose namesake the Boston Lager was brewed) and John Adams. Just looking at a map of Boston and Massachusetts will make names of people and places from your history books jump out at you, from Revere and Quincy to Lexington and Concord.

If you feel like following in the footsteps of the Revolution that gave our nation the now-ridiculous reputation of ‘The Land of the Free,’ you can follow theFreedom Trail, which starts at the Boston Common park and goes to the USS Constitution.

6. We’re not an ignorant city; in fact, some of the world’s top universities are here.

It seems as though ‘America’s College Town’ always has been and always will be home to great minds and progressive thinking, and that idea only seems to be enhanced by the sheer amount of universities present. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, most notably Harvard, MIT and Tufts.

In fact, this concentration of higher education in Boston has led to a steady increase in the population, leaving the city sort of grasping for housing. The Boston Redevelopment Authority found in a 2010 study that there are 152,000 students in Boston’s institutions, a number that had gone up about 20 percent since 1990 and, we can only assume, has gone up since.

7. Don’t visit during winter.

Many people who don’t get to really experience snow (I’m looking at you, Australia) love the idea of traveling around the States in the winter. A White Christmas! What a novelty! I urge you, however, to do yourself a favor and not come to Boston for its winter. Hell, New York, for all its sludge, is a better bet if you’re dying to freeze your ass off in a major US city. Boston is simply too miserable to show you a good time.

When winter comes to Boston, it settles in, and so do its residents. You will be welcomed not only by arctic winds, thigh-high snow and terrifying icicles hanging off the roofs, but also by bitter humans who are struggling from an ungodly combination of bone-chill, the flu, seasonal affectiveness disorder and daunting daily transportation issues. That painful moment when you wake up to a white-washed window only to realize that you must now dig your car out or else suffer the lagging and creaking MBTA is enough to make anybody’s day a miserable one. In addition, you’ll find yourself exhausted from putting on at least three extra layers of clothes only to take off two of them in a huff the second you walk into any heat-pumped building. Heading to the pub later? Count almost everyone in Boston out. They’d rather drink inside and watch the Pats game.

8. Nightlife ends early here.

Prepare yourself to start and end your night much earlier in Boston than you would in many other major cities. Most bars are only open until 2 am, so if you think that’s the time when the party is kicking off, you will be sadly mistaken and left with booze blue balls. Don’t even try to get another one off the bartender at 2:01. It’s not gonna happen.

9. You should bring your passport to the pub.

If you are planning on one of these early nights out, make sure to bring a proper form of ID and expect to get carded almost everywhere. Boston is notoriously strict about ID-ing as it is a college town and there are plenty of underage kids just trying to have a drink in a social setting like a normal adult. Foreigners will often find themselves turned away by many bartenders for not having their passport on them. No, we don’t accept your country’s driver’s license. Military ID cards are usually considered OK.

10. Seafood is good here, eat all that you can afford.

New England seafood is well known for being some of the best in the world, so don’t leave without getting your hands on some. From the hearty Boston Clam Chowdah to a succulent and fresh Lobster Roll, you’ll be writing back home to Mom about it.

If you’re looking for a bit of history, check out Union Oyster House, America’s oldest remaining restaurant. It was built in 1826, it looks like a ship inside, and it’s alright. You can do better when it comes to New England seafood in Boston. I’m a casual seafood eater myself, so a walk through Quincy Market to Boston & Maine Co. for some steamed mussels will never go amiss. Also a big fan of Faneuil Hall’s Salty Dog for the sheer joy of watching the bartender shuck those fat Martha’s Vineyard oysters right in front of me. The Barking Crab is also a local favorite, as I love a chance to sit in a big red-and-white tent on Fort Point Channel in the Seaport District while I smash salty Fried Clams and buckets of King Crab.

Downeast Cider: The Way Cider Should Be

At the Downeast Cider House, you can find out just how that delicious, cloudy beverage is made.

From fermentation to canning to tasting, you’ll get your fill and more with a tour of the Downeast Cidery.

Upon receiving your first pour of Downeast Original Blend Cider, sounds of shock and delight are bound to follow. Just looking at that cloudy, orange liquid is enough to make your mouth water in anticipation of an unexpected sip, something apart from the Magners or the Angry Orchard ciders you are accustomed to drinking. That first mouthful of Downeast takes your senses on a journey, back to a crisp October day apple picking with your family as a child and enjoying the local farm’s cider with a basket of fresh-picked apples by your feet. You down the glass immediately, smacking your lips and thinking, That was tasty. Why, I’ll have another. A similar experience ensues as you polish off your second glass, and only then does it hit you that you are indeed consuming an alcoholic beverage.

As a server in a rather touristy area of Boston, I find myself recommending the cider over our other choices to my guests. “Ever had Downeast?” I’ll ask. “It’s really good. Unfiltered. Brewed locally just across the harbor (pronounced ‘hahbah’) in Charlestown (pronounced ‘Chahlestown’).” My patrons, hearing the word ‘local’ almost always jump on board and order a pint, followed by the aforementioned squeals of approval. Unfiltered? Brewed locally? How quaint. How very New England.

Well, I had had enough of just telling people that the brewery (cidery?) was so close by, so I decided to check it out for myself and purchase a Living Social for an affordable tour of the brewery plus two Downeast pint glasses and a down payment on a growler of cider. Whatever that means.

two growlers of Downeast Cider on the bar at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
two growlers of Downeast Cider on the bar

The cidery resides underneath the Tobin Bridge, which thoroughly confused later Uber drivers who couldn’t quite figure out our pin point location and found themselves crossing the bridge and canceling the trip.

The Tobin Bridge as seen from the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
The Tobin Bridge as seen from the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA

The large warehouse opens unceremoniously in the front, a sort of deck with a small game of corn hole serving as a foyer before the entrance to the building. A smiling girl in a cool Downeast t-shirt welcomed my cousin Faiez, his girlfriend Alex and me to the brewery from behind a fold up table.

outside Downeast Cidery, Charelstown, MA
Faiez and Alex excited to enter the Downeast Cidery
patio before Downeast Cidery entrance, Charlestown, MA
patio with seats and corn hole before Downeast Cidery entrance
sign in for Downeast Cidery tour, Charlestown, MA
sign in for Downeast Cidery tour

In the background, I could see the titan-like, gleaming silver fermentation tanks lined up like guards.

fermentation tanks at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
fermentation tanks at Downeast Cidery
me with a giant fermentation tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
me with a giant fermentation tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA

The smell of fermenting apples hit my nostrils with my first step into the warehouse. “It smells like an apple with a yeast infection,” I exclaimed to Alex, making her laugh with agreement. The atmosphere at the brewery was pretty laid back. Thin, pale employees walked around cheerfully, either leading tours or cleaning growlers or pouring drafts at the bar around the corner. Visitors rested their fresh drafts on barrels and munched on free bags of snacks or sat at the games table to play Jenga or miniature finger Twister.

bar snacks at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
bar snacks at Downeast Cidery
Downeast Cidery bar, Charlestown, MA
Visitors enjoy the festivities at the Downeast Cidery’s bar
Jenga at the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
Alex playing Jenga at the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
barrel tables at Downeast Cidery
barrel tables at Downeast Cidery
finger Twister at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
finger Twister at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA

Apparently this whole area serves as an office during the week, and opens up as a bar on the Fridays and Saturdays when tours commence. As we waited for our tour to start, I nibbled on some of their spicy apple ginger cookies and bought a few rolling papers with the Downeast logo on them.

offerings at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
apple ginger cookies, Downeast pint glasses, T-shirts and Downeast rolling papers are for sale at the Downeast Cidery bar

A nice young woman with thick glasses and a sarcastic yet chipper demeanor led our tour. She explained to our group of about 10 eager drinkers that the founders, Tyler Mosher and Ross Brockman, started making their famous cider out of their dorm rooms in Bates College in Maine because they wanted a cider that actually tasted like fresh pressed apples.

tour guide at Downeast Cidery Tour, Charlestown, MA
tour guide at Downeast Cidery Tour

So, in 2011, after college, they kept bottling the stuff in Waterville, Maine until 2012 when the worst harvest of apples hit their home state. So they moved to Massachusetts where the apples were still growing and settled up in Leominster for about a year. Eventually, Ross’s brother, Matt, found the current Charlestown location and became co-owner. The Charlestown spot has a maximum capacity of eight fermenters that it meets with fervor, producing that delicious original blend plus many other variations of hard cider, both filtered and unfiltered. The secret to their unique flavor? Rather than using a champagne yeast in the production of the cider, they use an ale yeast because it holds the flavor better.

Like at any brewery or distillery tour, the tour guide explained to us how the stuff was made. The apples are fermented for two weeks, during which time they produce carbon dioxide, alcohol (yay!) and heat. The optimal temperature that the workers there look for is 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The cider is then cooled by glycol tubes and then after another two weeks, the temperature drops to 32 degrees so that the yeast goes to sleep and sinks to the bottom. This yeast is then removed and reused for future batches, because yeast is expensive. The remaining cider is then flash pasteurized at 115 degrees to kill any lingering yeast that might cause the cider to continue to ferment. Then the cider chills out in some artsy cool holding tanks until it’s ready to be canned, at which point they’ll add a bit of CO2 back in for some fizziness.

artful, chalk board holding tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
artful, chalk board holding tank with drawings of ships and clouds and “The way cider should be”
artsy chalk board holding tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
further illustrations of a ship on chalk board-like holding tank at Downeast Cidery
graffiti holding tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
graffiti holding tank with words”The way cider should be” at Downeast Cidery

Next, our tour guide walked us through the canning process. Why cans? Because they are cheaper, lighter and easier to ship, and because they have a light and air tight seal, which means that there is neither room for oxygen to sit and nor any way for light to enter and ruin the cider, making it taste like wet cardboard. The cans idea was also an homage to Maine college boy life, where hunting and going to the beach are a weekly habit and bottles are banned from both of those scenes.

canning station at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
canning station at Downeast Cidery
cans of Downeast Cider at the brewery, Charlestown, MA
cans on cans on cans
kegs and cans at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
kegs and cans in the back

Our group got to taste Downeast’s delicious Original blend, their Cranberry blend, made with 10% fresh cranberry juice, their hard lemonade and their Unoriginal blend.

taste of Cranberry Blend Cider at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
taste of Cranberry Blend Cider

If you’ve been paying attention, you might guess that the Unoriginal tastes like the other brands. I guess they caved and made a cider fermented with champagne yeast to give it that drier taste that nobody I know loves. As our tour guide said, “It’s unoriginal because it’s how everyone does it.”

Later at the bar, I sampled the sweet and rich Maple Oak blend, a specialty blend that’s made in their two original, old school fermenters from Maine, complete with heating pads plastered to the sides and an opening at the top to cool the brew. This just goes to show that the employees at Downeast take the proper amount of time and give a little extra effort to create fresh flavors for their fans. Demand is so high, in fact, for all their blends that they are currently looking for a new warehouse that can fit additional fermenters so that they can expand their blooming business.

original fermenters from Maine warehouse at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
original fermenters from Maine warehouse at Downeast Cidery

“Locally grown, fresh pressed, gluten-free, not from concentrate.” The way cider should be, indeed. I know it’s a hike, but it’s worth it for a sweet taste of that New England nectar, straight from the source. Keep an eye out for their specialty brews like their hard honey cider and a pumpkin blend coming in the fall!

the line up of Downeast blends at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
the line up of Downeast blends

Downeast Cidery

200 Terminal Street, Charlestown, MA




by Rebecca Bellan