Brewer’s Fork in Charlestown is a lot of things: a wood-fired pizzeria, a fresh seafood spot, and an essential lunch pillar. It also happens to be one of the best beer bars in the Boston area.
That’s because the space, situated in Hayes Square, remains focused on balance. Balance between drinks, balance between midday salami pies, and balance between people. No aspect of the space intrudes on another: Minimalist lamps dangle above each table, while the day’s specials are displayed modestly on blackboards. The dining area is airy and open, with a sleek bar close by for the particularly parched.
The beer list takes a similar approach. Although paper menus are available, consider gazing at the black panels situated neatly behind the bar. 30 drafts, spanning sours to stouts, gaze back: Firestone Walker’s Helldorado, a barrel-aged golden barleywine; Teenage Riot, a single-hop pale ale from Notch in Salem; a slightly hoppy amber ale from SingleCut in New York; a spiced belgian dark ale from the Lost Abbey.
A little intimidating? Sure, the selection calls for some careful decision-making. But despite its density, the draft list is oddly approachable. That’s because bar manager and beer buyer Josh Witkowski, along with Brewer’s Fork owner Michael Cooney, make sure all styles and palates are accounted for, including those of non-beer drinkers who just want to taste something new.
“Our mission in the beginning was to have an idea of what style should be on each line, including ciders,” Cooney says. “It’d be easy to grab 15 IPAs and just run with that, since that’s the popular style at the moment, but we felt it was important to get some lagers, local beer, and some European beer.”
Cooney’s tenure at The Publick House, a well-known beer bar in Brookline, taught him many of the essentials that led him to love beer. While he was formulating what he wanted for Brewer’s Fork, he and his wife would take frequent trips to New York. Inspired by the intensely curated wine and beer programs during his travels, he decided to make both libations a focus for Brewer’s Fork (the restaurant’s wine list is massive.)
Aside from the many beer styles on tap, there are always two devoted cider taps, one consistent nitro tap, and steins available for the...thirstier. Yes, plenty of hazy IPAs line said list too, but they are matched by a number of sessionable, low ABV lagers and sours. With that kind of selection, Cooney hopes that patrons will drink what the moment calls for, rather than what’s in vogue.
“If we could get away with it, we would just do descriptions of beer without the names of the breweries,” Cooney says. “It’d be helpful for people to come in and just say, ‘wow, that sounds great,’ versus whatever’s hot at the moment that people gravitate toward.”
While most of those taps rotate, there are four beers that are consistent staples of the menu. Cooney calls them the “big four”: Jack’s Abby’s House Lager (a light, easy-drinking go-to), Allagash White (a “quintessential” New England beer), Downeast Cider (a local cider option), and Night Shift’s Whirlpool (citrusy and quaffable pale ale).
There’s also a hefty bit of collaboration between the kitchen and bar. Brewer’s Fork will occasionally tap beers to pair with food specials for the week, various events, and even the menu tweaks new seasons bring. For example, when the menu shifted toward winter fare a few months back, the beer menu packed on a few extra stouts and heartier styles to match it.
“[Chef John Paine] does a lot of [smoked] meats at the restaurant too, so we try and get some of the [drink] specials to pair well with that food,” Cooney says.
The future promises even more to enjoy: The restaurant’s patio will bloom in the springtime for some outdoor hangs, and the tap list will soon transition toward more warm-weather beers. Cooney has also amassed a few rare and limited beers in the restaurant’s cellar, dormant and waiting for their moment.
Many of those beers are darker styles with higher ABVs, due to their longevity. Cooney didn’t want to share the details surrounding any upcoming beer releases, but he did recall the weekend the restaurant tapped a few kegs of Founders Brewing’s Canadian Breakfast Stout, a highly sought-after sipper aged in bourbon maple syrup barrels.
Shortly after Brewer’s Fork announced the beer, drinkers flooded the restaurant in droves, hoping to cop even a sip. If the experience (or beer) says anything about Cooney’s cellared stash, Boston drinkers should keep tabs on the restaurant’s draft list. But don’t worry, there will always be a few options on the other side of the spectrum if you need them.
“We have some fun stuff down there,” Cooney chuckled.
This story is part of Beer & Mortar, a series in which Eater Boston contributor Alex Wilking explores the beer scene in Boston and beyond. Stay tuned for new installments each week, featuring profiles of both classic breweries and soon-to-open ones, reports on local beer trends, and more.