You’ve heard of Trillium Brewing Company. Likely Cambridge Brewing Company, too. But have you heard of Cheeky Monkey Brewing Company?
Many local drinkers haven’t. But yes, this brewery and restaurant has been open in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood since August. To understand what Cheeky Monkey is about — and to know if it’s right for you — you really have to stop by.
Before trekking to Landsdowne Street to find out, it helps to do some online snooping. The brewpub’s social media is whimsical, to say the least, bouncing between pictures of mac and cheese and Pinterest-esque motivational posters bearing phrases like “hustle and grow” and “better an oops than a what if.” On the brewery’s website, you can read about house beers like the Double Play IPA and Down Undah pale ale, but descriptors keep it short; again, you just have to go there.
Turns out, in the spirit of Fenway and Boston, the brewery is just trying to keep things playful.
“We wanted to start with a couple of base beers that we knew people would like: IPA, pale ale, that sort of thing,” says digital marketing coordinator Emily Tourtillotte. “Then we created fun names to go with them; they’re just beers that people will enjoy.”
But Cheeky Monkey doesn’t brew those beers like most spots around town. Instead, it utilizes a SmartBrew system, which essentially has a brewmaster named Brian Watson in New Zealand architect recipes and brew wort (a mush of malt before yeast is added) before sending his concoctions to Boston. With the help of Cheeky Monkey brewery manager Jason McCloud, that base beer is fermented and finished in Fenway using four 10-barrel tanks.
SmartBrew has gained popularity across the U.S. for its simplicity and efficiency, with local spots like Greasy Luck Brewpub in New Bedford also adopting the method. Drinkers more versed in the craft beer scene might be skeptical about this approach, but places like Cheeky Monkey see it as the future of brewing.
In an email, Cheeky Monkey owner Kevin Troy says the brewery launched with a SmartBrew system, versus an in-house brewing team, because the brewery only intends to produce beer for on-premise sales. Cheeky Monkey does offer takeaway growlers, but as of now, the only way to taste the spot’s beer is to trek to Fenway.
Tourtillotte adds that the team is focusing on building up that in-house catalog with more small-batch and seasonal stuff and seeing where that takes them. She couldn’t share details on any of those future releases yet but did say that the brewery plans to soon offer a “blue and black” beer that mixes its blueberry wheat beer and stout to-order.
So, to rope drinkers in and keep them entertained, Cheeky Monkey made sure to deck out its destination. The brewpub occupies the former Tequila Rain space, just steps from Boston Beer Works and Fenway Park. A staircase inside the brewery also connects drinkers to Lucky Strike Social, a bowling alley and bar. Together, both places make up a multi-level, 70,000-square-foot behemoth, with Cheeky Monkey occupying around 10,000 square feet of that.
The brewpub is spacious for sure, and the ability to grab a beer and go bowling in the other room is not to be discounted, but the size really seems meant to accommodate the hordes of Red Sox fans waiting for the 2018 season to start. Especially considering that places like Dorchester Brewing Company have tasting rooms that hover around 2,000 square feet, the extra elbow room inside Cheeky Monkey is very apparent.
On weekdays, consider kicking off your visit to Cheeky Monkey with dinner, like a street food-inspired plate of miso salmon with scallion rice or a pile of Singapore-style shrimp noodles with bean sprouts and peppers. Many of the plates, courtesy of chef Jessica Brown, riff on traditional fare from Thailand and Malaysia. There are also a few pub grub-style plates and apps for those who prefer cheeseburgers, fried calamari, deviled eggs, and the like.
There are around five house beers at a time, spanning the usual suspects like IPAs and fruited beers. Large copper tanks loom above the bar, housing each beer while it’s tapped right from the tank. If none of the house beers stick out, there’s always the wall of spirits behind the bar and a solid dozen guest taps pouring from traditional kegs.
“We’re sticking with our five base beers, so those guest taps will stay,” Tourtillotte says. “It’s based on location as well: Since we’re next to Fenway, we want to have the options for other drafts and other craft beers for guests coming in. And while we only have five [core] beers, it’s good to have the variation.”
Games like ping pong, shuffleboard, and billiards scatter the space, with a Zoltar fortune-teller machine hunkered down in a far corner near the bar. The passages that lead to Lucky Strike Social and beyond are just a bonus. This gaming setup is a large part of Cheeky Monkey’s appeal, so if you’re not much of a gamer, enter with an open mind.
So, what is Cheeky Monkey Brewing Company? Well, in short, a lot of things. A place to game, a place to drink, and a place to inevitably pre-game before a Sox game. It may not be the destination of a hop-head or beer connoisseur, but that’s not really the crowd Cheeky Monkey is trying to win over. The brewpub is hoping to curate an experience, and once baseball season rolls back around, we’ll likely see that in full force.
“We opened at the end of August, so we only got the tail-end of the season,” Tourtillotte says. “So we’re excited to be open on opening day and throughout the season.”
This story is part of Beer & Mortar, a series in which Eater Boston contributor Alex Wilking explores the beer scene in Boston and beyond, featuring profiles of both classic breweries and soon-to-open ones, reports on local beer trends, and more.