John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House
1 Worcester Rd.
Welp, it had been a good fifteen years since I last visited John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House, and back in 2003 I wasn't a drinker of real beer. Thus the only JH microbrew I enjoyed at the time was their American Lager (I think that was the name), which was essentially a glorified Budweiser clone. Now that I actually understand what good beer tastes like, it seemed time to revisit this chain establishment. And goddamn if John Harvard doesn't have some hella good stuff on tap....
|The old-timey decor fits right into the colonial theme.....|
First off, the food. Their menu is loaded with comfort choices, from burgers to pizza to chicken pot pie to meatloaf (my wife's choice on this particular occasion - deliciously grilled no less). After enjoying their homemade beer bread and soft pretzels with spicy mustard and beer cheese (How do you type out the "Oh my sweet lord this food is delicious" kiss gesture? MMMWAH!!!) I went with the pastrami panini, topped with cheese and served on a grilled bun with fries. This was a spectacular sandwich, complete with French au jus for dipping. The lean pastrami was tender and flavorful, and the portion size was just enough to get satisfyingly full. I'd order this meal again in a heartbeat.
|Well, hello delicious.....|
But now let's look at the ample beer selection. John Harvard's has a rotating roster of beers, with some of the better variety you'll find at a microbrew restaurant these days (in other words it isn't just 12 IPA variations and a couple pilsners). The current menu at the Framingham location offered a good dozen choices and I got to try six. I started with a custom sampler (five 5 oz. pours) and finished with a full pint of my favorite, plus one of my dining companions let me try one of his beers. So here goes....
|So many different types of awesome.....|
Whatever Happened to Fay Wray? Hefeweizen: This was the best of the bunch in my opinion. A gorgeous mix of traditional Weizen yeast sweetness (with banana and clove notes) and a crisp, refreshing finish. Hefs are one of my favorite styles of beer, and John Harvard's has done them proud.
Denham's Discovery Dunkel Weizen: Similar to the hefe and almost as good, the dunkel has a dark brown color and a bit more body. But the banana yeast flavor comes through, punctuated by stronger cloves and the slightest hint of cinnamon. One of the better dunkels I've had.
O'Donnell's Dry Irish Stout: Think Guinness but much more flavorful and with more body. This nitro-infused stout has a dry finish but deep, rich coffee notes that soothe the nostrils and warm the heart. I'd prefer it without nitro, but as nitro stouts go this was first-rate.
Celtic Red: Probably the weakest of the beers I tried, this is nonetheless a perfectly serviceable Irish red, with a dark amber color and a medium body. Just your basic red beer.
Public Service Announcement New England IPA: One of two surprise hits during this visit, this IPA is hops-forward but is balanced by some floral notes and a hint of Weizen yeast flavor. Surprisingly well-rounded for an IPA (I'm generally not a big IPA guy, so finding one I genuinely like is a big win). Crisp and refreshing, I could drink a bunch of these in a row.
Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter Stout: The other shocker, this peanut butter stout actually struck me as more of a vanilla porter. The PB is very subtle and balanced by the vanilla and chocolate notes. I idea of a PB stout seemed a little gross, but this was pretty excellent and one of my three favorites of the day.
If you haven't visited a John Harvard's or are turned off by the idea of a chain restaurant, don't be shy about checking them out. The classic comfort food is eminently satisfying and the craft beer on tap is varied, flavorful, and pretty excellent across the board. These guys know how to brew multiple styles and get them just right. I foresee JH's being a regular haunt going forward.
This place gets an A.
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