For today’s review I’ll be looking at a place that I’ve been looking forward to for awhile, Slumbrew’s American Fresh Taproom at Assembly Row in Somerville, MA. So far I’ve hit it up on two occasions, the first on Sunday, November 22, which was at the end of its opening week and the second on Black Friday, November 28 as something to do before seeing a movie.
Location: For me, getting there was as easy as jumping on the Orange Line subway to the new Assembly Square stop and taking a brief walk. The taproom is set up as an outdoor beer garden and since this is Boston in November what that means in practice is a heated tent. It’s about a block away from all the shopping amenities of Assembly Row and is a great place to stop before seeing a movie as the beer selection and prices easily beat the theater bar (no to-go cups though).
The Decor: Walking into the tent takes you out of the parking lot and storefronts and into the world of Slumbrew. Banners of their bottle label art are hanging overhead and plastic utensils , and napkins on each table are tucked snuggly inside their empty six pack boxes. For seating they have an open area with about a dozen or so tables set up. The tables typically seat two to four and are colorful folding chairs paired with basic tables. A few additional taller tables are at the edge of the floor for standing. There are also two small shops inside. The first is located opposite the entrance and sells some local foodstuffs like taza chocolate, local nuts, and jars of Fluffernutter that are also on the menu. The second is immediately to the left of the entrance and has Slumbrew merch, mostly shirts and glassware. Two spacious and very clean bathrooms are located between the two shops.
To the right of the entrance and across from the seating area is where the magic happens. The day’s offerings are listed on two large chalkboards, one for food and one for the tap list. The set up is vaguely reminiscent of a cafeteria system. Mixed food and beer orders are done on the left and the beer-only line forms down at the other end of the counter where there are also a few stools set up at a counter and more standing room space as well. Seemed like a pretty efficient system when I was there.
The Visit: My first visit was around 1:00 PM on the Sunday at the of their opening week which unfortunately for me meant that about half the beers (including the three I was most excited about – Yankee Swap 2013 & 2104 and Lobstah Killah) were kicked and one or two things on the menu weren’t available either. Slightly disappointing for sure but it’s a good sign for them that they got that much interest so quickly. I shook this off and ordered the Assembly Row Pale Ale and the daily charcuterie plate. The Pale Ale (review below) was fantastic and the charcuterie plate was a nice companion to my beers offering smoked chorizo, prosciutto, blue cheese crumbles, apple bread, mango cashews, and taza chocolate – all locally sourced. Everything on the plate was good; I personally could have done with a touch more chorizo but really when can’t you say that?
Dessert was the taza chocolates from the plate with a Porter Square Porter to wash them down, which made for an excellent pairing. All told the two beers and food cost me about $26 ($13 for the food and roughly $6.50 per beer) which considering the proximity to Boston and the upscale shopping at Assembly Row isn’t too bad, especially for the beers.
My second visit was in the early evening on Black Friday, around 5:00 or 6:00 PM. No shopping for me, just stopping in to kill some time and grab a few drinks before meeting my wife after work for a movie. The taps were fully stocked this time (sans the 2013 Yankee Swap) and I got a hold of the Lobstah Killah and 2014 Yankee Swap that escaped me on my previous visit. Only had drinks this time out and both tasted great. It was a pretty chilly evening but the temperature inside the tent I found quite comfortable and well maintained which is a definite plus.
The Ambiance: Between the tent, the colorful seating arrangements, overhead banners, and cafeteria feel of the ordering counter the place had kind of a funky makeshift vibe going on that was fun. Lots of good energy going on there and the staff was friendly and helpful as they all seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. Apparently the kitchen smoke alarm is located in a less than ideal position so whenever it goes off there is a rousing round of cheer and applause. The background music was a good mix that contributed to the good times and it was never inappropriately loud or dominating. No TVs here which I think was an excellent call. For people like me in there solo, cell data reception was working just fine – no problems with those Untappd check-ins here!
The clientele here is primarily younger professionals (think mid 20s through early 40s) though there were definite differences between my two visits. During my first visit, the place was probably half full with young families and their children probably taking a shopping break or on the way to or from Lego Land. That did make me feel a bit out of place coming for a few drinks on a Sunday afternoon since it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I’m pretty sure that was all in my head, as obviously no one minded. Maybe I’m just a bit jealous that all the kids got Slumbrew Frisbees AND the chance to go to Lego store, but I digress.
The second visit brought me into a pretty full house. Approximately the same age range of people minus the kids. I can’t deny that there was a slightly hipster vibe on both trips but overall the people in there all seemed to be in good spirits and enjoying the beers.
Impression: I know I’ll gladly end up here again but am not quite ready yet to make it into a regular stop the way Night Shift has become until the plans to expand the offerings and onsite brewing pan out. A few things I would like to see happen:
- Growlers – These will be available eventually pending license from the state
- Sample Flights – For those of us that can’t make up our minds
- Online updates about the menu and tap list
That said, I’m a fan of Slumbrew and think it’s really awesome that they finally got this opened up and seem to have wasted no time getting noticed. On Friday night I took a quick walk a few blocks around the taproom and this was easily the busiest bar/eatery I saw. The place feels very accessible and neighborly. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on this place. For an example of why, let’s take a look at two of the beers that really caught my attention.
Beer: Assembly Row Pale Ale
Brewery: Somerville Brewing Company (Slumbrew)
Style: Pale Ale
Description: New hoppy pale ale named for the new taproom.
Pour Info: On tap poured into a 12 oz. plastic cup.
Appearance: Pours a light golden amber with a fluffy white head.
Smell: Smell is slightly sweet with fresh hops.
Taste: Follows the hoppy sweetness of the smell. The sweet is more upfront followed by a nice blast of hops midway through to the finish. No hint of being 9%.
Mouth Feel: Thin side of medium with good carbonation.
Hype Factor: I had been a little disappointed that my first choice of beers were kicked, but this one was good enough to make up for that and then some.
Overall: This beer was quite good and I had to do a double take upon trying it to confirm that it really was 9.2% (though by the end I was slightly aware). Undoubtedly, I would stop in for one of these again. Would be fantastic if this turns out to be the house beer year-round.
Beer: 2014 Yankee Swap
Brewery: Somerville Brewing Company (Slumbrew)
Style: Imperial Stout
Description: Second edition of their big winter stout series. This one was aged in Turkey Shore Distillery rum barrels.
Pour Info: 8 oz. pour from tap line into plastic cup.
Appearance: Dark and black with a thick tan head that had to be partially poured off on the fill. The head takes a few seconds before setting up to the top.
Smell: Rum/oak barrel and sweetness.
Taste: Very mellow considering how big this beer is. Has a slight molasses like sweetness and some oaky notes from the barrel. The rum is there in the background from start to finish and comes out more as the beer warms. These three tastes balance together quite well and in a very drinkable way.
Mouth Feel: Thick and creamy but very smooth going down.
Hype Factor: It eluded me once so I wasn’t about to pass it up when I saw it.
Overall: Really liked this though the 8 oz. pour was the perfect amount for me. Very smooth and enjoyable to drink. I’d get this again if I see it available.