Boston Breweries Of Old

When you mention Boston beer to the uninitiated, a few obvious names might come to mind. Particularly Sam Adams and Harpoon among a few others, but long before the age of microbreweries and IPAs, JP was home to a number of famous breweries that fostered a culture fading into the background of today’s hub. From workers strikes to capitalizing on prohibition, the Boston brew scene was seldom a dull place.

                The Legacy Of Haffenreffer

 Most may know Haffenreffer more affectionately as Private Stock, or the green bottled 40 you drank in high school on many a hazy night. Haffenreffer’s legacy goes deep; back to a post Civil War Boston and German immigrant Rudolph Haffenreffer. Along with his prodigy, Rudolph would establish the brewery on Germania street shortly after his arrival in Boston, but not without trouble. A 1902 worker’s strike would leave the entirety of the city’s breweries completely shut down with as many as 1,500 men refusing to work.

The efforts were aimed at an 8 hour workday with 50 cents overtime, which was a compromise from an initial demand for a 9 hour workday with 35 cents overtime. Additionally, there was a dispute between bosses and workers regarding the firing process, which would be conducted in front of a jury before termination of employment was officially determined. Bosses wanted to reserve the right to fire workers as they saw fit, an act which workers felt was, “an attempt to establish blacklists.” The strike would eventually end a month later.

                   The Mystery Of Moxie

 Most Bostonians and New Englanders have tried or at least heard of Moxie, or the strangely bitter soda with a strangely attractive taste. It’s a hit or miss with most, but the history behind the drink has deep ties in the local brewery scene. Originally invented in 1888 as the soda brewed with gentian root (a very bitter plant known for its tonic properties), a wide variety of household stories surrounded it’s origin; like the imaginary “Lieutenant Moxie” who served in the Civil War and discovered the gentian root in South America during his brave exhibitions. However, the real inventor was Dr. Augustin Thompson in Lowell.


Originally marketed as “nerve food”, or a remedy for anxiety and insomnia, it would become one of the first mass produced soft drinks in the US. It became hugely popular during prohibition, when Burton Brewery (famous for their Bull’s Head and Special Porter) on Heath Street began producing and serving it to patrons who claimed to feel some type of buzz from it. Whether Burton was slipping something else in the recipe or if thirsty patrons were victim of placebo is still unknown. Today Moxie is still available online, and has slipped it’s way into the American English language as a word for courageous personality.

              The Ones That Didn't Make It

 While extensive history may exist for the more popular known breweries, many of the city’s beer suppliers have been forgotten in the wake of New Boston. Croft Beer, for example, was an extremely popular brewery that opened in 1934 - only months after Prohibition was repealed in December 1933. It was only open for 18 years, giving it less seniority and historical intrigue than older names that stuck around. Pfaff Brewery, for example, was established in 1857 in Roxbury at the current site of Roxbury Community College.





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