Editor's note: Turning our attention from D.C., for a bit, let's go to another of the country's historic cities, Boston. Sunset Grill & Tap looks like an ideal place to celebrate this historic day, doncha think? Bonus: Free midnight buffet on Tuesday nights (and on Sundays and Mondays)!

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There are those who enjoy a cold beer at happy hour, but don’t know a lager from a lambic. And then there are those who appreciate the flavor and subtlety of beer the way wine snobs do their vino—who love the hoppy tang of an IPA, or a toasty, full-bodied Guinness, or a lively, crisp Saison.

But both kinds of beer-lovers can find common ground at Sunset Grill & Tap. Just west of Boston, this local legend of a bar has more than one hundred beers on tap, along with hundreds more by the bottle. That amounts to a twelve-page menu in hardly-legible print. Sunset constantly rotates the kegs on tap and keeps a low but steady stock of everything bottled in order to ensure freshness. And with brew-savvy barkeeps, a handily indexed menu, and dozens of microbrews and imports by the pint for just $5, Sunset makes high-quality beer accessible to even the less beer-geeky.

First, the disclaimer: Just down the street from Boston University, Sunset is often packed with tables of barely-legals putting back beer by the yard—the sort of crowd prone to joining the soundtrack in a chorus of “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Don’t expect a designer beer bar. But avoid weekend nights and you’ll get a less rowdy crowd and a much better share of the bartender’s attention.

The Beer

With twelve pages to peruse, ordering a beer could easily take hours. Luckily, Sunset breaks its menu down by type, from amber ale to Weizenbock, briefly noting name, place of origin, ABV and price to help narrow your search. Recommended beers are starred within each category, if you’re willing to trust the bartender. And in what may be the bar’s best deal, flights of any beers on tap—four different 5 oz. pours—are available for $9. If you need a hand to hold in your tour through the overwhelming menu, pick one of the recommended flights: IPA fans might try the Hop Head Junket; the seasonal-minded should opt for four winter ales. Or just use your four pours to sample beers you’re not ready to dedicate a full pint to. The flight is a lower-cost, lower-commitment way to work through the menu.

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From left: Speakeasy Double Daddy, Gulden Draak, Lindeman’s Framboise, Rauchator Doppelbock.

Like the Rauchator Doppelbock, a dark lager from the Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado. With a character described to me as “thick and smoky,” this beer wasn’t one on which I was ready to risk a full glass (or, with an ABV of over 10%, a reasonable fraction of my sobriety). But five ounces was enough to appreciate its smooth, full-bodied feel and—no lie—its bacon-like flavor. And not in the way wine people claim their chardonnay has notes of anise or grapefruit; sweet and smoky, the Rauchator truly tastes like a bacon-flavored beer. One sip, and I was sold.

Other winners on tap included the crisp and super-hoppy Speakeasy Double Daddy, the clean and drinkable Gulden Draak, and, for fruity lambic fans, the Lindeman’s Framboise—lighter and slightly less sweet than the bottled version.

20090115coopers200.jpgAnd hundreds more lagers, ales and ciders are available by the bottle. My beer-fan boyfriend literally clapped his hands when he saw the Australian Cooper’s Sparkling Ale on the menu. Since Coopers is made with a secondary fermentation process—meaning that some yeast remains in the bottle—the beer contains a fine sediment that sinks to the bottom. So, I was informed, one should ask for the beer unopened, and gently roll or shake the bottle before popping the cap, so as to disperse the sediment (and flavor) evenly. Local breweries are also well-represented, like the bitter, hoppy Green Monsta ale from the Wachusett Brewing Company. (For non-Bostonians, that’s a reference to Fenway’s formidable back wall—in a Boston accent.)

20090115monsta200.jpgThere were a few disappointments and holes in the menu. Sunset’s Guinness (like most American Guinness) tasted flat and stale, with far too little stable, creamy head. I would have appreciated more than one cider on tap, and a few national standards like Italy’s Peroni. But with more than four hundred other beers to choose from, it was hard to complain.

And The Food?

20090115burger250.jpgThe proper name is Sunset Grill & Bar, but I’d recommend the reverse order; the food tastes much better after a few drinks. The menu, while extensive, is heavy on the pub grub. Wings were tasty but unremarkable; BBQ pulled pork sliders were so oversauced as to drown out any meaty flavor. Sunset’s signature item, the half-pound sirloin “Steam Beer Burger,” was slightly better. The beef was incredibly moist, but lacked proportionate flavor—a result, I would venture, of the steaming process. In fact, meat felt too moist, almost wet, with zero exterior texture. While the burger had a good meat-to-bread ratio, the brioche bun was slightly too sweet, further getting in the way of any meaty flavor. It certainly wasn’t a bad burger, but one that benefited from ketchup.

How best to handle garden-variety pub food? Go late on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday and crash the free (with two drinks) midnight buffet. The standard-issue steak quesadillas and curly fries may not win any awards—but free, hot, and filling, they’re a drunk-eater’s dream. And you always get more than you pay for.

Sunset Grill & Tap

130 Brighton Avenue, Allston MA 02134 (map)
617-254-1331
allstonsfinest.com

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