Beer Program: Five Horses Tavern
400 Highland Ave., (617) 936-3930
The throbbing bass of a reggae song cuts through Five Horses as beverage director Ira Vogel silently scrolls through the beer app Untappd, reviewing his perennially changing beer menu in a corner booth.
Starting as a server/busser six years ago, Vogel quickly glommed onto the local craft beer culture surrounding Five Horses, eventually taking on both locations’ beer programs and providing input on wine and liquor selection, marketing strategy, and Instagram.
“When I got into the industry, I was really young,” he says. “I was like 21 or 22, so I really had been drinking only, like, college beers at that point. Working here was what got me really interested in beer, maybe to a point of obsession.”
Listing off some of his most memorable selections over the years, Vogel sounds somewhere between a tastemaker and a provocateur, mentioning mushroom beers, beers made with yogurt, and the notorious Borg Brugghús’s Fenrir Nr. 26, an Icelandic ale made with sheep feces.
“I think we’re in a unique position here in Somerville, where the people walking through the door and the people in our community are a little more receptive to these new trends of beer,” he says. “We can pour anything from crazy, barrel-aged sours to super wacky fruited IPAs. Beers that might be a little too esoteric for a restaurant in South Boston do really well here.”
In terms of some of Vogel’s most well-liked, sheep-poop-free beers of late, the Crooked Stave Sour Rosé is a dry, but pleasantly tart ale loaded with berries and fermented inside a large barrel known as a foeder. On the less sour end of the spectrum, Proclamation’s Derivative Galaxy Pale Ale is a citrusy, late-summer refresher with notes of tea and herbs, while Finback’s latest double IPA is a testament to the New York brewery’s consistency and the reigning appeal of IPAs.
“Any brewery that’s brewing a really successfully made, delicious, hazy IPA is going to do well with that,” Vogel explains. “If you run the numbers on the menu across the board, that’s what we’re pouring the most of, particularly Fiddlehead, Trillium, and Mystic when we get it.”
Although Vogel humbly admits that he didn’t predict the latest craze in IPAs (“Everyone’s making these IPAs with lactose sugar and vanilla in them”), Five Horses has cultivated an environment where staff at all levels are involved and valued in the quest of trying to predict the best of what’s next.
“Our staff is all really into beer as well, which is great because they can be trying things alongside us,” Vogel says. “That’s what also makes it kind of special, because you get to have a conversation about it.”