If you start at the intersection of Mass. Ave and Melnea Cass Boulevard and head south, the streetscape changes pretty quickly. There are fewer people who look to be in the throes of addiction, and more industrial buildings with blank facades.
Whatever’s happening inside, it’s pretty clear the proprietors aren't hoping for unexpected visitors. But lately, there are some exceptions to that rule.
On the outside, 152 Hampden Street is totally nondescript; it looks like a storage facility or call center. On the inside, though, it’s airy and bright. And this spring, it’ll become the new home of the Backlash Beer Company, with seating for 100 people and a draft list that could be a welcome change of pace for beer connoisseurs.
"We actually started out with a Belgian beer focus," says Maggie Foley, one of Backlash's co-founders.
Over time, Foley adds, that Belgian focus shifted: with hoppy IPAs all the rage, Backlash had to embrace that trend to stay viable. But now that Backlash will have its own tap room — and brew right on site, instead of contracting to use other companies’ gear — Foley and her partner, Helder Pimentel, plan to get more adventurous.
"The best case for me is a lot of dark beers," Foley says. "I love dark beers."
"Wild beers, or sour beers, and barrel aging, those are options that will open up to us now that we have control of our own production," Pimentel adds.
About a third of a mile away, experimentation is already going on in earnest at Bully Boy Distillers, where the air is permeated with a bright, fertile, earthy smell. Actually — make that “smells,” plural.
"We use a whole host of botanicals that aren’t used in traditional gins like hibiscus, pink peppercorn," says Dave Willis, Bully Boy's co-founder and head distiller. "All these things create a gin profile that’s distinctly different."
At Bully Boy, Dave Willis and his brother Will also make seven other spirits, which they serve in an adjoining tasting room that boasts an extensive cocktail menu and an aesthetic reminiscent of the Jazz Age.
Asked if their location gives some customers pause, Will Willis says: quite the contrary.
"Consumers in this day and age, they like the idea of discovery," he says. "And visitors to Bully Boy definitely feel as though they’ve made a discovery, because when you open up the door, it’s a little bit of an oasis."
That's a secondary benefit of setting up shop in a part of Boston where real estate is still relatively affordable.
"You used to have the Seaport, which had industrial space; that got developed into condos and office space," says Dave Willis. "Everyone’s sort of getting pushed to areas where there isn’t a lot of development happening, and Newmarket was certainly one of those spaces."
It's also centrally located — a point made by Chase Brooks and Mark Finnegan of Prospect Ciderworks, which is a literal stone’s throw from Bully Boy.
"You have ... a neighborhood that hasn’t already exploded as far as how much it costs to be here, but has so much potential and so much proximity," says Brooks.
"Proximity’s a huge part," adds Finnegan. "It’s a $7 Uber away from the South End or Southie."
At Prospect, Brooks and Finnegan aim to bridge the gap between cider and beer, by using ingredients like Simcoe hops and Belgian Ale yeast. But they’re also keenly aware that as a business, they’re building a bridge of a different sort: making a once-forbidding neighborhood more welcoming, but also paving the way for more new arrivals who could push prices up and longtime residents out.
"Everybody sort of, I think, acknowledges the fact that they anticipate this neighborhood as being on the brink, and nobody’s quite sure how to talk about it," says Brooks.
It’s a question they’re also pondering at the nearby Dorchester Brewing Company, which serves its own tasty brews in a tap room on Mass. Ave, and also does contract brewing for outside clients.
"We’re employing people that live in Dorchester," says Matt Malloy, Dorchester Brewing's CEO. "We’re actually allowing people to walk to work. ... We employ 24 people here. We’re really trying to be good stewards."
Since nearby parts of Dorchester and Roxbury are already feeling the pressures of gentrification, that might be the most that any of these businesses can do.
And as Maggie Foley of Backlash notes, it's not just about hiring locals to work behind the scenes or behind the bar.
"We have big plans to have a bunch of murals over on these walls," she says, gesturing toward one end of Backlash's still-unfinished tap room. "Rather than pulling from the artists we’ve used previously, we want to pull from someone who’s an artist from this community."
Writ large, that's an approach that could make Boston’s burgeoning Fermentation District feel like it’s actually of Newmarket Square, and not just in it.