Let’s face it, Beer is the new wine. With craft beer skyrocketing in popularity and new microbrews appearing on the horizon at breakneck speeds all around us, the transition to a beer culture just can’t be ignored. The Seacoast (NH) Beer Group on Facebook has over 2000 members and is one of the most prolific producers of
“Brewery Tour, Bub, it’s OK
And much to the chagrin of my significant other, most of these Seacoast Breweries are really into Ales, Pale Ales, IPA’s and DIPAs. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I will drop kudos to Throwback Brewery in Hampton for their focus on the darker shades of beer, and to be fair, most local micros make a mean porter or stout. But the IPA craze is on and I for one, am loving it. Also new to the scene are some beers that I can’t
So allow me to offer a brief rundown of some of my current favorites, in no particular order, and any I have left out
Stoneface Brewing, Newington NH
(I say they are a Portsmouth beer because I just want to. Same with Smuttynose, deal with it).
I said there would be no order to these but I lied. Stoneface gets top billing because their beer is just freaking amazing. Almost all are perfect: clean, crisp, hopped up but not astringent or too rich to
The tasting room is small and very friendly, samples are free and flow freely (they give the impression that they really want you to try their beers – all of them) they have a gas controlled growler fill contraption to help preserve your tankards a bit longer in the fridge. They also sell Bomber bottles that you’ll also find out on the streets in beer and wine shops and restaurants. I prefer their brew straight from the keg and places like the (now defunct) Coat of Arms really did their drafts justice. Bottles are good but lack a particular sharpness that the draft imparts.
Also of note – this isn’t a tiny brewery. They have a nice stack of big-time tanks and a warehouse that looks ready to scale up in growth. I expect really great things from the Stoneface.
Deciduous Brewing, Newmarket NH.
I’d try to say this too is a Portsmouth Beer too if I could, but Newmarket has made such an amazing transformation over the past few years they really deserve their own identity. The downtown used to be a great place to park for people to get drugs, but these days it’s a booming little city center, revitalized and refreshed and now graced with brewpubs, restaurants, the stone church, and now a brewery. A really, really good brewery.
I don’t get too deep into politics but I believe one of the owners cut their teeth at Blue Lobster, the first major death in the local brew scene (I think it’s important to know that the scene will have
So leaving that behind us, Deciduous only opened to the public a couple weeks into the Summer – they still are on limited hours. They built a beauty of a tasting room out of reclaimed wood and industrial modern accessories (plumbing pipes, live wood, barn wood, turned wood) and have what amounts to one of the cleanest and most refined tasting rooms around at a small scale. Not bad for a first effort. They currently have but 4 beers, an American Pale, A Dry Hopped Wheat, A Smoky Porter, and a Berliner Weisse (pictured) as first sampled at Row 34 in Portsmouth in a great tulip glass. If you haven’t been, check out Row34 then go immediately. This style of beer is relatively new to me. Tasting notes describe this beer, named Auroral, as ‘made with
acidulated malts, lychee and blood orange.’ It’s super light, low alcohol and
The Dry Hopped Wheat IPA (Agricultural) was a winner for me,
The tasting room has couches, seating at homemade live wood picnic tables, a glass viewing area into the brewery and offers $1.50 tastes of their brews. 750ML growler fills were also available on my visit but no true Growlers made their way there just yet. They just opened after all. One to watch.
Garrison City Beer Works, Dover NH
Garrison was a surprise for certain, I don’t spend a lot of time in Downtown Dover and to learn it was smack dab in the center of things was news to me. A few hundred feet down from 7Th Settlement Brewery and next door to Yeastern Homebrew Supply (the sister business of Garrison City) Downtown Dover is just brew lovers central. Directly across the street is Dover Wine and Brew so in one stop you can really find yourself knee deep and boozy. So beware. Dover is, after all, known as a hard-drinking town with a working problem (Ok I just made that up, but there are really thirsty folks in Dover, always have been). Just look at the Thirsty Moose Taphouse.
Entering Garrison you’re greeted by a terrific shiny copper bar, lively green (hop influenced) colors, a huge shiny POS flatscreen that outlines all the beer on tap, and scrolls social media reviews randomly (I tried to get on it by my phone died). Garrison had 5 beers on tap (one just kicked) that were presented in a very ‘cute’ hop shaped paddle full of numbered mini tulip glasses. Gold star for presentation. They also had really cool
So OK, onto the beer. Being connected to Yeastern Homebrew Supply shop is the model also followed by Earth Eagle in Portsmouth – makes complete sense to have wholesale access to brew supplies. One thing to note about Garrison – their brew room is tiny, a bit more cluttered and carries the feel of a homebrewer gone awry. It doesn’t feel like a ‘designed for mass production’ brew space. I suspect they will run out of capacity sooner rather than later. Another absolutely awesome differentiator at Garrison is how they package their beer for
I’ve had a few
My only real complaint was of my bar stool/seatmate. It is not clear what it was that I had done, but clearly, I was in the wrong. Note that the finger is extended to face the author of this article and not the beer. There were no similar sentiments toward the kind folks at Garrison, just to me. Practically ruining the terrific presentation of my Garrison’s.
So to briefly slip over the bridge from Portsmouth into Maine I throw in another legendary brewmaster we are fortunate enough to have right here in our own backyard. Tod Mott is damn near the most infamous brewer in these here parts because of one concoction he helped formulate and brew for The Portsmouth Brewery – a dark, sultry balanced little doll called “Kate the Great.” Kate as she came to be known, a Russian Imperial Stout, made national media, was chosen by many a
And yes, I have had Kate the Great, the original, hand-delivered liquid gold from a generic growler at a party by the man himself. I am certain he would not remember this moment but I clearly do. Right there in Kittery, from the OG himself. One of the few times my shadow has touched fame so please let me have my moment.
Ok, now that that’s over…Tod branched off to start his own brewery, Tributary, a few years back. Question one – did he make Kate? Answer – no. I don’t know the reason, nor do I care, but he did indeed come up with a beer as high and mighty in stature but more masculine called “Mott the Lesser.” Hysterical. And once again people flocked in hordes to get their hand on the Imperial Stout Master’s crowning achievement. Alas, I am told this was a one time release, and I did not secure a sample of this fine libation.
Just outside Kittery Foreside (downtown) in a building called Post Office Square (guess why) which hosts the Tributary brewery. With tons of parking and a farmers market on Sunday, the brewery is just the right size, has picnic tables, live music from time to time and is clean and modern with a nautical flair (the color blue). What’s unique about this brewery, perhaps because it is in Maine, you can buy pints of beer just to enjoy (not everything is a sample), samples or growlers (and mini growlers) to go. So it’s got a bit of a bar vibe, but still a tasting room experience.
I went for a special event highlighting diabetes (Tod is a victim himself apparently) and had four samples of Trib’s beers, paired up loosely with some bites from Cava restaurant and wines from a ME based winery Andrew Bevan Wines. My first sip was of the collaboration between Tributary and Earth Eagle (coming up next) which was a Sweet Fern Gose. I am not altogether familiar with the Gose style but heard it referred to as ‘salt beer.’ The sweet fern part literally came from ferns that were harvested in the wild and added to the brew in
An old German beer style from Leipzig, Gose is an unfiltered wheat beer made with 50-60% malted wheat, which creates a cloudy yellow color and provides a refreshing crispness and twang. A Gose will have a low hop bitterness and a complementary dryness and spice from the use of ground coriander seeds and a sharpness from the addition of salt. Like Berliner Weisse beers, a Gose will sometimes be laced with various flavored and colored syrups. This is to balance out the addition of
I can’t say if I picked up coriander, and the salt could have been there in the flavor profile, but it just came across as hops or minerality to me. It is a damn fine beer. The internets also offer up that this beer was made of wheat, cloves (something I really dislike when used in excess) and real Maine Seawater (
Following this was another Nice, light damn near perfect IPA made with Citra hops, so refreshing and citrusy without being cloying and a Wheat IPA that had more flavor and body and was so well constructed I don’t have much more to say. Once again we were faced with too many good beers at once. The way it should be, but makes it hard to choose favorites. Finally, there was a miss for me, the American Mild. I love me a good skunked up cheap swill beer sometimes. Old Milwaukee. Utica Club. And I suspect this was brewed in the style of the cheap American beer but on a craft level. It came across to me as carbonated water with a slight flavor of corn (not hops) and while not offensive just did nothing for me. I like a good pilsener but I think light beer needs a little funk or skunk to have character, that’s my well trained cheap beer palate’s take on this style. So nothing wrong with it, it was just unassuming and uninteresting. Coors light drinkers may love it.
Tod is a jovial character, friendly and talkative when not busy. There was live music playing which was super cool, they do that regularly, and as a ‘bar’ you can just drop by and have a pint or two which is a really nice way to keep folks in business.
We had the pleasure of returning to Tributary for their 1st Anniversary party which was for the most part business as usual except for tents outside, a live band of ever-changing characters (I think it was a bunch of local friends/musicians), food from Portsmouth’s Vida Cantina and a number of additional beers not seen before – including a DIPA brewed especially for the event. There was a Belgian Triple, A Winter (and Spring) Saison, and another dark beer whose name and style elude me. It was lovely to have them served outdoors in nice low profile, real tulip glasses. Kid and family friendly, dancing, you could have a drink and enjoy some tunes on a terrific summer day in September no matter who you were. It was lots of fun, still chill and cool, and made lots of happy people, happier. I(‘m not sure if the beer was the focus or the community around the beer, but I’ll take both. It was nice to see folks being free, happy, relaxed and enjoying life). Clearly, Mr. Mott is doing something right!
Earth Eagle Brewing, Portsmouth NH
Earth Eagle pretty much has to come last becuase if I haven’t been able to keep your attention on these relatively straightforward brewery experiences, I am definitely going to lose you on Earth Eagle. What started out as what was essentially the back room/closet of a homebrew supply shop has morphed, twisted and crawled it’s way up to the top via additions, growth, and expansions. What was once a taste and take room now offers a full bar (mixed drinks), guest taps, a nice selection of in-house brews, and a pub food menu that is actually quite tasty (get Chili). They also have an old WildCat ski trail sign on the wall that I would give up a toe for if I had to, legend has it that someone found it in the trash. A friend of mine tells me I once offered $500 for it (and was promptly shut down) of which I have little memory of. But that just puts this place on the coolness factor. A little more hipster and NH bearded than the other spots on the tour, a tad darker and a bit more grit, this is the most unique of all the aforementioned stops. The main differentiator is the fact that not only does Earth Eagle produce standard fare beer (IPA, porter) but also are the only folks I know actively involved in brewing Gruit. Again I turn to Beer Advocate:
Scottish Gruit / Ancient Herbed Ale
This category recognizes the ancient ales. Beers of yore, the way beers were probably brewed throughout the Middle Ages in Continental Europe. Gruit is mainly a concoction of : sweet gale (Myrica gale), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and wild rosemary (Ledum palustre). Other herbs, spices, and berries might be used to create interesting and pleasant aroma and flavor of green- and herbal-tea. These ancient ales may be highly intoxicating and aphrodisiacal when consumed in significant quantity. Historically, it has been said to stimulate the mind, create euphoria, and enhance sexual drive. Other ancient style ales include those made with such ingredients like: heather, seaweed, pine, spruce, etc. Those interested in learning more should read “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner.
So for example, try this one on for size. Feral Pears being a highlight, and of course, fresh catnip. These are all actual descriptions of EE’s website. You can’t make this $hit up.
And…THEM BONES, Dark Gruit. A robust porter based gruit with several pounds of beef bones added to the boil for a unique savory mouthfeel. Also Sweet Gale, Galangal Root, and Burdock Root. A most satisfying quaff!
SoMe Brewing (Sothern Maine Brewing Co). York, Maine (just added 9/6/15)
The beers were a very nice representation of a whole number of styles, not just the Proverbial IPA and DIPA iterations (which I have come to love) – we started with a couple Hefe styles, a Sour, and moved into a dark then the IPA’s to finish the flight. ‘Whoopie Pie Stout’ wins the name award, so Mainer. The beers were cold, good, well presented, but my partner noticed a bit of skunkiness that I may have agreed with, but I actually think, having been a fan of such suds as St Pauly Gir, Pilsener Urquell, and Molson Canadian, I find that a little skunk never hurt anyone (in beer). The Standout beer for me was the Double Dent, a 2x Hefe brewed with Peaches. It was lighter than one might expect for a double on the palate but was still refreshing and crisp. Yummy. The sour was a nice tart sour wheat, and much like Deciduous’ sample, something I am learning to love. They were all good, solid, Craft Beers. In fact, this would be the definition of a Craft brewery to me – someplace that tries every style, produces all different types of beer, and isn’t afraid to experiment. What I didn’t find is an overall world class beer like a Stoneface that was so well crafted it left you thirsty for more. But believe me, I only say that because those are big shoes to fill. The beers were nice and easy, cold, and available by the glass, growler/half as well as by samples both big and small.
And not only can you get glasses and Squealers of SoMe, they have snacks, and a real honest to God hot dog steaming machine. You know, the old school-bun-on-one-side-pork-in-the-other machines. The bar dude said he tried 13 different kinds before settling on one, and pound for pound this was a winner, with the perfect amount of snap. Bar banter begins afresh with people agreeing that no hot dog should ever be red, or mushy, that snap is imperative. I really wanted a hot dog but we had dinner plans that evening. I still want a hot dog.
SoMe does cool stuff. You can play cornhole outside, they have a SoME running club, live music, and is much more of a social type pub than a tasting room, something I love to see. You could hang out for a bit with some friends and enjoy yourself, and they made it feel like
So not sure if it was the heat of Summer, the Maine weekend traffic or the vibe in the joint, but we got a bit giddy. One nice thing about SoMe’s brews is they aren’t all alcopops, they keep some on the crushable side, so I don’t think we were tipsy at all, I think we were just having a little fun. That, to me, sums up SoMe, it’s fun. Not too full of itself, not too serious, but a more social kind of place that seems like fun ranks in a priority. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps they are going for the perfect brew, but to me, it came across as just a cool place to go to grab growlers, have a pint, and live life as though it wasn’t the ridiculously complicated ball of stress we seem so hell-bent on making it. It’s definitely the kind of place you want to see succeed, that you can feel as part of your life. Not everyone is able to obtain that goal, I think they are on the right track.
And for now, I leave you with a promise to add more as I go or produce a part two to cover those establishments I may have missed. Please share with your friends and keep building our great little community of beer fans and fanatics.