Fun fact: New Hampshire has the fewest miles of shoreline of any state that bumps up against the ocean (about 18 ½ to be exact). Within this short stretch are multiple touristy towns with beautiful beaches, an old, quaint city, and of course some great breweries. In this first article, we will mainly focus on Portsmouth (incorporated in 1653). Although Portsmouth may not technically lie on the coast, it is on the Piscataqua River, only a few miles from where it merges with the ocean. This historic area has a few established breweries, but there is also a handful who are new to the scene.
- Stoneface Brewing: Newington
- Portsmouth Brewery: Portsmouth
- Earth Eagle Brewings: Portsmouth
- Liar’s Bench Brewing: Portsmouth
Located just north of Portsmouth in Newington, Stoneface is one of the newer names in the area, as they have been brewing less than four years. Their large shed-like building is an eye-catching sky blue, and inside is a sight to see as well. Many places you can see brewing equipment, but Stoneface does is better than most. Towering windows behind the bar give you a view of barrels, the shiny kettles, and the canning machine. Overall the taproom has a modern industrial feel, with cement, sheet metal, and stainless steel all making appearances. When the weather is nice, you can also sit outside on the small patio in front.
Stoneface has a solid variety of options, and even though they don’t offer flights, you can still order tasters. Their IPA is one of the better offerings of this style that I’ve had. People who want extreme bitter probably will disagree, but for those who appreciate a milder IPA, this is a good one. My favorite was the Berliner Weisse with Guava. Mouth-puckeringly tangy, I got hints of citrus or lemon, but the intensity of the sour was at the forefront. Porter is exactly that. A nice chocolate nose is the highlight of this drink. Looking back, one I wish I had tried is the NESB (or New England Special Bitter).
Offering a dozen options on tap, I barely scratched the surface here. The beers I did have were well-made, and the taproom was an enjoyable place to sit down for a drink. If you’re in Portsmouth, making the short trip up to Newington is worth it.
The Portsmouth Brewery is one of the few craft breweries that are actually older than me. Deemed ‘New Hampshire’s original brewpub’, they have been around since 1991. They are also the sister company of Smuttynose Brewing, who we will visit in the next article. Located in beautiful downtown Portsmouth, the brewery/restaurant has an interesting layout. There are multiple levels, separated by only a step or two, with the bar situated up on one side. There is plenty of table seating, as they also serve a full restaurant-level menu. The décor is interesting, with it mainly revolving around a coastal/nautical theme, including old metal ship doors leading to the bathrooms. Downstairs is an additional lounge area. Side note: I really enjoyed their calamari.
Selkie. This is one awesome and unique beer. Brewed with 60 pounds of Sugar Kelp in conjunction with the University of New Hampshire’s Aquaculture program, it has a unique taste. Slightly sweeter than a normal red ale, there are also some salty elements that come from the kelp. Other highlights include Citrus & Vanilla Berliner Weisse, Black Cat Stout, and Double Digger w/Cherries. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but one note is that I had never had a sour beer that featured vanilla, as the tartness and citrus notes did not completely overpower it. Double Digger is an IPA, but I went for the version aged with cherries. It was fairly hoppy, and this seemed to hide most of the cherry flavor. If you want something simpler, go for the Dirty Blonde, a straight forward offering that you can drink with ease.
A staple of downtown, Portsmouth Brewery is a great place to try some craft beers and grab a meal. With it being within distance of most everything else in Portsmouth, it’s location couldn’t get much better.
Earth Eagle (yes, referencing a turkey) is the most unique brewery in the area in terms of what they brew. But more on that later. Just a short walk from downtown Portsmouth, they are located down an alley. A large outdoor patio area with several covered picnic tables make for a nice setting on a sunny day, which is good because the taproom itself is small. Inside are some unique elements, such as mounted birds and animals, as well as some Native American pieces. While there is limited seating, they do a good job of making use of the area they have. And as I mentioned, there is plenty of space outside for you to sit!
Earth Eagle makes a variety of beers, but they specialize in making gruits. Gruit is a ‘botanical’ beer, brewed with little or no hops. Instead, herbs, spices, and other ingredients are relied on. Like many breweries, their menu is ever-evolving, but I had some interesting and delicious brews. My favorite was Chaga Groove, a gruit made with maple syrup and chaga (a type of mushroom). It was sweet, almost sugary, but had a unique flavor profile that I could not quite pinpoint (probably something to do with the chaga). White Light Gruit is essentially a Belgian wit, but slightly sweeter. Two non-gruits of note: Phoenix Brown, a classic brown ale with a strong malt background, and Spruce Springstein, a Belgian pale ale with spruce tips (of course).
Gruits will test your palate, but they are incredibly intriguing. Maybe we will see more places explore this rare style, but until then you should venture to Portsmouth to give them a try!
East of downtown, Liar’s Bench is another younger brewery. Stationed in an old plumbing supply warehouse, with much of the original structure intact, the taproom has a traditional feel. A bar is situated on one side, with a long picnic table and standing-room-only tables taking up a majority of the space. There is also a foosball table, and beyond that you can see some of the brewing equipment, tucked back in the corner. One interesting aspect is the hanging shelving above the taproom (see picture below). These shelves appear to store the grains for the brewery. Just a heads up, they are not right on the street, so you have to look for the building a bit.
I was able to sample all 5 offerings they had on tap. Hai Ikki was my personal winner. This rice saison was crisp and light, but also had a fairly sweet taste. Farmhouse ales usually come with some kind of funkiness, but Simple Simmons is one of the funkiest I’ve ever had, both on the nose and taste. A more unique offering is the Ruby Grissette named Shy Baby. This brew balanced being sweet, yet smooth. For those being introduced to craft beer, or if you just want something quaffable, I’d point you to Welcome East, their Helles Lager. And of course, there is an IPA, Young Upstart, whose strong hoppy character will please hop heads.
Another solid option if you are brewery hopping in Portsmouth. Their taplist does change, but I’ve been checking it and they seem to keep a few core beers around. Either way, there should be something new when you visit!
Portsmouth is a fun place to visit, even if you are not there for beer. However, the quality and quantity of craft breweries in and around the city deserves your attention. Whether you are only here for a day, or if you live in the area, the unique options and changing menus ensures you will have the chance to try something new!
We will stay in the general area, with two more breweries on the southern side of Portsmouth. Then we continue down the coast to hit another pair!
112 breweries across 61 cities in 15 states. Numbers current as of 9/16/17. For an up-to-date count, follow my adventures on Twitter: @brewerytravels.