Milly’s Tavern bills itself as the only microbrewery (or brewpub, depending on who you ask) in Manchester. I guess they’ve changed hands a few times since inception, and they do have a primo location: in a classic-looking brick warehouse (prime development in the rest of the country) right on the Merrimack River in downtown Manchester, the largest city north of Boston. So let’s start there; I loved the location. Out of the way from the main downtown strip of Manchester, sure, but what worthy boozery isn’t a tad out of the way? Once you find it, you have to purposefully seek out the entrance, which is on the left/south side of the building and down some stairs. The bar itself is below street level (very hipster, Milly’s), and the whole place has an underground feel: exposed brick, exposed duct work, exposed brewery lines. Dark lighting and loud music. I wanted to like it.
Like a lot of industrial urban areas, Manchester is attempting to revitalize it’s abandoned working zones. Long, brick shipping stores line the river in what could eventually be a district full of bars, shops and artists lofts with melancholy views of the lazy river.
But right now, there is one inhabited storefront in half a mile of prime riverfront real estate, and that is Milly’s Tavern. It feels a little dodgy late at night, but it adds to the speakeasy feel of the place. And it really is a neat, underground bar. They feature a lot of live music, including a Big Band night on Thursdays, and a Slam Free or Die poetry night.
Unfortunately, it feels (and tastes) like Milly’s is too busy being a bar to focus on creating good craft beer. It’s not *bad* beer, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. They are rumored to have a pretty great Pumpkin Ale, but it was out of season. We had a pale ale and a Scotch ale, and all I can remember is that both were fine. The menu is largely pub-food-oriented, heavy on the finger foods and sandwiches, with a couple of surprisingly good Near East dishes thrown in. But the focus here is really on the bar experience, which is fine; every city needs a quirky bar to satisfy the 20- and 30-somethings who want more than a Bud Light. It’s just not where I would go to savor a tasty, handcrafted microbrew.
Leave it to the folks from Wyoming to start a road trip in the snow. From Rockland to Brunswick, the roads were fine and the drivers were awful (based on my experience with drivers in the Mid-Coast region of Maine, it must never ever ever snow here). From Brunswick to Portsmouth, NH, the roads were bad and the drivers were marginally better. But by the time we got to New Hampshire, we needed a beer. So first stop: Earth Eagle Brewing Company, tucked into a cozy and very humble garage attached to a homebrew supply shop in a quiet alley on a quaint side road in Portsmouth. Not the most in-the-way place, but at least you know when you show up during a blizzard (it was $1 off while it snowed!) everyone there really really wants to be there.
The name refers to the noble (ahem) turkey, a favorite of Benjamin Franklin to become the symbol of the new America, and there is a giant and atmospherically creepy head of one muraled onto the wall.
Earth Eagle specializes in Belgian-style beers and also makes some pretty mean gruits, non-hopped beers (some like sour beers, pretty much my all time favorite) that use a creative list of other ingredients instead of hops to add myriad flavors. You will find nothing boring on their tap list, and Ben, our bartender, was happy to pour us some half pints to get us started. He also introduced us to co-owner Butch, who happened to be having a drink at the bar to while away the snow storm (that quickly turned into freezing rain that covered the city in an inch of skatable ice). Butch showed us around the shop, talked brew stories with us, and gave the names of a couple of breweries we missed while making our list. The more, the merrier!
This place is not for the timid beer drinker. You’d be lucky to find a plain pale ale here, and if you do, it’s probably spiked with herbs and spices more at home in a NYC gourmet kitchen than the back room of a brewery. Beers here have names like “Woodbooger” and “Sputnik” and descriptions like “Curry porter. Maybe with pumpkin, maybe peppers, maybe both.” These are beer geeks who live one hoppy (or hopless!) concoction at a time, brewers who love experimentation and anything but run-of-the-mill.
I started with a Witching Hour, a black saison–which I guess is a made up type of beer but should definitely be thing from now on–that helped warm me up against the damp outside, and then went for a Hanuman Tripel Gruit, which was absolutely delicious for those of us who enjoy things on the sour side. Jonmikel started slow with a stand-up Phoenix Brown and ended the night with a White Light, which, true to the nature of Earth Eagle, contains such gritty and very historical bits as wormwood and heather. They don’t fix any food there, but they will order you up some vittles from the good folks at the Black Trumpet or Popper’s Meats.
Earth Eagle Brewing
What: Gruits and Belgian styles ales. Flights, half pints, pints, growlers.
Where: 165 High Street, Portsmouth, in an alley next to the A&G Homebrew Supply. Enter on the side. Monday-Friday 4-9, Saturday 3-9, Sunday 1-4.
Every day is Buy a Bear a Beer Day in Norway!
Being beer travelers (aka those who plan destinations based on microbreweries to visit), we HAD to stop into the Mack Brewery in Tromsø when we visited in December 2007 (apparently right before the moved operations to Balsfjord). Because it never really got light in this city, nestled in between the mountains and the sea above the Arctic Circle, people started drinking early, as in noon. When we got there at 3 pm, not only was the bar packed to the gills, but we were the only Yanks in sight. Though everyone did get a kick out of our crazy American bear antics. If you go, be prepared for a $16 beer. No joke. And that isn’t the tourist price.
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