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.
So, for my birthday/Valentine’s Day/President’s Day Weekend, we are on a mission: we want to visit EVERY visitable microbrewery in the state of New Hampshire. It looks like there are 20 or so scattered throughout the state. This isn’t counting the several breweries that we can’t go visit, places like Prodigal Brewing, which bottles its brews only and isn’t open to the public.
We have lists from Brew News, New Hampshire Magazine, and the tourism board of New Hampshire. None of them are comprehensive, and new breweries seem to pop up at least once a week. We visited a good handful of places we’d heard of only through other breweries (it’s good to know there is some camaraderie between the brewers and that they all promote one another!).
I’m also amazed at the difference in microbrewery culture between New Hampshire and states like Maine and Wyoming. Here in Maine or in my old home state of Wyoming, breweries pop up in pubs or at least large bars. They offer good grub in addition to good suds or they are, at least, willing to help you order food from a place next door. In New Hampshire, whether for local law compliance or personal preference or what (I don’t know), a lot of breweries tend to be situated in what look like overgrown storage units or warehouse garages. They offer tastes or half pours and, beyond that, beers-to-go in growlers, bottles, or kegs. The set-ups are always incredible and in open view of the tasting area, and when they are open, they are always packed with locals enjoying different flavors. So whatever the reason or whatever the business model, it seems to work for New Hampshire micros.
So the next 20 or so entries will chronicle our journey through this gorgeous state as we attempt to have a drink at each brewery and find of weirdest brews NH has to offer. Stay tuned!
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