With no plans over the long July 4th holiday weekend, I decided to make a quick trip to New England to visit some friends and take in some of southern New Hampshire’s beers. The plan was to have lunch Friday at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine, as featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” take the Smuttynose Brewery tour, have dinner Friday at Milly’s Tavern, Manchester’s only brewery, and have dinner Saturday at Elm City Brewing Company in Keene, NH.
As I had previously consumed two of Smuttynose’s products, their Pumpkin Ale which rated a 3 out of 5, and the Shoals Pale Ale (links go to Scott’s old reviews) which scored a whopping 4.5 out of 5 on my scale almost a year ago, I was quite excited to visit Smuttynose’s brewery!
Holiday traffic actually cooperated; after a wonderful lunch, as Jennifer and I headed towards nearby Portsmouth, NH, I glanced at the map and discovered that Red Hook also has a brewery in town. Without a GPS or printed directions, the location in the Pease Tradeport was actually a little difficult to find.
Friday afternoon tours did not mesh with our schedule, though we did have time to check out the pub/restaurant and gift shop. The dining/drinking area reminded me a lot like the Harpoon facility in Windsor, VT, where we stopped last summer. I sampled the ESB or “Extra Special Bitter.” This was my first taste of Red Hook, and I have to say that the ESB left something to be desired. The pour had very little carbonation and was just lacking an “oomph” factor. I’ll definitely try other Red Hook beers, though, especially the IPA, to render a fair judgment on the brewery.
We drove the short distance to the Smuttynose brewery, where signs lead one to the back of the facility. Behind the green door, visitors enter what looks like a handyman’s garage with tools, spare parts, a cooler, and a tap. Beer tastings are distributed both before and after the tour.
I found this to be one of the most informative and accessible brewery tours. Guests can get “up close and personal” with the equipment, tanks, warehouse, etc., and even get to enter the cold room where hops are stored. Our very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide explained all aspects of the brewing and bottling process, the history of the brewery, and even how the name was originally chosen.
The three Smuttynose beers I sampled were all quite good. Old Brown Dog Ale, Smuttynose IPA, and the Noonans Black IPA. All three are quite hoppy. The Old Brown Dog has a chocolate and caramel aroma, light carbonation, and the alcohol is not noticeable at all. The IPA tasted like a hop-bomb in comparison, with a citrus scent and aftertaste. Interestingly enough, the Black IPA had less citrus taste than the Finestkind IPA.
The bottles sold on-site truly are factory fresh. We noticed the “produced on” date of one case indicated three-day old beer!
Tour guests are handed a card valid for a free Smutty beer at the brewery’s sister company, the Portsmouth Brewery, of Kate The Great fame and New Hampshire’s original brewpub. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit this go-around…
After a pint at Red Hook and three samples of Smutty, it’s a shame I didn’t get to enjoy more beers at Milly’s Tavern. As we approached the brewpub, in a converted mill building dating to 1881, the “Yes Pumpkin Ale” sign is quite visible. Thinking “this had to be from last fall,” I was highly surprised to see Pumpkin Ale listed as being on-tap.
As a fan of this style (yeah, I know), I had to sample it. The beer menu states that this is one of their most popular beers and that one can try it either on its own, or with a glass “rimmed with our house blend of sugar and spices.” How ingenious!
As we later found out when on a private brewery tour conducted by owner Peter Telge, a master brewer since 1994, the beer is brewed with fresh, locally grown pumpkins, not canned pumpkin as other breweries use.
The ale was dead-on, by far the best I’ve sampled of the genre. Slightly spiced, not cloyingly sweet, lightly carbonated, amber colored, and the sugar and spice (and everything nice) mix really accentuates the beverage. This one’s a keeper!
There are only eight taps and the brewery produces 18 different beers, so what’s on tap will change with each visit.
Saturday, after several stops in several states, including Saint Josephs Abbey in Spencer, MA, where the monks make preserves, not beer (doh!), we had dinner at Keene’s Elm City Brewing Company. Also located in a converted mill building, the Colony Mill Marketplace, the brewpub was jumping on a beautiful Saturday evening.
Upon being seated, I spotted the glass on the table filled with Trivial Pursuit cards. Cool, something to do while waiting for our food to arrive! The menu states that the salad dressings are all homemade. This is always a plus in my book; good bleu cheese dressing is worth the trip alone. The food was phenomenal, one of the best meals I’ve had in months.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of fruit flavored beer (besides pumpkin), given the name, I had to have the Peachy Keene Kolsch. Too light and sweet for my palate, but this does make a good session drink for those warm, humid New Hampshire nights and a good brewpub intro for macro-beer drinkers. Next time I’m there, I’ll definitely sample one of the more complex brews.
Had we had more time, other breweries and brewpubs would have been visited. Something to do on future visits, for sure!