By now, most cities are experiencing brewing renaissances all their own. But while large coastal hubs like Boston and Portland, Maine, soak up attention on the East Coast for their beer scenes, smaller cities like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are buzzing with just as much activity.
Whether it be riffs on the hazy, hoppy IPAs with which New England is now synonymous, or reviving the traditional ales of old, this wave of Granite State brewers is intent on making the city a destination spot for beer. Many of these places opened recently, too, making the town’s craft beer landscape that much more exciting to follow. Thinking about making the trip? Here’s where to go.
Featured Portsmouth Breweries: Earth Eagle Brewings | Great Rhythm Brewing Company | Liar's Bench Beer Company | Portsmouth Brewery
165 High St., Portsmouth, NH
(603) 502-2244 | website
Earth Eagle is tucked away on a back road and shares its space with A&G Homebrew Supply. The brewpub looks pretty unsuspecting at first glance: Think a small, cabin-esque tavern, cut with some punk vibes and woodland zeal. That aesthetic is present inside, too, as a number of animal skulls, tree branches, and hodge-podge items decorate the interior.
You can also taste that feel for nature in the beer. Earth Eagle opened in 2012 with a focus on gruit ales, or old-fashioned beers that use herbs and foraged ingredients in place of hops. Examples include the Berry White, made with ingredients such as linden berries, yarrow, and echinacea. You can also taste that terroir in beers like the Wicked Poplar Pils, which spotlights hops alongside locally foraged tulip poplar bark.
While these sorts of beers can often come off as overly-herbal or earthy, the brewery’s iterations are lighter and more nuanced to showcase their respective ingredients. For the less adventurous drinker, Earth Eagle does feature more straightforward beers like Nebraska, a hoppy saison, and Jive Turkey, a pineapple-infused pale ale.
Since the brewery’s own beers have been in a state of flux in 2017 while the team revamps their production space and equipment, a number of guest beers are also on draft, like Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom stout and Dogfish Head’s venerable 120 Minute IPA. A selection of spirits is on hand, too, as well as a few on-site bottles from breweries like Allagash. Don’t forget to soak up your beer with a treat from the brewery’s kitchen, notably the house pretzel served with whole grain spicy mustard and house cheese sauce.
105 Bartlett St., Portsmouth, NH
(603) 430-9640 | website
When Great Rhythm was founded in 2012, bright and hoppy East Coast-style IPAs were really starting to gain traction. But as we all know, this hop craze has since evolved from trend to American staple. So when the brewery opened its own brewhouse and taproom in Portsmouth’s West End neighborhood in 2016, it had a space to devote to those hop-forward ales.
Because here, the hoppy stuff reigns supreme, and other than the occasional stout, it’s the only type of beer the brewery has available. Those IPAs and pale ales run the gamut of dank resin (Sticky IPA), clean citrus (Bliss IPA), and juicy goodness (Hi-Fi IPA).
Despite the array of hops featured in each beer, every offering retains a smooth and crisp flavor profile. These beers are available in small, four-ounce pours and are served in tin bowls with the beer’s corresponding number written below the glass. Order a handful, and voila, you have a flight.
The space is a sleek combination of polished wood and glistening brewhouse equipment, which is all visible from a seat in the taproom. Two garage doors open up to North Mill Pond and an outdoor seating area, making for one serene drinking experience. In fact, everything about the brewery is eye-catching, whether it be the coolers packed full of cans, the neatly organized selection of branded glassware, or even the succulents donning each table.
459 Islington St #4, Portsmouth, NH
(603) 294-9156 | website
For a taste of tradition, head here. Most everything on draft is rooted in sessionable styles that have lost prevalence in today’s craft beer climate, such as cream ales and ESBs. Alongside the deep malt flavors these beers elicit, Liar’s Bench does have a few more modern styles pouring, spanning IPAs to porters. All of these suds sit around 5% ABV, and other than the Young Upstart IPA, none breach 6% ABV. Beers are available as half-pours, as well as full pours.
The brewery was built in an old plumbing supply warehouse and retains those beginnings with its rustic-leaning interior and garage entryway. After traversing a dim hallway, the entrance bottlenecks into a cozy pocket of a taproom, where stacks of grain and various supplies line nooks above the tasting area, and factory labels like “receiving area” still tag the floor.
The decor is eclectic, going on flat-out mismatched: Playing cards pull double duty as table markers for food orders, a vintage register sits dormant behind the bar, and colorful pastels tile the six tap lines. A few games like foosball scatter the space, too.
That all might sound like a jarring mix in practice, but the brewery’s old-meets-new approach to beer complements this aesthetic very well. What’s more, the smell of fresh brats and spices continually wafts from the open kitchen, courtesy of Famico’s Dojo in Newmarket. With the breadth of beers, food, and activities available, you might be surprised to learn this brewery just turned one year old.
56 Market St., Portsmouth, NH
(603) 431-1115 | website
While most of Portsmouth’s breweries opened their doors in the past few years, Portsmouth Brewery has been around since 1991. The brewpub holds the title of New Hampshire’s first brewpub and craft brewery, making it a cornerstone of the city’s brewing culture.
Despite its longstanding history — and national reputation for producing Kate the Great, a now-defunct stout — the brewery is still a relatively small operation. All of its beer is sold on-site, and the brewery only uses a seven-barrel brewing system. That’s quite small by today’s standards, but the brewpub is a sister brand to Smuttynose Brewing Company, whose popularity and reach helps offset Portsmouth Brewery’s size.
That being said, the tap list here is a split between Smuttynose’s beers and house suds. When it comes to Portsmouth Brewery’s libations, the beers revolve around accessible and straightforward styles, like the Stephan Urquell pilsner and Sonya de Bonya imperial IPA. There are few curveballs thrown in, though: Two cask handles house various iterations of the brewery’s lineup, and a Russian imperial stout-made-braggot beer emphasizes wildflower honey from Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire. A centrally placed cooler also features an assortment of bottles for on-site consumption, spanning Stone Brewing Company to Smuttlabs (Smuttynose’s experimental spin-off).
Not feeling beer? Choose from an array of spirits, cocktails, and wines, as well as a full pub menu with everything from pulled pork sandwiches to pan-seared saffron salmon. Seating is spacious, roomy, and ultimately embraces that dining component with open arms. While there are plenty of places to sit in the taproom, be warned: The brewery fills up quickly with regulars.
Of course, the above spots hardly account for all the brewing action happening in Portsmouth. About four miles from the city center, Redhook Brewery’s East Coast outpost (1 Redhook Way, Portsmouth) has pints and growlers from the Seattle-born company’s catalog, like the Long Hammer IPA and Blackhook porter. A few guest beers from Kona Brewing Company and Widmer Brothers Brewing are pouring, too. Stop by during the summertime for outdoor events, live music, and other shenanigans.
Not far down the road, Beara Irish Brewing Co. (2800 Lafayette Rd., Portsmouth) boasts its own selection of beers and eats. Many of the brews here use imported Irish barley for a more genuine take on styles from the region, like the Survivor Irish pale ale and O’Sullivan dry stout. You’ll find some more out-there offerings here too, like an Oreo-infused porter called Cake By The Ocean and a stout made with bacon chipotle barbecue sauce, appropriately called Hog Wilde.
Peer past the Portsmouth area a bit, and you’ll find plenty more great beer. Down in Hampton, Smuttynose Brewing Company (105 Towle Farm Rd., Hampton) has a stellar selection of ales, whether you’re hankering for a classic IPA or a strong weizenbock. If the amount of gleaming fermenters and tanks tempts you enough, free tours are also available.
A short drive away, Deciduous Brewing Company (12 Weaver St., Newmarket) is churning out delicious sours and barrel-aged ales to enjoy in a sleek setup. The Newmarket “boutique” brewery has you covered on the comfort front, too: The taproom has couches, booths, and a fireplace.
Nearby in Kittery, Maine, Tributary Brewing Company (10 Shapleigh Rd., Kittery) offers a dense list of brews spanning schwarzbiers, porters, American milds, and much more. After snagging a spot at a high-top or communal table, order in your own grub from a neighboring restaurant and enjoy one of the many live bands the brewery brings in.
And back in New Hampshire, at Stoneface Brewing Company (436 Shattuck Way, Unit 6, Newington), spacious picnic tables help you enjoy the slew of beers on tap with good company. Choose from fruited Berliner weisses with peach or strawberry to various spins on Blip, one of the company’s IPAs. There’s also a pub menu of snacks like Chex Mix and deviled eggs, as well as larger plates of barbecue and confit wings.
This story is part of Beer & Mortar, a series in which Eater Boston contributor Alex Wilking explores the brewery scene in Boston and beyond. Stay tuned for more installments in summer 2017.