Liars’ Bench Beer Co. of Portsmouth
Community, beer and good conversation
It’s not a lie; it’s a fish story. A slight exaggeration that makes a tale a bit more interesting, a touch more exciting. No one wants to hear about the time you almost landed the big one — they want to hear about the legendary struggle between human and monster fish. It’s a given that such exploits are told better with beer, friends and a place to gather as time passes unnoticed. This tradition is carried on at the new Liars’ Bench Beer Co. in Portsmouth, where you’re invited to sit, spin a yarn or two, and, of course, enjoy some excellent craft beer.
By the way, “liars’ bench,” if you’ve never heard the term, is a bit of small-town Americana. It’s the place where locals gather to talk and tell their stories, which inevitably are embellished with a few, let’s say, “half-truths.”
At the Liars’ Bench brewery, beer is a facilitator. “Our philosophy about beer is that it’s meant to aid conversation, not destroy it,” says co-owner Dagan Migirditch. In other words, the alcohol by volume (ABV) is kept relatively low.
All the better for spending the afternoon hanging out with friends at the brewery’s big tables. The feel of the tasting room — located in the former storeroom of the Murray Plumbing Supply Co. in Portsmouth’s West End — has an industrial but comfortable vibe. With its long tables, open garage doors (at least in the warmer months), foosball and corn hole boards leaning on the wall, it’s an inviting and relaxed space.
The idea, says Migirditch, is “to mimic the atmosphere of the tasting room in the beer.” The full-flavored session beers (meaning low alcohol content) that brewer and co-owner Dane Nielsen creates are “something that you can drink a lot of while sharing a few stories,” adds Migirditch. “That’s my favorite way of drinking beer.”
Historically, in many instances, beer was about sustenance, not a means to get drunk. Things like farmhouse ales and saisons were brewed for farm hands and other laborers. For instance, one of the beers Nielsen has returned to a few times, the Shy Baby, is based on the grisette. Migirditch explains that this was a type of beer that was handed out to workers during the day as a means of refreshment.
Nielsen notes that these traditional styles of beer are starting to regain popularity with modern beer drinkers. In addition to riffing on farmhouse ales and saisons, Nielsen also brews German beers such as Kölsch and Pilsner as well as English styles, American pale ales and IPAs. However, don't think the options are limited just because he's sticking within a few avenues. For instance, as Nielsen says, "You can make a saison a million different ways." And, with a three-barrel system, beers can move over in a couple of weeks or so, meaning that Nielsen can get creative and you can constantly try new things.
Speaking of creative endeavors, come mid-August you can expect to find a true American pale ale. With the assist of Charlie Wise from Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia, Nielsen is brewing his version with 100 percent Virginia-grown malt, plus he's using the ever-popular American-developed Cascade hops. By mid-September he plans on heading overseas for influence and will feature an all-German lineup of Altbier, Hefeweizen, Black Lager and Kölsch.
Given their philosophy on beer, it’s fitting that Nielsen and Migirditch are longtime friends. The now brewery co-owners met in 2004 when the housing lottery at UNH paired them as roommates. There's another element of fate (or good fortune) to all of this - after graduation, Nielsen moved to San Francisco where he ended up befriending and volunteering with the brewer at Magnolia Gastro Pub and Brewery. It was then, he says, that he "stumbled upon" brewing. "I really fell in love with the process," he adds. "It was the first time I was in love with something I could do day in and day out."
Brewing quickly morphed from hobby into both a passion and a career. For a time, Nielsen was a brewer at Trumer International in Berkeley, eventually returned to Magnolia as the lead brewer, and then, in 2015, made the big move back to the East Coast where he brewed at Smuttynose Brewing Company.
In the intervening years between graduation and the opening of the Liar's Bench, Migirditch and Nielsen stayed in touch. As Nielsen was discovering his talent for brewing across the country, Migirditch was in Portsmouth, trying his hand first at advertising and then landing in the restaurant industry where he went from bussing, to bartending, to the acting general manager at the Franklin Oyster House. Nielsen's brewing knowledge paired with Migirditch's bartending and restaurant business experience made the perfect match.
It's also fitting that a brewery meant to enhance a sense of community is located in the West End of Portsmouth. Both Nielsen and Migirditch call the area home. “We have a really strong connection to it,” says Nielsen. “It’s this side of town where you can truly feel like a local.” Though Portsmouth isn’t exactly huge, the sleepier West End is seemingly a bit removed from the busy downtown area that typically draws the big tourist crowds. Though still strongly connected to Portsmouth, the West End is a small community unto itself, and the Liars’ Bench is the perfect central gathering place for its members.
Still, do not mistake this for a “locals only” establishment. Walk in, and you feel instantly welcomed. Bring a few friends — or make new ones — and enjoy an afternoon of good conversation and some great beer.