Guide to Local Beer in NH's Monadnock, Lakes and North Country Regions
If you’re a craft beer lover in New Hampshire, then chances are you know all about what’s happening in the bustling Seacoast and Merrimack Valley regions. Our writer chose to take the roads less traveled to find off-the-beaten-path breweries you might have missed.
Though Greg’s mission was to get off the beaten path, he’s something of a craft beer completist — read about more of his travels around the Seacoast and Merrimack Valley right here.
Nye Hill Farm in Roxbury houses a microbrewery. Photo by Jennifer Bakos
Not that anyone really needs an excuse to explore our beautiful state, but if you’re the type that needs a destination (or, in this case, destinations) for your journey, then why not plan a local beer road trip? With nearly 60 breweries in the state, hitting them all would be a tall order indeed, so I’m here to help you narrow it down.
For this trip, it’s time to get off the well-worn paths that lead to the Seacoast and Merrimack Valley regions. Yes, both areas are bursting with excellent craft beer (see the sidebar here for recent openings), but it’s time you explored other parts of the state. Here are my recommendations for breweries in the Monadnock, North Country and Lakes regions. Get ready for some scenic drives perfect for fall foliage season that all end with excellent beer crafted with passion.
You know that old Yankee saying, “You can’t get there from here?” Well, many Granite Staters seem to think that applies to the often-overlooked Monadnock Region. Getting to some areas might mean trading the highway for twisting, one-lane country roads, but you’ll be glad you did. The “quiet corner” of the state is home to some of the best leaf-peeping around, bucolic farmland and, these days, some really excellent beer. The Seacoast might get all the attention when it comes to brewing, but out in the not-so-sleepy West, things are starting to heat up.
It’s no coincidence that this is where I did the most driving over my summer of beer exploration. Seeking out local favorites, I ended up in towns I never even knew existed, including Roxbury, Alstead and Richmond.
Brewers in this region merge local flavors into handcrafted, truly New Hampshire beers. I began my discovery of Monadnock breweries with a tour of Nye Hill Farm in the beautiful countryside of Roxbury.
Sue Benik is the manager and brewer at Nye Hill. Photo by Jennifer Bakos
It was a minor miracle that I found the place in time for my tour with Sue Benik, manager and brewer at Nye Hill. My phone lost service as I hunted for the farm, which left me with no GPS and not the slightest clue as to where I was going.
Luckily, I remembered the address and somehow stumbled upon the right street.
Located on 116 acres of rural land, Nye Hill grows just about anything you can think of (without the aid of synthetic fertilizers). Among its many treasures are fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, peaches, pears, blueberries, onions, potatoes and an on-site sugarhouse.
Nye Hill brews on the second level of a three-story barn overlooking the farm’s spectacular pastures. Always keeping the Slow Food mantra close to heart, the Nye Hill team crafts one batch of beer at a time while using its own ingredients and some from surrounding farms.
The Old Gent American Pale Ale is the signature beer. Meanwhile, Nye Hill’s impressive seasonal options include the Maple Homestead Dark Mild Ale, which is brewed with fresh maple syrup from Maple Homestead Farm in Marlborough. Then there’s the unique An Aoire Ginger Porter made with ginger grown right at Nye Hill.
“People like the idea of a brewery and a farm, because that’s what they had back in the day,” Benik says, alluding to the history of brewing. Before the Industrial Revolution drastically changed the way goods were produced and transported, farms regularly brewed their own small batches of beer.
She adds that, inspired by that tradition, they decided to try and brew beer using as much from the farm as possible. The goal, Benik says, is not to be just a farm or brewery, but both working in harmony.
Having learned my GPS lesson, I recommend you break out a map to find this next off-the-grid spot.
Tim Roettiger is the owner and brewer at East Alstead’s first brewery, Belgian Mare Brewery. As you may have guessed, the brewery is named after his Belgian mare, Aggie. He makes beer on a wood-fired, gravity-fed system, a method that dates all the way back to medieval tower breweries. Now that’s traditional brewing. Photo by Jennifer Bakos
Every town needs a local watering hole, and, for the small town of Alstead, that place is Belgian Mare Brewery. Owner Tim Roettiger knows he can’t please all beer drinkers, and that’s not his mission. Belgian Mare’s beers can be polarizing as Roettiger’s brewing style is a bit unconventional.
Roettiger makes his unique beers on a wood-fired, gravity-fed system out of a barn in his backyard (I had to dodge a few chickens while pulling into the driveway). He has a knack for incorporating offbeat ingredients that few other people would consider.
Take the Narrenschiff — it’s made with dark honey, which sounds not-so-unusual, but it’s much different stuff than the sweet, golden variety you put in your tea. Dark honey, as you might imagine, is black in color with something of an ashy taste. It’s not for everybody, but Roettiger says those who like it rave about the distinct flavor.
Belgian Mare’s Hemlock Stout is another original creation with a hardcore following. Roettiger mixes New Hampshire hemlock tree tips into a robust cream stout, giving the Hemlock Stout a piney and sometimes banana-like flavor. Its overpowering aroma requires Roettiger to age it three months before it’s ready to drink.
“At the time when I first sold it, there was maybe one other place in the country that had done that type of hemlock beer,” he says. “So it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different than what people are used to. Don’t pass judgment until after the first pint.”
It’s not like any beer I’d had before. For the first few sips, I must admit that I wasn’t too crazy about it; the robust flavor was a little intimidating, but I took Roettiger’s advice and stuck with that first pint — I wanted to know what draws so many Belgian Mare fans back to this beer. After a while, I started to warm up to and appreciate the subtleties. I’ll be back for more.
When exploring craft beer in New Hampshire, it would be a mistake to ignore garage breweries. Small-batch breweries in the state are essential to understanding the passionate, dream-chasing community of Granite State beer-makers.
Bryce Daugherty runs Ashuelot Brewing Company out of his garage in Richmond, a town of just over 1,000 people. Daugherty juggles a full-time job while making time to brew at night and on weekends. All of his sales come from weekend growler fills for friends, acquaintances and others who have caught wind of the humble brewery.
The On the Clock Ale is Ashuelot’s steady beer — it’s flavorful enough for seasoned beer lovers and it’s not too bitter for casual ale drinkers. Daugherty has been brewing On the Clock since he opened in January.
“I found something that craft drinkers liked, Bud Light drinkers liked, beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers liked and that I liked,” Daugherty says. “That’s what I targeted with On the Clock.”
Daugherty isn’t in any rush to enlarge his business. He enjoys the ability to homebrew small batches and the flexibility to try new things. Those are luxuries that Daugherty says don’t exist for large-scale breweries.
“Homebrewing is exciting and different each time, so it doesn’t feel like a job,” says Daugherty. “So many times, I’ve seen interviews with the professionals, and they’ve longed for their homebrewing days.”
Monadnock breweries such as Nye Hill, Ashuelot and Belgian Mare serve their community while doing what they love. These small businesses aren’t making a living on beer alone — they do it because brewing is their passion, and they believe every town needs a local brewery.
For those who dwell in the southern parts of the state, making a journey to the North Country can seem a bit daunting. In fact, it often feels as if there are two different New Hampshires — the one north of the Notches (or thereabouts) and everything else. Up here, residents and beer aficionados combine a love for the rugged mountains, ancient forests and clear lakes with an appreciation for local craft beer. In other words, it may be the least populated part of New Hampshire, but its beer is on point. I trekked above Franconia Notch (which also happens to be a gorgeous drive) to check out some of the North Country’s local favorites.
Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. is a local favorite. Courtesy photo
Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Company in North Conway is a pioneer of New Hampshire craft beer. The place opened in 2000, and beer lovers, foodies and hungry hikers (or skiers in the winter) still fill up Moat Mountain every single night.
After waiting an hour, I finally sat down and started sipping beers. My favorite, by far, was Miss V’s, a blueberry ale. Yes, I know, blueberry (or the dreaded pumpkin) ales are, many times, nothing more than a bland gimmick with a few sad blueberries dropped in, upon serving, for effect. Put that notion aside and try this actual, honest-to-goodness blueberry beer that eschews fake flavoring. Here, they steam fresh blueberries and add the natural juices during fermentation. It’s the real deal.
Local Moat Mountain favorites include the Iron Mike Pale Ale, Czech Pilsner and Miss V’s Blueberry. Another crowd favorite is the Hell Yes! Helles Lager — a traditional Bavarian beer with rich caramel flavor. It’s light, refreshing and sports an undeniably fantastic name.
Switching over to food (and why not?), Moat Mountain cooks up classic smokehouse dishes such as the barbecued smoked pork sandwich and delicious wings. They also mix in creative dishes including their bison quesadilla (seasoned ground buffalo, cheese, fresh jalapeños and salsa with guacamole) and the Thai red curry and tofu wrap (served with ginger lemongrass rice and sesame slaw). Moat Mountain works with eight local farms to incorporate fresh ingredients into their food.
After loving every second of Moat Mountain, I drove an hour northwest over to Schilling Beer Company. Tucked in the heart of the White Mountains in quaint downtown Littleton, Schilling sits comfortably along the Ammonoosuc and Connecticut Rivers in the oldest commercial building north of Concord — an 18th-century mill built in 1787.
Schilling Beer Company. Photo by John Hession
Its on-the-water location is perfect for Littleton, as many residents cherish easy access to the outdoors and its many activities. In fact, the Schilling owners were getting in a little fly fishing outside the brewery when I arrived.
“People in this community love outdoor sports, and there is a correlation between those activities and craft beer,” says co-owner Jeff Cozzens.
The Schilling team prides itself in giving local families and friends a comfortable, lively space to come together. And they know a little something about family, seeing as Schilling’s owners are family. Jeff Cozzens, his brother Stu and longtime friend John Lenzini opened the brewery together back in September 2013.
Littleton’s small-town values and the family-run brewery make a perfect match.
“The whole reason we do this is about doing something we love together as a close family,” Cozzens says. “There are a lot of people that make great beer,” he adds. “But the best beers are those that are enjoyed with people that you enjoy being around in a place that makes you feel comfortable and has a distinct identity.”
Stu lives right in Littleton and walks to work, Jeff is in Lancaster and John in nearby Vermont, meaning the Schilling team isn’t just in touch with the community — they’re a part of it.
“This isn’t a place where we solely depend on the tourist’s dollar,” Jeff says. “It’s our community’s brewery, and we love that.”
While the location and brewery philosophy are both terrific, the beer isn’t too shabby either. Schilling makes old-world European style brews with their own spin. Schilling’s German and Czech lagers, along with their Belgian ales, are all inspired by their travel and love for Europe.
Erastus, one of Schilling’s most popular beers, is an Abbey Tripel with nice hints of pear flavor. An Abbey Tripel is a bright yellow Belgian strong pale ale with a sweet finish. The name “Tripel” refers to the beer’s strength, as brewers often use up to three times the normal amount of malt. Despite the loads of malt, Erastus is very well balanced.
The Belgo Galaxy (pale ale) is a progressive twist on a traditional beer. Schilling brews it with Belgian yeast, as Belgian ales usually are. However, they flip the script by adding American and Australian hops to deliver a citrus flavor missing from many other Belgian ales.
In an attempt to be daring, I tried my first sour beer — the Mare Nectaris. That turned out to be my best decision of the day — it has just enough sourness without overwhelming your taste buds.
If you want to try any of these, then the best place is at the brewery. Their distribution is very light since they believe beer tastes better when you’re drinking it right where it’s made — in a welcoming atmosphere with friends and family.
The revamped tasting room at Tuckerman Brewing Co. is an inviting community space. This family- and pet-friendly place is a great spot for locals and visitors alike to gather. Courtesy photo
Tuckerman Brewing Company takes a similar approach in serving its community. Longtime friends and co-owners Kirsten Neves and Nik Stanciu have created a warm, inviting atmosphere for all at their North Conway location.
Here, everyone is welcome, including, to my surprise, pets. It’s not unusual at Tuckerman to see a few canine friends tagging along with their beer-tasting humans. Inside the tasting room, you’ll find picnic table seating that gives off a family-friendly feel.
Tuckerman gathers locals together by hosting concerts and other events on their two acres of land. Neves says Tuckerman is always searching for new ways to make the brewery a community space.
“Many people in our area have to work tourist-based jobs and have to work on the weekends,” Neves says. “So we made the music series to get people together on a Sunday afternoon to get away from work and see others in the community that they maybe haven’t seen in a while.”
Each beer gives a shout-out to something special about New Hampshire. First off, the brewery’s namesake is a nod toward Tuckerman Ravine — the birthplace of backcountry skiing in the United States. Granite Staters and other thrill-seekers have been hiking and skiing it since the 1930s. Many Tuckerman employees are also huge skiiers, so you get the idea.
Tuckerman’s flagship is the Pale Ale. Neves says locals often ask for a “Tuckerman’s,” and they almost always mean the Pale Ale. It’s malty, smooth and delicious.
TRale (Turtle Ridge Ale) is Tuckerman’s light and refreshing KÖlsch they started in collaboration with Olympic skier Bode Miller. Miller, who grew up in Franconia, founded the Turtle Ridge Foundation charity that supports youth and adaptive sports programs. Tuckerman created a beer to Miller’s liking and has since forwarded a portion of each TRale sale to the Turtle Ridge Foundation.
The Headwall Alt is a traditional German-style brown ale, or Altbier. And just as a little German lesson, “alt” means “old.” Made using German malts with German and American hops, it’s named in relation to Tuckerman Ravine.
You can find their beers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Southern Maine. But, similarly to the Schilling team’s philosophy, nothing beats going to the brewery. It gives you the chance to see where the action happens and connect with the people who made your beer.
The Lakes Region may be synonymous with summer aquatic fun, but it might not be long before it’s known for craft beer.
You’re forgiven if you thought that there wasn’t much happening beer-wise in the Lakes Region, but you’d be wrong. Just because the breweries here are smaller and often passed over, doesn’t mean there isn’t something wonderful happening in our lake towns. Lakes Region beer is defined by one-man shows. These are the guys who do all the brewing themselves and put their hearts and souls into every batch. This group of local boilermakers captures the essence of small town, New Hampshire-made beer.
The intimate tasting room at Lone Wolfe. Photo by Jen Combes
Graham Combes is one of those brewers. You’ll find him at Lone Wolfe Brewing Company located in downtown Wolfeboro. A Wolfeboro native, Combes lives on a farm located just a mile from his brewery. Here, you’ll find an intimate, 20-foot tasting room overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.
“I’ve been able to get instant feedback and have been able to craft my recipes to what my customers like,” Combes says. He adds that, over time, he’s amassed a loyal group of regulars. “I put a lot of weight into their opinions,” Combes says. “Being able to develop those relationships has just been a treat.”
Lone Wolfe has eight brews on tap. The top seller is the Farmhouse Ale, an Americanized saison. Lone Wolfe also collaborates with Seven Suns Coffee & Tea — a local coffee shop in Wolfeboro — to create the Coffee Milk Stout, which is made with Seven Suns coffee along with lactose milk sugar, making a smooth, creamy concoction.
Combes plans to expand to a 10-barrel brewery next spring and will move production to his farm home, where he and his family are getting ready to plant three acres of hops. In the near future, Combes plans to brew beer with his own homegrown hops and barley. It doesn’t get much more local than that.
Shackett’s Brewing Company in Bristol is another one-man beer operation with a strong relationship with the people of the Lakes Region. Bristol locals know the Shackett family well — owner Jon Shackett’s family has owned Shackett’s Super Market, a popular spot in town, since 1945.
“I know people here; I taught at the local middle school for eight years, and a lot of those kids are now my customers,” Shackett says. “They are people I knew and grew up with.”
With his one-barrel system, Shackett brews traditional English and German ales. He makes what he likes to drink — and he’s not a fan of fruity beers.
“I don’t think pumpkin or fruit has any business being in beer,” Shackett says. “People appreciate that I don’t stray far from traditional guidelines. Some people really like that, and others look to try something strange and different.”
Double IPAs with intense bitter flavor are still popular with beer lovers right now, but Shackett isn’t crazy about them. He says this type of beer is “unbalanced” and isn’t a fan of the resulting high alcohol content. Shackett says he can give his loyal customers better than that.
Enter the German Roggenbier. It’s a classically smooth amber ale made with rye and wheat yeast. Another draw is the Peaked Hill Porter, which is brewed with fresh maple syrup from Schaefer Maple Works located just a mile from Shackett’s Bristol home.
If you want to explore more Lake Region beer gems, head over to Squam Brewing Company in Holderness. John Glidden runs the three-barrel brewery out of a barn behind his childhood home.
“There are thousands of beers on the shelf, but people like buying local versus something from overseas,” Glidden says. “People love drinking beer that’s made in the area.”
Squam’s eye-grabbing bottle labels pay homage to the state. Each bottle is decorated with watercolor artwork created by Deb Samia, Glidden’s mother-in-law. The paintings feature Squam Lake and beloved outdoor activities of the region, including canoeing, ice fishing, camping and sailing.
“I’m certain that I wouldn’t be selling as much beer if I didn’t have those labels,” Glidden says.
Crediting the mother-in-law — smart guy.
Glidden says his hottest beer is the Golden IPA. The top seller is citrusy and sweeter than most bitter IPAs. Meanwhile, the Imperial Loon Stout is another solid choice. Brewed with barley and chocolate malt, the Imperial Loon merges a collection of smoky, roast flavors into one tasty brew.
“We’re all trying to pull people away from the big breweries and flavorless beers,” Glidden says on behalf of his fellow craft brewers. “We’re all on the same team and help each other out all the time.”
Don't worry, Greg didn't forget about the Seacoast and Merrimack Valley. Read about more of his travels here.
Breweries are appearing all over the state. Here are a few that opened since our last Beer Guide was published. Click here for a complete list of breweries and brewpubs, which is updated regularly.
460 High St., Somersworth
Exciting new (and slightly mysterious) addition! The brand new tasting room celebrates its opening on Friday, September 16 from 3-7 p.m.
Great Rhythm Brewing Company
105 Bartlett St., Portsmouth
Wed-Thurs from 12-6 p.m.
Fri-Sat from 12-8 p.m.
Stop in for a taste and take a few cans home with you.
Four Pines Brewing Company
845 Lafayette Rd., Hampton
Mon from 2-10 p.m.
Tues-Sat from 2-11 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
The folks behind the Community Oven opened this brewpub next door. Enjoy samples, full pints or, since the brewpub is related to the restaurant, you can order other alcohol. The restaurant’s menu is available in the brewery, plus you can also enjoy pints at the restaurant. Growler fills are available at both locations.
Liars Bench Beer Company
459 Islington St., Portsmouth
Wed-Thurs from 2-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat from 12-10 a.m.
Sun from 12-5 p.m.
Inviting tasting room in Portsmouth’s quieter West End. Four beers on tap with growler fills available.
Lithermans Limited Brewery
126B Hall St., Concord
Stop at the tasting room for flights of 4oz tasters of their four core beers, plus an additional three brewery-only brews released each month. Growler fills available.
25 E. Otterson St., Nashua
Tues-Fri from 4-8 p.m.
Sat-Sun from 1-8 p.m.
The brewers here draw influence from Nashua’s mill history. Stop into the tasting room for samples and growler fills.
Pipe Dream Brewery
49 Harvey Rd., Londonderry
Wed-Sat 12-8 p.m., Sun 12-5 p.m.
This veteran-owned brewery took an industrial warehouse space and created an inviting tasting room. Growler fills available.
Third Colony Brewery & Winery
649 E. Industrial Park Dr., Manchester
Tasting room hours as of early October are:
Wed-Thurs 3:30–7 p.m.
Fri 3:30-9 p.m.
Sat 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.
Third Colony is also veteran-owned.
The Flight Center Beer Café
97 Main St., Nashua
The Flight Center isn’t a brewery, but it is a significant addition to Nashua and the NH beer scene. This craft beer lounge features 45 taps of local New Hampshire and New England beers, a retail bottle shop and light food.
Big Water Brewery
24 Robie Rd., Salisbury
A small, three-barrel nanobrewery. Visit the website, Facebook or call for available tasting hours.
Burnt Timber Brewing
Based in Wolfeboro
There’s no tasting room, but visit them on Facebook to find a list of places where you can find bottles and beers on tap.