Beer Guide 2016 – Seacoast and Merrimack Valley

Looking for more great beer? Here's the rest of the 2016 edition of the Beer Guide that we couldn't fit in print. Discover breweries you might have missed in the Seacoast and Merrimack Valley regions.

In case you missed it, check out this year’s 2016 Beer Guide that appears in the October issue – “Quest for Backroads Beer” by Greg Laudani. Greg’s mission for the story was to get off the beaten path to find breweries that you might have overlooked. These days most beer lovers are well aware that the Seacoast continues to offer new and exciting breweries and that the Merrimack Valley isn’t too far behind. For the print story, Greg explored the somewhat lesser-known Monadnock, North Country and Lakes Regions. However, Greg didn’t stop there on his journey to understand the New Hampshire craft beer scene – here are some of the stops he made along the coast and in the Merrimack Valley.

Throwback Brewery in North Hampton. Photo by Melissa Boulanger

Being from north shore Massachusetts, New Hampshire’s Seacoast is naturally the part of New Hampshire I know best. But as it turns out, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought. There are incredible breweries here I’d passed right by on earlier trips. Don’t make the same mistake I did – in addition to exploring the wonderful local beer offerings in Portsmouth proper, make sure to take the time to visit some of the surrounding towns. As the craft beer scene expands on the Seacoast, other places – like Exeter, Newington and North Hampton – are getting swept up in the tide.

One place I’d overlooked is Throwback Brewery. After gulping down beer samples and talking with co-founders Nicole Carrier and Annette Lee, I understood why Throwback is such a huge local favorite.

Located on 12 acres of land on the historic Hobbs Farm in North Hampton, Throwback specializes in New England styles of beer and food. Their ambitious vision is to eventually source 100 percent of the ingredients (hops, fruit, spices, wheat and barley) from within 200 miles of the brewery. Throwback even has its own small hop yard to contribute to the goal.

The “Buy Local” philosophy has long been important to Granite Staters, which naturally ties into locals’ passion for supporting local farms.

“Beer is an agricultural product and I think it gets lost sometimes as a commodity,” Annette says.

Throwback’s Rhubarb Wit Belgian White Ale is made with oats from Maine along with chamomile, coriander and over 400 pounds of rhubarb from New Hampshire. It’s slightly tangy and exceptionally citrusy.

After trying the Rhubarb Wit, Carrier and Lee introduced me to the Donkey Hoté Double IPA. This beer is designed for hop lovers. It’s made with tons of East Coast hops like Cascade and Centennial.

Even though I don’t consider myself a hop guy, Donkey Hoté is still my Throwback preference. It definitely has the lasting bitterness of traditional double IPAs. However, this one has the best balance of any I’ve ever tried.

Throwback combines their exceptional beer with dynamite food. The fantastic Caprese Melt is made with mozzarella from Wolf Meadow Farm in Amesbury, Mass. and Juliette tomatoes from Hobbs Farm.

I recommend the Poutine à la Hobbs Farm. Throwback crafts its own maple sausage gravy and pours it over thick-cut fries and fresh cheese curds from Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine.

The day after my Throwback visit, I stopped at Stoneface Brewing Company in Newington. Their love for New Hampshire is evident in their logo, which is a hops bunch shaped in the form of the Old Man of the Mountain – an icon who will always symbolize the Granite State even if he no longer watches over it from his cliff in Franconia Notch.

Owners Erol Moe, Pete Beauregard and Tim Finelli have merged their appreciation of New Hampshire with exceptional beers to create the motto “Live Free, Drink Craft.”

Stoneface is best known for its IPAs. Moe told me that Stoneface uses an “irresponsible amount” of hops to create its signature IPA. So if you’re a fan of bitter beers, then the Stoneface IPA is for you.

The Pull Start Golden Ale was more my style. Crafted with Hüll Melon hops from Germany, the Pull Start has tasty notes of honeydew in every sip.

Stoenface thrives thanks to regulars who stop for a beer on their way home from work. And, of course, Portsmouth is a huge draw when it comes to beer tourism – breweries in surrounding towns are taking advantage of that growing market.  

“Beer tourism is a real thing,” Moe says. “Now people aren’t just going to downtown Portsmouth to find great beer. Now there are reasons to come to smaller towns like Newington and Dover.”

If you’re still reading, beware. Don’t buy beer from strangers. That’s the tagline at 7th Settlement Brewery in Dover, a perfect spot for family and friends to gather for both handcrafted food and drinks.

7th Settlement in Dover. Photo by Susan Laughlin

7th Settlement is not your typical mainstream bar. You won’t find the game playing – or any TVs at all – so customers can focus on the people around them rather than the new episode of “The Bachelorette” or the race for the AL East.

“We didn’t want to be just another brewpub,” Boynton says. “People love our focus towards the community.”

7th Settlement can be found inside a renovated early 20th century wool and calico linen factory. To keep its rustic charm, co-founders David Boynton and Josh Henry saved original wood from the factory and used it to make a beautiful new bar top. The 7th Settlement team also hosts local music events, trivia nights and community dinners to give locals a warm, welcoming environment.

OK, let’s get to the beer. The 1623 Brown Ale is 7th Settlement’s heart and soul. Named after the year Dover was first settled, this mouthwatering ale balances the flavor of sweet caramel, chocolate and toffee with touches of roasted barley.

Foodies are not forgotten at this brewery. Expect a progressive twist on American pub-style food with a heavy reliance on local farms and fishermen to make exciting and original daily specials.

Their comfort food is on point with the steak and fries. 7th Settlement takes locally sourced hanger steak and piles on the fries, which are seasoned with hops to bring out a beer flavor. So again, don’t buy beer from strangers. The local team at 7th Settlement is here with outstanding beer and food.

Neighborhood Beer Company owners and longtime Granite Staters Joe Berwanger, Mike O’Donnell and Tim Diaz wanted to introduce more New Englanders to German beer.

Pale ales and IPAs have long dominated the region, and few have attempted brewing German style beers.

The Neighborhood team has perfected and advanced the art of German brewing in Exeter. And they have done so with the help of world-renowned German beer expert Horst Dornbusch.

Dornbusch has authored several books and hundreds of technical articles about beer. Before launching the brewery, Berwanger arranged a meeting with Dornbusch after learning that he lived only 20 minutes from Exeter in West Newbury, Mass. The beer guru loved Neighborhood’s vibe and business plan, so he joined the crew. He has helped the Neighborhood team produce tremendously unique beers you might find in a Berlin beer garden. Well, almost.

“I think the beers are unlike anything you’ve tasted,” Berwanger says. “We’ve taken traditional German beers and we’ve done a spin on all of them. They’re just slightly different and honed specifically to the palate of the New Englander.”

Dornbusch designed Neighborhood’s four-vessel brewing system inside their 4,000-square-foot brewery. Most American breweries at that size use a two-vessel operation. Neighborhood’s setup presents the team with greater challenges, but it allows them to make “radically different” tasting beers than everything else on the market.

Neighborhood’s flagship is unlike any other beer in the world: it’s the Boss Flamingo Bronze Ale. The creative team put their own spin on the classic German Dampfbier style, imperializing the beer by adding more hops. The end result is a distinct whirlwind of smooth, hoppy flavor mixed with a sweet, banana-like aroma.

Why is it called Boss Flamingo? It’s best to let O’Donnell tell the story.

“Some people say that its fruity smell is like bubble gum, so we though pink, like a flamingo,” he says. “But a lawn flamingo doesn’t really do that beer justice,” says O’Donnell. “So we were like, ‘this is the most macho flamingo that you could ever find.’ And that’s how we eventually got to Boss Flamingo.”

Berwanger calls the Hallowed Hammock Blonde Ale a “gateway drug” for Bud and Miller Light drinkers who want to give craft beer a shot. Hallowed Hammock’s German hops enhance subtle hints of vanilla, caramel and white wine flavor.

As the craft beer scene continues ballooning, the Neighborhood team is one of many Seacoast breweries pushing that movement forward.

“It’s great that people are out there experimenting with different flavors they have just never tasted before,” Berwanger says. “And they can’t find this kind of style anywhere else. That’s why we are so excited about [the brewery]. We think we can make a real pop with this in the marketplace, and no one else is doing it like this.”

The day after touring the Seacoast, I headed to the Merrimack Valley region, where the beer scene here has exploded over the last couple of years, attracting more beer tourists and delighting local beer enthusiasts.

Able Ebenezer in Merrimack

Merrimack’s own Able Ebenezer Brewing Company is one of the region’s flourishing breweries. Former US Army Officers Carl Soderberg and Mike Frizzelle established Able Ebenezer in 2014, inspired by the local Revolutionary War-era figure Ebenezer Mudgett. My home state is credited with kicking off the revolution with the Boston Tea Party, but there’s a case to be made that Mudgett and his Pine Tree Riot of 1772 inspired the much more famous act of aquatic tea destruction.

Mudgett resisted the British when the government implemented the Pine Tree Act, which allowed the British to claim ownership of any New England white pine tree greater than 12 inches in diameter, as these trees made excellent ship masts. This, as you can imagine, did not make loggers like Mudgett too happy. With 270 white pines that fit the bill on his property, Mudgett stood to lose a huge amount of money. After his refusal to relinquish the lumber, the British put out a warrant for his arrest.

Mudgett responded by organizing a group to raid an inn filled with sleeping British soldiers. They beat and embarrassed the soldiers, which led to the British trying Mudgett and his men in the New Hampshire courts. The courts ruled in favor of Ebenezer, marking the first time both colonists and local government engaged in an act of civil disobedience against the British.

As previously mentioned, The Pine Tree Riot inspired other historic acts of rebellion, including the Boston Tea Party. Centuries later, the story sprung Soderberg and Frizzelle into action to pursue their passion and achieve victory (in the form of beer).

They aspire to bring back the days of pre-Prohibition when communities had local breweries to share locally made beers. For many decades, the effects of Prohibition dramatically changed that culture.

Now Able Ebenezer is reviving the community brewery idea with an open-concept tasting room with a laid-back vibe. There, they craft excellent beers that make the community proud.

“We aren’t really building a company, we’re building a movement,” Soderberg says.

Burn the Ships – Able Ebenezer’s smoked IPA – is the brewery’s bestseller. Smoked IPAs aren’t too common, but Able Ebenezer struck gold with this one. Made with smoked cherry-wood malt from Germany, Burn the Ships is a complex blend of smoke, caramel and hoppy notes.

While Burn the Ships carries the torch (pun intended), the brewery’s hottest choice in the tasting room is the Victory Nor Defeat double IPA. This complex beer offers a perfect balance between its malt profile and tropical and citrus hops. The process of making Victory Nor Defeat is so difficult that they only make it in small batches. You can only find it in the tasting room.

Following my Able Ebenezer visit, I swung over to From the Barrel Brewing Company for a couple of MK Double IPAs.

The Anderson brothers (Joel, Jay and Jon) run the Londonderry nanobrewery with their father Gary. They are best known for their hoppy beers like the MK Double IPA, Zeds Dead and Sweet Jane. But the tap never stops rotating, as From the Barrel is always working on something new.

“Our locals like that they can come in here every weekend and find something different,” Jon says. “One of the benefits of being smaller is that when we make a batch, it’s gone in a week or two and gets replaced with something else. With a larger brewery, you don’t get to experiment with new beers nearly as much while making huge batches.”

Customers also go wild for From the Barrel’s Coffee Remedy Porter. It even sells well in the summer, when porters often take a backseat to lighter pale ales. Coffee Remedy has a true coffee flavor since FTB uses fresh beans from local coffee shops.

After chatting it up with the Andersons, I drove 10 minutes north to Third Colony Brewery & Winery in Manchester. That’s where I found the most powerful story of my craft beer voyage.

I sat down with owner Wade Ward, and he had me hooked into his story as soon as he started talking. Ward enlisted in the armed forces in 1990. He served tours in Saudi Arabia, Alaska, England and Italy. Now he works as a project manager at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass. After years of serving his country, Ward became the one-and-only disabled veteran in the nation to own and operate a brewery.

“Not only do customers know they are getting a good beer, but they know that there is a commitment level behind the brewery with myself being a disabled veteran,” Ward says.

Let’s back up for a minute. How did he start Third Colony? Ward has been homebrewing for years, but had not seriously considered opening his own brewery. But in February 2012, everything changed.

That was when Ward’s son was injured in a roadside IED incident while serving in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, the army paid Ward’s travel costs to fly to San Antonio to be with his son during rehab. To thank the armed forces for their generosity, Ward gave them a case of his Double IPA homebrew.

They loved it and wanted Ward to keep brewing. From that point on, more and more people started pressuring Ward to turn his hobby into a business. Back in New Hampshire, he finally began distribution this past June to local restaurants and pubs in the Manchester area.

Ward’s brew mission is simple: make beer people want to drink, not beer that people only want to try.

“There are thousands of breweries out there and everyone is trying to do different things, and as a consumer we all want to try something new,” Ward says. “But that’s not my goal. I want to make beer that’s consistent, reliable and something that people will know exactly what they’re getting every time.”

Ward’s year-round beers include the Belgian Ale, Pale Ale, Scotch Strong Ale and the Double IPA that started it all. The Double IPA, or “Peer Pressure,” was the first beer Ward ever sold and has remained his number one seller.

Co-founder Mary Jackson, who came up with the Third Colony name, is a descendant of Winston Churchill, who, as it happens, was a huge fan of scotch (more than a few photos capture him with a glass and cigar in hand). To honor Jackson’s lineage, Ward brews the Scotch Strong Ale, a smooth, barrel-aged malty ale with subtle hints of, you guessed it, scotch.

Photo by Melissa Boulanger

Not far from Third Colony, you’ll find 603 Brewery in Londonderry. With a name like 603, it’s easy to figure out that these guys love the Granite State. Married couple Geoff and Tamsin Hewes, along with longtime friend Dan Leonard, aim to create handcrafted brews that make New Hampshire proud.

“We very much pride ourselves in being a beer for the 603 to pay homage to our name,” co-owner Tamsin Hewes says. “It’s given people a reason to root for craft breweries in New Hampshire.”

603’s breadwinner is the Winni Ale. A tribute to Lake Winnipesaukee, this amber ale was the first brew they ever distributed and has been a staple ever since. Winni Ale is made with a variety of English and Belgian crystal malts, giving it a complex mix of flavors.

Meanwhile, 603 boasts delectable IPAs such as White Peaks, Cogway and 9th State Red. The White Peaks is named after the 48 peaks of the White Mountains, and is light-bodied, crisp and carries citrus and floral notes.

“It’s a lot of fun right now because New Hampshire has had so much room for growth in the beer industry,” Tamsin says. "I think it’s absolutely wonderful how many breweries have popped up in the state. It’s a great product to drink locally and it’s terrific that we have been able to start bringing that local product to the state.”

And finally, I’ve taken you through my entire summer craft beer expedition (see the first half here). Connecting with local brewery owners and tasting their wonderful products taught me a valuable lesson about buying local. To find amazing beer, you don’t need to go to a fancy bar. You don’t need a big name on the label. You don’t need a million beers on tap. To track down incredible brews in New Hampshire, you don’t need to look hard at all. New Hampshire has fantastic, handcrafted local beer no matter where you turn.

Categories: Beer Features, Features