The New Hot Spot
The Seacoast once reigned supreme, but Merrimack Valley is the up-and-coming beer region in New Hampshire.
There’s no doubt that the Seacoast continues to be one of New Hampshire’s best beer regions. One relatively small area offers a huge range of local beer from established favorites like the Portsmouth Brewery to newcomers like the Deciduous Brewing Company in Newmarket or Neighborhood Beer Co. in Exeter.
Recently, however, the Merrimack Valley seems to be catching on with brewers. After all, “Why should the Seacoast have all the fun?” says Brian Parda of the brand new Great North Aleworks in Manchester. (Read more about them here.)
Opened by accomplished and award-winning brewer Rob North and his wife Lisa, this 20-barrel brewery is one of several newcomers to the area. This brings Manchester’s total number of breweries to three, a number that includes the long-standing Milly’s Tavern, which recently began distributing bottles under the name Stark Brewing, and the local favorite just welcomed Swift Current Brewing to the family this year. You can also find “post-modern takes on ancient tradition” at the Candia Road Brewing Co. & Nepenthe Ale House that opened back in 2012. In nearby Hooksett White Birch Brewing continues to create consistently interesting options. Soon to join the Manchester brewing scene is Third Colony Brewery and Winery, which received government approval back in March and is still in the planning stages.
Head south down I-93 and breweries become ever more plentiful. In Londonderry 603 Brewery is now firmly established and From The Barrel Brewing Company, which opened its doors last summer, continues to impress. In Neighboring Derry the new Rockingham Brewing Company’s tasting room is open and Kelsen Brewing Company keeps racking up the awards (most recently they snagged another Gold Medal for the American Brown Ale at the US Open Beer Festival).
Choose to travel down the Everett Turnpike instead and you’ll come across one of our favorites, Able Ebenezer Brewing Company in Merrimack, where the beers take their cues from NH military history (see more here). Also in Merrimack, a visit with the world-famous Clydesdales is always worth the stop at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Nashua is now home to more than Martha’s Exchange — Agner & Wolf Brewery Corp. offers Old World flavors without having to make the trip overseas. This brewery with German roots offers Hefeweizen (wheat beer), Altbier (ale), Märzen (red lager) and Schwarzbier (dark lager) brewed according to the traditions and the law of purity of 1516 (a real thing, look it up). Millyard Brewing, which plans to open its doors later this year, features four year-round beers, each named in honor of local history (read more here). After all your tastings, put your newfound knowledge to the test with the helpful folks at IncrediBREW, which just celebrated 20 years this summer. Here you can create your own personal batch of beer (no actual brewing experience is necessary).
There are a couple of outliers in the area that are well worth the journey. Henniker Brewing Co., which is just west of Concord, is a bit out of the way but is definitely not to be missed (read more here). This secluded gem was founded by Dave Currier, a former GM of Pats Peak and a New Hampshire state senator and representative. The 15-barrel brewhouse offers samples and growlers at the tasting room and fall is an excellent time to stop by as they are known for the delicious fall seasonal, the Hometown Double Brown, a dark and robust ale packed with malt that’s brewed as a tribute to Henniker. Consider it their answer to the over-proliferation of pumpkin beers, something marketing director Ryan Maiola says HBC will never brew.
Opening soon (planning for November) is Oddball Brewing Co. in Pembroke, where, according to the website, they're initially brewing three styles (an IPA, wheat and lager) on a seven-barrel frankenbrew system built by the owners.
In Salem, the homebrewing supply store Border Brew Supply now brews its own beers that you can sample inside or, in warmer months, sit outside on the new patio and order a pint. Beers are always changing, but here’s an example of what was on tap at press time: Peanut Butter Stout (“a peanut butter cup in a glass”), an Imperial Grapefruit IPA, Hoppy Brown, the Dankrupt West Coast IPA, Lemon Wheat and more. Check out their changing tap list on the website.