Uniquely New Hampshire

Get a taste of what the Granite State is all about with the following breweries
You might just learn a little history while sitting at the bar at Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Co. Written on the glass panes is the last half of a motto you might recognize: “… death is not the worst of evils,” which is the end of General John Stark’s famous “Live free or die” statement.
by john hession

How do you define New Hampshire? As a member of the New Hampshire Magazine staff, I’m always trying to answer that question. Over the past nine years, the best thing I can come up with is really a list of contradictions. New Hampshire is rich in history and steeped in tradition (as is much of New England, but that doesn’t make it any less part of our personality), but from the North Country to the Seacoast there are pockets of modern art and culture that push back at and challenge those very traditions. We are home to both gorgeous natural wonders and businesses on the cutting edge of technology. We balance the rural with the urban, history with innovation and, yes, Yankees with hipsters. We are as proud of our wonderful farms as we are of the astounding inventions that come from Dean Kamen and DEKA.

As a result of our diverse state personality, there is no one single ultimate New Hampshire beer (unless someone’s figured out how to brew with the essence of granite, that is). In order to get a true taste of New Hampshire, I recommend that you sample beers from all of our excellent breweries, but with more than 40 now open — and counting —  I get how that might be a bit challenging (I realize not everyone gets paid to research beer for months on end). To narrow it down, here are the breweries I find myself returning to, some exciting newcomers and the ones I think best highlight various aspects of the Granite State. Call it the Essence of NH Beer List. Taste one from each and I believe that you’ll be well on your way to defining what NH — and its beer — is all about. And if you do happen to figure it out, please let me know.

Representing the balance of new and old are several breweries that are tapping into local history, from operating out of historic sites to brewing beers inspired by New Hampshire’s past.

Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Co. in West Ossipee is located in a renovated suspension barn that happens to be the only one of its kind still standing in New Hampshire. The barn itself (and the rest of the facility) is situated on a former sheep farm built in 1885 by the Hobbs family, who left England and first settled in New Hampton in 1637. Many years later, General Nathaniel Hobbs fought alongside Generals Stark and Washington in the Revolutionary War, paying the 34 men in his command with the proceeds from the sale of the New Hampton farm. In an odd NH beer coincidence, the farm Nathaniel Hobbs sold happens to be Throwback Brewery’s new location (read more about Throwback here). Eventually, the Hobbs family made its way up to West Ossipee and never left — though the farm was eventually sold and now houses the tavern and brewery, there are four Hobbs descendants still living in the town.

Co-owner Ash Fischbein is all about complementing the brewery’s rich historical roots by keeping things as local as possible. He is adamant about maintaining a farm-to-table and farm-to-beer operation, using local ingredients whenever possible. They’re also planning to extend their two-acre hop yard to 10 in the next two years.

Fischbein, who was born in the area, says the biggest thing to him is to help revitalize West Ossipee by giving people a reason to stop and stay rather than just pass on through. That, and to make delicious beer, of course. On tap you’ll find a number of sessionable beers (lighter, lower alcohol content beers) that are flavorful and easy drinking. Here you can come and enjoy a few brews without sliding under the table.

Though the Hobbs location is certainly a special part of our state’s history, there are other NH breweries that call former farms home. When Smuttynose Brewing Company finally decided to expand, they spent the time to find just the right spot — the historic Towle Farm in Hampton. The location goes back to the late 17th century and the newly opened Hayseed Restaurant is housed in a Victorian-era farmhouse situated right across from the state-of-the-art brewery. The restaurant, which has more than two dozen taps pouring Smuttynose beers, including rare brews and Smuttlabs beers, also strives to keep the food local as well. Don’t miss the daily selections on the “Chef’s Chalkboard,” including the catch of the day and local butchery specials that are made with locally sourced ingredients.

I did say that there’s no ultimate New Hampshire brewery, but Littleton’s Schilling Beer Co. comes incredibly close. The brewery is located in one of the oldest commercial buildings north of Concord — a converted 18th century gristmill on the Ammonoosuc River. Altogether, the owners and the brewery perfectly capture the rustic, outdoors-loving, community-centric, history-steeped culture of the area. They specialize in traditional Belgian, German and Czech styles, but don’t be surprised to taste something new and exciting dreamed up by brewer John Lenzini.

Find a similar mountain culture vibe and atmosphere at the always-excellent Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery in North Woodstock. Celebrating 20 years of brewing, this is one of the places that can claim credit for starting the craft beer movement in New Hampshire along with other long-standing breweries including Portsmouth Brewery, Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co. in North Conway, Elm City Brewing Company in Keene, Milly’s Tavern in Manchester, Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille in New London, Tuckerman Brewing Company in Conway and Martha’s Exchange in Nashua. Consider them the must-visit breweries to fully understand New Hampshire’s craft beer movement roots.

Though not open at press time, Millyard Brewery in Nashua gave us a sneak peek into their operation, which is opening by the end of the year. Nashua, like nearby Manchester, was once home to a booming textile mill industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s this history that inspired co-owners Dean Baxter and Ken Unsworth to offer four year-round beers that celebrate Nashua’s mill past. Look for the Jackson IPA, which was named for the Jackson Manufacturing Company of the mid 1800s; The Amoskeag Pilsener was named for Manchester’s Amoskeag Mills, which were leaders in their time; Boot Porter comes from Kirk Boot, a founding leader of the Merrimack Mills in Lowell; and, last but not least, there is the Nashua Pale Ale, Millyard Brewery’s session ale.

Does the country owe a big, overdue thank-you to New Hampshire for kick-starting the American Revolution? Maybe. In 1772, Ebenezer Mudgett rallied his fellow Granite Staters in the Pine Tree Riot that protested the unfair fines on sawmills that dared cut the King’s pines (white pines more than 12 inches wide were marked with the King’s Broad Arrow for use as masts for Royal Navy ships). Many consider it the inspiration for the later Boston Tea Party. Celebrate our patriotic history at Able Ebenezer Brewing Company in Merrimack, founded by three retired US Army officers. Try the unique Burn the Ships smoked IPA or the Broad Arrow IPA and really savor our revolutionary history.

New Hampshire has a proud farming history and a growing farm-to-table movement. Both of these can — and do — apply to beer.

In 2009, the Davis family purchased the Meloon Farm in Effingham and set about bringing it back to life. They started by planting certified organic hops and re-named the farm Misty Mountain (now also certified organic) and started brewing beer as The Prodigal Brewery. Their German-style lagers are brewed with water from an artesian well that draws from New Hampshire’s largest stratified drift aquifer, the Ossipee. The brewery itself is located in an outbuilding on the farm, where the spent grain feeds the goats, yeast and hops are composted and excess water irrigates the hop yard. The brewery is not open to the public, but visit the website for a list of locations that carry their beers.

I also highly recommend Throwback Brewery, now located at the 1860s farmhouse on Hobbs Farm in North Hampton. Throwback’s admirable mission is to source 100 percent of their ingredients from within 200 miles of the brewery. Currently, depending on the beer, they are anywhere from 70 to 90 percent there. Read more about Throwback in the “Thinking Outside the Keg” story and here.

We recently awarded 7th Settlement Brewery in Dover with a Best of NH Editor’s pick. Here history (many beers bear names of historic Dover events) meets local sourcing and a sense of community, as 7th Settlement is a community-funded and –supported brewpub where local ingredients are sourced from 50 local vendors, including hops from the Isinglass River Hops Exchange in Somersworth. This is a must-visit for any fan of craft beer or supporter of local businesses. 

If it’s innovation you seek, then check out White Birch Brewing in Hooksett where there’s always something new and interesting to try. Then there’s Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth. Here you’ll find gruits, a very, very old style of beer that uses other ingredients — like herbs — instead of hops. Let’s just say, it’s so old it’s new again. Both of these are covered in much more detail in the “Thinking Outside the Keg” story.

Finally, there’s 603 Brewery in Londonderry, which doesn’t fit any specific category other than simply loving New Hampshire. Started by three college friends who began with a goal of “making New Hampshire proud,” they’ve definitely achieved that goal and more, having more than quadrupled their brewing capacity since their beginning. Head to the tasting room and try the beers that each have a New Hampshire story behind the name, such as the 18 Mile Rye Ale (named for the length of our short seacoast), the Winni Ale (after Lake Winnipesaukee), White Peaks IPA (a tribute to the White Mountains) and more.

Really, you could make a case for including every single NH brewery here. Not to mention there’s a good chance your personal tastes are different than mine. All of our local breweries offer an aspect of the Granite State and I encourage you to make your own Essence of New Hampshire List. Start your journey with our Beer Guide and see where it takes you.