What Ale’s You?

It’s all a matter of time, temperature and taste.

“Enticingly aromatic notes of mace, buttered, just-cooked pumpkin and glazed graham. Vibrant, richly meaty pumpkin flavors. Ensuing hints of minty dryness, mace and bready malt sweetness. Flashes of nutmeg continue to tease the palate before being doused with bready malt and a blanket of lush pumpkin textures. Dry, brightly spicy, minty finish displaces the overall sweetness.” No, we are not talking about pastry here, or wine, but craft pumpkin beer, a seasonal ale that will be on draft soon.

This is the kind of lingo you will find on ratebeer.com. Seems serious beer lovers are serious about their beers to the point of making copious notes with each sip. The beer lovefest is a growing trend. Currently there are 10 brewpubs scattered about the state, and an additional six small-scale breweries with fervent followers, plus countless home brewers.

Wine is so nice, why drink beer? Well, this isn’t your father’s beer, probably not even your grandfather’s beer.

As local beer historian and author Glenn Knoblock says, “What goes around comes around.” Craft brewing has taken off in the last 20 years, but home brews were a staple of the Colonial diet. Knoblock explains that since water was not always safe to drink, a beer in a stein was the ubiquitous water bottle of the day.

As for the pumpkin ales popular today, that is old hat, too. Colonists often used their field pumpkins for their mash, since barley was in short supply — hoorah for Yankee ingenuity.

Knoblock says that home brewing eventually gave way to local taverns and wayside inns. Every hospitality establishment made their own beer and served it straight from the keg.

By the height of the Industrial Age in the 1860s, brewing moved to large-scale Operations. Despite its small size, New Hampshire had three to four breweries, including the mega brewery of Frank Jones, who claimed to be the world’s largest producer of ale. His plant was along Portmouth’s Islington Stream, his water source. Jones also put up the money for his brother to start True Jones in Manchester, which serviced the mill workers. According to Knoblock, Frank Jones even promoted a beer, or tonic, for children. It probably put them to sleep if nothing else.

The big breweries, here and all over the United States, steamed ahead until Prohibition in 1917 when legal production was halted. When prohibition was lifted in 1933, the Frank Jones brewery was revived by Eldridge Brewing, his long-time rival. Eldridge brewed Jones’ formula in his plant and used his name to ride on the popularity of Frank Jones Ale. But tastes had started to change.

Knoblock explains that service men in WWII were given rations of light lagers and when they came back that’s what they were looking for. Frank Jones Brewery, in its second incarnation, closed for good in 1950. Brewing in the state stopped until Anheuser-Busch moved into Merrimack in the 1970s producing pilsener-style lagers. But now, even AB is brewing for the craft market.

In the ’80s and ’90s the microbrew industry had started to grow. Some, like Samuel Adams in Boston, prospered and introduced new tastes to the public. The floodgates opened for home brewers, brew pubs and microbreweries, now called craft breweries, the more culturally correct term.

Knoblock explains there was a fallout in the ’90s — those craft brewers who were good at brewing and business survived. New Hampshire’s first microbrewery, Portsmouth Brewery, found their Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout named best beer by Beer Advocate magazine. Quite a testament to the brewer. Listen to this online lingo from a fan — “Dense, opaque, black — like motor oil — with a rich coffee-colored head that eventually drops to a ringed lace. Gorgeous. Big, bold nose full of molasses and chocolate cake with a glass of milk on the side. Spicy hops blended with sherry and a tease of anise and char in the back. Tobacco, too.”

So this is what the commotion is about — flavor — big flavors that give that “party in your mouth” experience. If wine is about singular grapes having good years, craft beer is about balancing 20 or more ingredients and choosing a yeast type appropriate for the style.

The difference between an ale and a lager is not the color or ingredients or even sharp or sweet taste, but the type of yeast. Yeasts for ales flourish in warmer temperatures — 60 to 70 degrees — while lager yeasts ferment longer and slower, in the 50-degree temperature range. Ales get their aroma from fruity esters released by the yeast for a “round mouth” feel and can even add the aroma of banana or clove. Lagers are devoid of esters, and hence develop no fruity aromas and flavor, but retain more crispness or sweetness depending on the malt/hop balance.

It is in the degree of roasting of the malt — light to dark — where lagers get their “chocolate” or “nutty” or “biscuit” undertones. Malts are the grains — barley or wheat — that have been allowed to sprout and then quickly dried to stop germination. The sprouting uses up natural oils in the seed that would spoil beer anyway and creates a host of simple sugars for the yeast and complex carbohydrates for residual sugars that sweeten or balance the hop backbone of most beers.

Hops, the flower or cone of Humula lupulus, are added for bittering early in the heating process, and different hop varieties are added at later stages for flavor and aroma where the shorter boil time or even just steeping of the dried flower helps maintain the aroma. Hops are a tradition in beer since the Middle Ages when it was used as a preservative.

Most recipes contain a variety of hops and malts that are the brew master’s playground, along with adjuncts like spices and vanilla that create a vast variety of beers and beer styles, from bitter India pale ales to sweet Scotch ales to full roast porters. It’s all a matter of masking or complementing the hop base. As Jeff Walch at Jasper’s Home Brew Supply in Nashua says, home brewers feel like chefs. They can truly “craft” a beer to their liking with a multitude of ingredients.

Walch keeps a huge recipe file on hand for beers of all types and sells all the malts and hops and other supplies for the home brewer. His shop, lined with craft bottled beer from near and far, is a mecca for beer lovers around the state.

White Birch Brewing is a new startup in the state. The supply is so limited the bottles are numbered. Number 32 and 33 of 48 went out the door of Jasper’s while I was there. The purchaser, Curt Busto of Salem, traveled to Nashua to “drink one and cellar the other.” Those craft beers with higher alcohol content, upwards to 10 percent, can be aged like a fine wine.

Busto is an example of a dedicated craft brewer. He is getting ready for his own backyard hop harvest this fall.

Craft beer dinners and tastings are all the rage. As Walch says, “You wouldn’t want to just eat fast food all the time, so why just drink light beer.” As with wines, dry or sweet, there is the right circumstances for hoppy or for sweeter beers. Big flavorful beers like stout need a big food match, like a seasoned steak, whereas fish could be enjoyed with a lighter fruity ale and a rich porter can be enjoyed with desserts or chocolate. “For me, I enjoy any particular beer for what it is,” says Walch.

In lieu of crafting your own beer, fall is a great time to enjoy Oktoberfest-style autumn blends and pumpkin ales brewed seasonally in craft breweries and brewpubs across the state. With their low hops profile, pumpkin beers are a natural companion for the comfort foods of fall, including soups, stews and braised meats. The beers on the sweeter side are natural companions for pumpkin desserts. Here’s a sampling (percentage is alcohol content):

Pennichuck Brewing, Milford: Award-winning Big O Oktoberfest Lager — Aged in bourbon barrels with a light hop profile balance with a light malt flavor and smooth mouthfeel. Available in Bombers (22-ounce bottle) 6.5%

Woodstock Inn Brewpub, Woodstock: Woodstock Autumn Ale Brew — Made with apples this sweet/spice brew will remind you of mother’s apple pie. Available on draft and in six-pack bottles brewed in another facility. 4.63%

Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth: Portsmouth Pumpkin Ale — Made with the addition of 125 pounds of fresh pumpkins to the mash. Pumpkin purée is also added to the fermenter. A light hopping and spices accent the flavor. Available on tap and six-pack bottles.

Smuttynose, Portsmouth: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale — A less sweet, more savory version with a touch of cinnamon spice. Available in six packs and on draft from mid-August through October. 5.1%

Seven Barrel Brewery/Brewpub, Lebanon: Oktoberfest/Märzen — A sweet, malty beer with a spicy hop finish in the tradition of German beers brewed in March and served for Oktoberfest. Available on draft.

Manchester Brewing, Concord: Devil’s Rooster Märzen — A creamy head with lots of toasty malt flavor.Available in Bombers (22 ounce bottle)

Milly’s Tavern/Brewpub, Manchester: Pumpkin Ale — Light bodied with a delicate spice profile of cinnamon and nutmeg. Served with a cinnamon/sugar mixture on the rim. Brewer uses fresh local pumpkins in the mash. Available on draft through October.

Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co., North Conway: Opas Maerzen — An Oktoberfest/Märzen with medium roasted malt flavor balanced with hop bitterness with a thick mouthfeel. On tap and bottles. 7%

Martha’s Exchange Restaurant and Brewing, Nashua: Martha’s Octoberfest Ale — Sweet malt flavor with a touch of hops. Available on draft and take-home growlers.

Martha’s Exchange Restaurant and Brewing, Nashua: Martha’s Pumpkin Ale —Well balanced with a faint aroma of pumpkin spices. Available on draft and take-home growlers.

Elm City Brewing/Brewpub, Keene: Elm City Pumpkin Ale — A light-bodied medium sweet ale with a touch of pumpkin spice. Available on draft.

Flying Goose Brewpub and Grille, New London: Oktoberfest — A smooth lager with a hearty feel and pleasant finish. 5.7% Available on draft and take-home growlers.

Anheuser-Busch: Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale — All-malt ale brewed with golden delicious pumpkins and select seasonal spices, including nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and clove. North American Beer Awards (NABA): Herbed/Spiced Beer category – 2008 Silver six-pack bottles. 5.5%

Tuckerman Brewing Company, North Conway — Seasonal brews available only in the Mt. Washington Valley.


Brewery Tours


221 Daniel Webster Hwy.


(603) 889-6631


Redhook Ale Brewery

35 Corporate Dr.

Pease International Tradeport


(603) 430-8600



Make your own Brew


112 Daniel Webster Hwy.


(603) 891-2477


Facility and supplies for on-site brewing and bottling.

Jasper’s Home Brew Supply

4 Temple St., Nashua, (603) 881-3052


Supplies for home brewing


Read the History

“Brewing in New Hampshire,” by Glenn Knoblock, Arcadia Publishing, $19. Available in local bookstores and online.