Hi everybody! The BeerRantsAndBooks family is currently on vacation and will be out of town until the end of the month. I won’t be posting for the reminder of my trip but rest assured I have plenty of great content on the way. One of the great things about visiting family is that it gives me a chance to not only check out some out of market beers, but I also get to catch up on my reading as well. See you in April!
Beer, Beercation, Coat of Arms Pub, Earth Eagle Brewings, Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Company, New Hampshire, Portsmouth, Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth Gas Light, Sebago Brewing Company, Smuttynose Brewery, Stoneface Brewing, Throwback Brewery, Vacation
Even though 2015 is just getting started, my wife and I decided that it was time to get out of town for a long weekend. In going through our short list of places, Portsmouth, NH ended up being our destination of choice. It had a lot of things to offer in line with our interests and was only about an hour drive north from the Boston area.
Where to Stay
After weighing our options, we decided to spend a little bit more for our hotel to stay right in the downtown area and could not have been happier about that decision. Portsmouth is a small and extremely walkable town and not having to worry about finding a parking space or driving back to the hotel after having a few drinks was a definite plus. Where we ended up staying was the Mariott Residence on the west end of town. It was the most affordable option we came across when looking at places and I would recommend it based on our stay here. The room was a good size and had a kitchen area complete with a full refrigerator, two panel range, microwave, and plates/utensils. The shower was pretty amazing and had excellent water pressure and no issues with hot water. The bed and pillows were a little soft for my tastes but were by no means a major problem. The continental breakfast was provided each morning and was on the nicer end of your typical fair and had surprisingly good coffee. Just brace yourself for the lack of proper bacon (we had ham one morning and Canadian bacon rounds on two others).
The Downtown Area
The Downtown area of Portsmouth is roughly a mile to a mile and a half end to end. For our visit, things where rather snowy as the remnants of the recent blizzard were topped off by an extra 5-8 inches that fell our first day there. All that snow still didn’t stop us from walking everywhere we needed to go though it did complicate some of our photo destinations. We were snowed out of three cemeteries, a lot of the Harborwalk, Prescott Park, and much of Pierce Island but still had a fun time walking around and certainly got in our fair share of photo ops. Part of the fun here was the variety of shops we came across. Juice bars, vape shops, and the occasional book store were among the places that caught our interest and lured us in out of the snow and cold.
Another thing we encountered in our walks to help keep warm was Portsmouth’s vibrant restaurant and pub scene. More than one person we talked to brought up the fact that all told there are more restaurant seats and bar stools in town than there are people. We stopped into a fair number of places and one thing I found particularly exciting here was how widespread access to good beer was. Everywhere we went had at least a couple of local beers on tap from smaller locals and Smuttynose was ubiquitous with its street signage.
Smuttynose is also the sister brewery of local hotspot the Portsmouth Brewery which I can’t recommend highly enough. This was perhaps our favorite spot in the city and seemed to be a popular destination for others as well. Our first night in town in we sat at the bar area of the upstairs restaurant to split a plate of nachos and grab a few drinks (they have a full bar for the non-beer drinkers). I of course went for a flight of some house beers, though they did have a number of Smuttynose offerings on tap as well. All the beers in the flight were solid, but the Pale Ale and the Oatmeal Raisin Brown were the two standouts. There were also two casks being offered that I couldn’t pass up. Pouring that night was the Pale Ale with Orange Juice and their Rye Not Ale with Molasses. As much as I liked the regular Pale Ale, I think the Rye Not won out between the casks. The sweetness from the molasses really blended well with the hops and rye.
On our second visit, we went downstairs on a recommendation and stepped into a different world than what was above. The atmosphere was much more lively and fun. The main focuses down here are the bar and the pool tables in the background. Downstairs serves the same house and Smuttynose brews with a few added guest taps from popular national breweries. I couldn’t resist hitting up the casks again, this time going for the Le Chat Noir Stout with cacao nibs; another excellent pairing decision. On both occasions we had a great time, had an awesome bartender, and felt really comfortable and relaxed being there. The food was good, the beer (and drink) options were solid across the board, and the place was a lot of fun to be at. Anyone in town that doesn’t spend time here is missing out.
Another brewery of note in the downtown area is Earth Eagle Brewings, an eclectic little brewery hidden on a side street on the edge of the downtown area. Once inside the door you walk into a small room with bar area and a few tables off to the side. It offers a nice cozy feeling that somehow didn’t feel cramped even as more customers started flowing in. The beers are where this place gets really interesting.
The first question I was asked was if I was in the mood for hoppy or malty, which was easily reconciled by ordering a flight of all six beers on tap, but the follow up asking me if I was a vegetarian caught me by surprise. It seems that people finally figured out something to do with at least one of the moose up north, and the Bog Mare, an amber gruit, is brewed with moose head broth. This may be one of the most unique beers I have ever had, kind of sweetly malty start with a noticeably gamey/meaty finish. It was actually quite good for what it was but I’m not sure I’d want a full pint. Rounding out the flight that day was a more traditional gruit called Echoes which was brewed in collaboration with the Cambridge Brewing Company, a sweet and malty wee heavy called Coats and Kilts, ‘Murican Revolution an ESB, a pale wheat ale called Shepard’s Crook, and Yankee Cran-Ass, an IPA dry hopped with Sorachi Ace and brewed with 18 pounds of cranberries.
There were some really tasty things brewing and the people there were laid back and friendly. They even had grown-up (no, not that kind) coloring books to keep my non-beer drinking wife entertained. We didn’t stay for food but did see a tempting plate of nachos go by. If you’re in town you’ll want to check this place out. Looks like they tend to do a lot less mainstream styles and were well regarded around town.
There were also a few noteworthy non-brewery drinking stops as well. The Gas Light Grill is where I got my first taste of local superstar Stoneface Brewing (which the weather prevented us from getting out to). First up was the house-exclusive porter called the Gas Light Pour-Tier, a medium roasty and smooth drinking porter. In all honesty, it’s not something I personally found too exciting but it was well done and a good example of the style. It was also a $2 pint on account of the snow, and you seriously can’t beat that. The stand out though was definitely the IPA that got the brewery most of its initial attention. It has a huge juicy pineapple-orange taste upfront and a nice hoppy bitterness that certainly makes this beer worth seeking out. Opinions were split on the food here though I enjoyed my burger well enough. I think the key thing to keep in mind is that if you’re doing food here, take advantage of the wood fire grill.
The Coat of Arms (not be confused with the British Beer Company across the street that had a good tap list in its own right) is an English style pub notable in my mind for having several cask beers on hand. Between this place and the casks at Portsmouth Brewery, I am all set to do some serious sampling at the NERAX booth when I hit up the Extreme Beer Fest next month. As examples of that they had I first enjoyed a Dippity Do Brown Ale with Molasses from nearby Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, NH that was another well executed molasses cask. Next up was the Frye’s Leap IPA dry hopped with Amarillo, Citra, and Simcoe from Sebago Brewing Company just over the border in Maine. I thought the dry hopping really stood out well and added a nice dimension to the beer I’m not sure it would have had without them. Lastly came the Matilda’s Red Rage Red Ale from Moat Mountain in Conway, NH. Brewed in the style of a classic Irish red ale that tasted just right being on cask. I would rave on about this place if not for the fact that the atmosphere here was a bit colder than some of the other places in town. Good place to grab a few pints since I found the beer selection spot on, but I wouldn’t plan on settling in here.
The Thirsty Moose Taphouse was also notable, boasting 116 or so taps ranging from the usual suspects to some interesting and exciting options in a variety of styles. All the options can be a bit overwhelming but the list is solid and I’d imagine just about anyone even remotely into beer could find something they’d like there. And for those that just don’t (or can’t) drink beer, there’s always the full bar. The atmosphere here was laid back, casual, and fun and this is certainly a place I’d go back to for a few beers and a plate of nachos (yes that’s our go to when sharing food if you haven’t figured that out yet).
If you’re looking for food, two standouts for us on that front are Agave and Blue Mermaid. Agave is a Mexican restaurant on the other side of town from us that has plenty of enticing menu options and serves up a good round of homemade chips and guacamole. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the limited, but better than expected tap list. They had the usual Mexican beers you’d expect but also had a few other things as well. To take full advantage of my location I went with the Moat Mountain Square Tail Stout over the Dogfish Head and Lagunitas taps. The Blue Mermaid is a “Carribean-inspired” restaurant that left us both very satisfied without our meals. They had a full bar of course, but the small tap list was well constructed with good local and national offerings. Trying to keep in the local spirit of things I continued trying things I don’t have as easy access to back home, I had a delicious Black IPA from Throwback Brewery called Hippo-HOP-amus and a Smuttynose Zinneke (Belgian-style Stout). Good food, good beer, friendly staff, and right across from our hotel, what more could you want?
On the way back home we stopped by the Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, NH. Visitors are offered a free tour and card good for four samples from the tap area. I got to try a couple of Smuttlabs beers, Ol’ Grundy Humper and Schmutzig, I had passed on back in town (knowing that I would be ending up here on the way home) and found them enjoyable. The facility was aesthetically very pretty (even with the snow) and it is always nice to stop by a brewery and grab some samples. The atmosphere was kind of dead, though, and I get the impression that of the four employees we encountered that day two weren’t that into beer at all. One was just getting the tour guide thing down, and one was very knowledgeable. Might have been the time of day but I don’t know if I’d go back next time I was in the area unless I was with someone that really wanted to check it out.
Portsmouth was a pretty awesome place to spend a long weekend. As an amateur photographer and dedicated beer drinker, I felt that it had a lot to offer. Obviously some of the photo opportunities would have been more accessible in the spring (or without the mountains of snow New England has this winter) but even with that we were able to take advantage and enjoyed walking around. Downtown offers some interesting shops and plenty of pubs in which to take a break and relax. The local beer scene was pretty solid. Perhaps even surprisingly solid given the size of the town. It is definitely on the list of places we would go back to in warmer weather at which time I would really want to explore more of the parks and cemeteries, and try to hit some of the breweries in the surrounding area, like Stoneface and Throwback.
This second post on my Florida beer experience looks at a pair beers from the South Eastern part of the country that I just don’t get up here in Massachusetts. Again, these were both picked up from the wonderful folks at Maggie’s Attic in Mount Dora.
Beer Name: Moo Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout
Brewer: Terrapin Beer Company
Style: Milk Stout
Description: Advertised by Terrapin as a sweet stout brewed with cocoa nibs and shells for an added chocolate taste.
Pour Info: Poured from a refrigerated 12 oz. bottle into a pint glass. Best by date on the bottle was 3/18/2015 so I drank this in its prime on 11/17/2014.
Appearance: Pours black with some bubble lacing up the sides. No head to speak of this one but perhaps I poured it too gently.
Smell: Sweet creamy aroma paired with hints of the chocolate goodness to follow.
Taste: Good milk stout base with chocolate up front. I was pleasantly surprised by how chocolately this tasted as I wasn’t expecting more than a hint or two when I picked it up.
Mouth Feel: Thick yet very smooth to drink. Low carbonation despite the bubbles I mentioned above, just about right on for the style.
Hype Factor: Moderate. I really liked the last Terrapin beer I tried (Hopsecutioner) so I decided to give another one of their offerings a try. I can really get into a good stout and they had me with the chocolate milk name.
Overall: I enjoyed this beer. It was the perfect dessert at the end of the day and for very smooth and easy drinking. I’d pick this up again if I had a chance.
Beer Name: Wide Open Red
Brewer: Aviator Brewing Company
Style: Red Ale
Description: Described as a “feisty and hoppy” take on an Irish red ale per the company website. Ingredients include Cascade and East Kent Goldings hops, crystal malt, and roasted barley.
Pour Info: Poured from a refrigerated 12 oz. can into a pint glass. No best by or canning date visible.
Appearance: Pours a reddish body with a thin and foamy white head.
Smell: Dominated by sweet malts and to a lesser extent a kind of wheaty grainy smell.
Taste: Primary taste is caramel malts with a mild to moderate hop presence in the background and finish. Probably could have used a bit more hops to be truly “feisty.”
Mouth Feel: Medium to light bodied and very smooth to drink. Moderate amount of carbonation, suitable to the style.
Hype Factor: I picked this up with somewhat high hopes since hoppy red ales are one of my favorite styles. I like them so much that this style is my first (and currently only) home brew go to recipe. As such I’m always on the lookout for new examples to try, though I can’t say that I’d ever heard of this one before.
Overall: While this was by no means a bad beer I did find it to be somewhat average. Since I don’t have a canning date to go off of I’m not sure if this is what the beer is or if it wasn’t entirely as fresh as intended (neither answer would surprise me). I also might have just had my hopes up too high for something amazing. I tried and don’t regret having done so but I probably wouldn’t pick this up again.
This wraps up the second installment from Florida. I will have the finale up in the next couple of days and then after that it’s back to drinking in the cold.
Cheers and happy Saturday!
It’s been a little while since I posted my last review, so it’s time to get caught up. While I was away, I took a trip down to Florida to visit family and got to sample some goodies that I don’t get up here in Massachusetts. I didn’t have an opportunity to go full on beer hunting, so what you’ll see here represents the things that caught my eye at a little shop called Maggie’s Attic in Mount Dora. In addition to having a good selection of beer and wine to bring home, they also have a few tap lines and an assortment of wines to drink on site. My wife and I had a wonderful time there, so much so that by the time we had finished our beer and wine purchases, I missed out on recording the individual pricing of my beers! As such that part of the review has been left out this time around.
The first installment of my 2014 Florida beer experience will look at three beers from the folks at Cigar City Brewing.
Beer Name: Jai Alai
Brewer: Cigar City Brewing
Description: Year-round IPA featuring citrus and topical fruit tastes.
Pour Info: Poured from a refrigerated 12 oz. can into a Miller Lite pint glass. I didn’t have much in the way of glassware to work with while on vacation, and this was the best option. The can was dated 10/21/2014 and was consumed on 11/17/2014.
Appearance: Pours a light amber color with a fluffy white head that slowly dissipates while the beer is consumed.
Smell: Offers a fruity burst of citrus smells and a sweet malt base.
Taste: Citrus and tropical fruits blended with fresh hops backed up by lightly sweet malts. Very drinkable and just enough hops come through to impress that yes, this is an IPA.
Mouth Feel: Medium body. Drinks very smooth with just the right amount of light to medium carbonation.
Hype Factor: Somewhat high seeing as this is THE Florida IPA I was aware of when going down for my visit. I’ve had this once before on my last trip to Florida, and it impressed despite being having been drunk at the last minute and semi-cold. It did not disappoint this time around and judging by its presence at Publix (the local grocery chain) it seems pretty easy to obtain in the Florida beer market.
Overall: Very nice drinking and rather refreshing. Upper tier IPA.
Beer Name: Hotter than Helles Lager
Brewer: Cigar City Brewing
Style: Munich Helles Lager
Description: Cigar City calls it their take on a thirst quenching German lager, employing sweet malts balanced by Hallertaur Mittelfruh hops.
Pour Info: Poured from a refrigerated 12 oz. can into the same Miller Lite pint glass used above. Can was dated 10/17/2014 and was consumed on 11/17/2014.
Appearance: Pours a pale yellowish amber color. A foamy white head formed, but it was quick to dissipate.
Smell: Clean and doughy. Otherwise about what you would expect from a lager/pilsner.
Taste: Light floral taste accompanies a pretty standard and crisp lager.
Mouth Feel: Light and smooth with moderate carbonation.
Hype Factor: Moderate. I wanted to branch out into some more of Cigar City’s offerings, and at first thought this might have been a pepper beer. Turns out it was something on quite the opposite end of the spectrum, but the can made that very clear, so I knew what I was getting into.
Overall: Not a bad beer, but it was by no means remarkable for me. Seemed like a fairly standard light lager/pilsner type beer that I image would make an awesome lawn mower beer or would drink great on a Florida beach mid-summer. I’m thinking that perhaps I had this one slightly out of season (indoors with the temp “only” in the low 70s) to fully appreciate it.
Beer Name: Maduro
Brewer: Cigar City Brewing
Style: Brown Ale
Description: Per the info offered by Cigar City, this is their take on an English style brown ale. They added flaked oats to the malt bill in order to balance the other components of the beer and bumped up the ABV slightly higher than is typical of the style.
Pour Info: Poured from a refrigerated 12 oz. can into my friend the pint glass. Can date was 9/26/2014 and this one was also consumed on 11/17/2014.
Appearance: Pours a nice dark brown with a thin bubbly whitish/tan head that clears off pretty quickly.
Smell: Roasted malts with hints of coffee.
Taste: Much like the smell, there is light roasted malts with hints of coffee and some chocolate notes. These all blend together quite well to give the beer a nice flavor but also make it rather mild drinking.
Mouth Feel: Medium body and carbonation.
Hype Factor: Moderate. This was another Cigar City brew I was interested in trying and was quite happy to see it available on the shelf.
Overall: Brown ales can be very hit or miss for me depending largely upon how balanced the roasted malt taste is in comparison with the rest of the beer. This particular one was spot on in that the roasted taste blended in well with the rest of the flavors and was overall nicely mild. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up again when given the chance.
This wraps up the first set of beers I’ll be looking at from my Florida trip. I have a few more reviews in the works that I will get up shortly and perhaps even a book review or two coming up.