After our amazing Vermont Beer Tour, I started thinking about all the breweries we have close to home. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to set up a Portsmouth Beer Tour. Our beer touring posse included my parents, my boyfriend and his parents, and my sister and her boyfriend. It was a wide range of people from those who don’t like any beer (me) to craft brew connoisseurs.
Since I don’t drink beer, I was around as the photographer and entertainment director. My boyfriend’s Mom, Andrea, is one of our craft brew connoisseurs. She graciously offered to send me her notes of the beers they tasted, to which I happily accepted. As I was sitting down tonight to write this post I got her notes from our tour. She provided a very comprehensive overview of the entire day (probably better than I could have done). So rather than reinventing the wheel as they say, this post is courtesy of her. Thanks for the great post Andrea!
Portsmouth has a long history as a beer city, dating to its earliest times. In the late 1800s, the Frank Jones Brewery, located off Islington Street, was one of the largest producers of ale in the nation, with the brewery making about 250,000 barrels a year. Although the Jones Brewery closed in 1950, today, with two major breweries and other small brewers and brewpubs in Portsmouth and the surrounding area, beer making in the Seacoast is alive and well.
On May 1, Strawbery Banke opens a new exhibit: Tapping Portsmouth – How the Brewing Industry Shaped the City. Visitors will learn about the brewing history of Portsmouth, from the early days when beer and cider were healthy alternatives to drinking water right up to the present.
A MODERN-DAY BREWERY TOUR
But before the exhibit opens — or after you’ve seen it — you’ll want to sample Portsmouth’s current brewing scene. It’s possible to visit at least five local breweries on a Saturday. Here’s how our group tacked the task.
Start your Saturday with the 11 a.m. tour at Smuttynose Brewing Company. Smutty is located on Heritage Avenue just off Rte. 1 South. You do need to sign up in advance for the tour but it’s easy to do online at smuttynose.com. The tour is very relaxed, with the guide — who was extremely knowledgeable about beer and the Smuttynose story — encouraging questions throughout.
One of the highlights: while you’re waiting for the tour to step off, you’ll be offered samples. Our tasting included Really Old Brown Dog Ale, one of their ‘Big Beer’ series that had just been released. Also on tap were Noonan Black IPA (a recently released tribute to Greg Noonan, brewing pioneer and author), Big A IPA, Shoals Pale Ale and more. Don’t worry if you can’t slurp down a sample of each before the tour starts; you’ll have a chance to try again after the hour-long tour. And they also generously give you a card good for a free pint at their sister location, Portsmouth Brewery!
Smuttynose will move to larger quarters in Hampton later in 2013 so check their site for updates.
Smuttynose Brewing Company
225 Heritage Avenue
After the Smutty tour, you’ll have time to grab lunch before heading out to see the rest. I’d recommend Lexie’s Joint on Islington Street. It’s small so you might have to wait for a table but it’s worth it. They offer by far the best burgers in town — and you can choose from Beef, Cluck (chicken) or Beanie (veggie). Prices are reasonable, too.
Lexie’s Joint features daily specials with fantastic topping combos — or you can design your own. No order seems to faze them. Plan on some fries and onion rings for the table, too. You can advance your beer tasting with a variety of brews on tap. Our table chose Throwback Brewery’s Hopstruck IPA. Your designated driver can sip one of their famous shakes; on the day of our visit it was peanut butter and banana, with Nilla wafers and chocolate drizzle. Check their site — lexiesjoint.com — for the daily specials and a complete menu.
212 Islington Street
Inspired by our lunchtime beverage, our next stop was Throwback Brewery in North Hampton. OK, it’s not in Portsmouth, but it’s worth the 15-minute drive.
The two women who own and run this brewery share a goal to locally source as many ingredients as possible. They don’t offer regular tours but if you call ahead you might get them to give you a quick look-see. They’re located in an industrial area off Route 1 so don’t expect a fancy setting. But sitting in a plastic chairs on the cement floor is a small price to pay for sampling the excellent beer.
We were able to taste, among others, Hopstruck IPA, Dippity Do American Brown, Maple-Kissed Wheat Porter, and a special brew named No More Mr. Fungi, brewed with Chaga mushrooms. Although only 33 IBUs, its taste was made more bitter — in a very good way — by the mushrooms. Tasters are $1 each and they fill growlers as well. Check their web site for a list of what’s on tap.
121 Lafayette Road, Unit 3.
We caught the 3 p.m. tour at Portsmouth Brewery on Market Street. Although their site says to just stop by the reception desk at the front of the restaurant, the quarters in the on-site brewery are tight so you probably should call ahead to ask about a tour slot. The arrival of our group of eight prompted a call to the brewer to make sure he could squeeze us in. We were starting to draw straws to pick who we’d leave behind when we got word that he’d take us all.
You actually exit the back door of the restaurant and then reenter the building to reach the brewing area. The second part is down a narrow spiral staircase, and you eventually exit into the Jimmy LaPanza Lounge. Pretty much all of the beer brewed here is consumed on-site in their restaurant and lounge. They do bottle small amounts for sale in their Market Street store. Visitors to the Portsmouth Brewery restaurant and bar can choose from any of 10 beers on tap daily.
Although we didn’t get any samples on the tour, our guide gave us a card to get a 10-beer sampler paddle for half price — $4.50 instead of $9. And we did have those cards from Smutty that could have gotten us a free pint. But, alas, we had to press on.
Restaurant & Brewery
56 Market Street
Thanks to a tip from our tour guide at Smuttynose, we made a stop at Earth Eagle Brewings, a six-month-old brewery in downtown. Located adjacent to A&G Homebrew Supply, this spot serves $1 tasters and fills two sizes of growlers. That’s it; their beer isn’t available anywhere else. That, and the fact that their beers feature unusual ingredients and great flavors make it worth the effort to visit.
The wife of one of the brewers is an herbalist, so you’ll find some really unusual combinations here. We were able to try: Shepherd’s Crook, a pale ale featuring New Zealand hops; Domitar, made with star anise, rice and honey; and Machine Gun, a black IPA. Wow! Five of us managed to sip from about a one-ounce pour (the keg kicked just as we walked in) of the Old Ass Gruit that featured cherry bark. If only there had been more…
Other beers that they’ve offered in the past include New England Gangsta, a West Coast-style IPA, and Chinese Rock, an imperial black gruit brewed with rock sugar and Thai palm sugar.
Stop by this place not only as a part of your marathon tour but whenever you’re in Portsmouth. There are guaranteed to be surprises.
Earth Eagle Brewings
Tasting Room & Brewery
125 High Street
(next to A&G Homebrew Supply)
We made a quick stop at A&G Homebrew Supply so the homebrewers in our group could check out their stock. They’re located right next to Earth Eagle Brewings on High Street and have a complete line for the novice or expert brewer. After much admiring of steel tanks and kettles, one of our members left with a five-gallon plastic bucket — with a vow to return for upgraded equipment soon. Or as soon as he can convert his basement into a nano-brewery.
A&G Homebrew Supply
165 High Street
For the final stop of the day, we hit the 5 p.m. tour at Red Hook Brewery. Located at Pease International Tradeport, this is a major commercial brewery. The afternoon we were there the tour area was being used for a private function so we were herded into in a large, upstairs room. While we didn’t see any of the brewing operations during our hour-long stay, we did get to freely sample four of their brews: their fairly new Audible Ale, ESB, Wit, and Long Hammer IPA. Our guide regaled us with plenty of beer history and lore. Since we didn’t get to see any brewing or bottling, in addition to much beer and our souvenir glasses, we were given free passes to take the tour again in the future. If, at the end of the tour, you’re hungry for dinner you can eat at their Cataqua Public House.
But, since our tour planner had plied us with snacks — served elegantly out of the trunk of the car — after we arrived at Red Hook, we decided to save that visit for another day.
Red Hook Brewery
1 Red Hook Way
Pease International Tradeport