Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New England "beercation" (part 1)

I’ve gone on beer-centric road trips many times, but they’re usually just for a day or maybe a weekend at most. I’ve never taken a true “beercation” until recently when I went on a 600-mile journey around New England with my girlfriend Renée. I’ve always wanted to check out the New England beer scene, but instead of going to one city or even one state and visiting every brewery, bottle shop, and gastropub, we thought it would be fun to peruse a few beer towns and see what we’d find.
Burlington, Vermont
I’ve been hearing great things about Burlington for years, but this was actually my first time visiting. It’s one of those beautiful tourist towns with a lot of local dining and drinking establishments. We decided to try the Vermont Pub & Brewery for dinner, and it was definitely a good choice. Though it looks like an office building from the outside, it has an authentic “old school” pub look on the inside. They had a dozen beers on tap, so we ordered a sampler flight of them all. One that stood out in particular was “Sunset Vibration,” a Scotch Ale that was brewed in collaboration with Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel out of Montreal (note: I sampled a ton of beer over the course of this beercation, so please don’t expect detailed tasting notes and reviews).Vermontpubandbrewery
After dinner, we walked around town trying to find Heady Topper. I’ve had it many times, but never on tap and Renée had never tried it. Ironically enough, we found it in cans at an empty dive bar with the world’s saddest-looking pool table in the back. It was just delivered the day before and I could tell it was fresh by the intense bitterness and resin flavor. I think I actually prefer it with a little age so the citrus comes out; otherwise it’s very piney and herbal-tasting. Renée liked it, and that made me happy.
We continued our pub crawl at “Das Bierhaus” – a German-themed pub that seems very… corporate. It’s like something you’d see at Disney World or other such venue, where everything is based on clichés and stereotypes. Ah well, at least the beer menu was impressive and the service was good. I was able to try an actual German gose for the first time and really enjoyed it.
We finished the night at The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, which had a fantastic draught selection, including two Hill Farmstead beers which I of course ordered. Unfortunately, by this point my palate was severely fatigued, so I doubt these beers tasted the way they’re meant to. If you’re going to Burlington for a pub crawl, I’d recommend starting out fresh at this restaurant (or one like it).
Hooksett, New Hampshire
After spending Friday in Burlington we headed southeast to Portsmouth with a quick stop in Hooksett to visit White Birch Brewing Company. This is a fairly new brewery whose beers I first tried last year at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Boston. The brewery is located in a former car dealership, which is one of the more unique places I’ve seen for a brewery.
Renée and I tried seven of their beers, most of which were pretty good. I was especially enamored with the barrel-aged sour brown ale. When small breweries attempt sours, the result is usually average at best, but this beer was quite excellent. Just the right balance of sourness, tartness, and the brown ale base brew. There were only two bottles left that cost $5 each, so I grabbed both of them as well as another sour (they weren’t pouring samples of it, though).
White Birch also had a few Belgian-style beers that we really enjoyed, but ironically enough, their hoppy beers were only okay. I definitely recommend stopping by the tasting room if you’re in the area since samples are free and their beers are unique.whitebirch
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
There are a lot of breweries and brewpubs in and around the Portsmouth area; Smuttynose being the biggest craft brewery in the area (Redhook’s east coast facility is also located here, but that’s a macro brewery now). We weren’t interested in brewery tours, we just wanted to check out the local food and beer scene. We checked out an interesting restaurant called The Blue Mermaid, which looks like someone’s house that was turned into a gastropub. The lobster quesadilla and roasted chicken pizza were both great.bluemermaid
Afterwards, we walked around the block to the famous Portsmouth Brewery. Renée and I split a flight of 12 beers that was only $12 (by far the best value of any flight at any brewpub I’ve ever seen). There wasn’t one boring beer in the flight, and most were very good to excellent. The best of the dozen was a delicious coffee IPA. It’s a strong, East Coast-style IPA at the core with a lot of piney notes, but finishes with a strong taste of coffee that complements the hops perfectly. I would love to homebrew something like this!portsmouthbrewery
Ironically, it wasn’t until we returned to our hotel that I realized there were two more brewpubs only a few blocks away in either direction that had closed earlier that evening.

To be continued…

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