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Friday, December 23, 2016

Drinksgiving 2016 - Part IV: New Hampshire & The Road Home

Day 6 - New Hampshire

This day kind of started off on the wrong foot, because a few of the breweries we'd planned on visiting unfortunately didn't open until later in the day on Sunday. So when any setbacks hinder our travel plans, we instantly shift to "audible" mode. While we weren't able to get to Tributary Brewing Co. in Kittery, ME, nor were we able to swing by Barreled Souls in Saco (which we'd enjoyed last time). So, we decided to head straight for Stoneface in Newington, NH, which would have us arriving right around opening time. For some reason, I didn't remember visiting here in the past, but as soon as we walked in to the small tasting room, memories came flooding back.

Tap tower at Stoneface in Kittery, ME.
The tasting room features cheap beer samples (no pints) and take-out beer, including growlers and bottles. Like last time, we each ordered a few sampler pours. I was in the mood for hops this morning (I think it was prior to noon), so I went with the following:

Oated Ella - IPA brewed with oats and Ella hops from Australia.
Full Blip - IPA brewed with Mosaic, Columbus and Simcoe, and fermented with an English yeast strain.
Full Clip - hazy IPA with a fruit punch.
India Red Rye Ale - As the name implies, a hoppy red ale brewed with rye.

My favorite was Full Clip, and I was happy they had bottles of this available. I had a few empty growlers, but unfortunately the state of NH prohibits the filling of growlers unless they are labeled with the actual brewery logo from which you are purchasing said beer. Sadly, I had no generic empties with me. However, in talking to the server (and I think one of the brewers), we realized we remembered each other from our last visit. I pointed out the empty Tröegs bottles and cans on the high shelf (with which the entire room was decorated), and that's when it dawned on us. "Oh yeah! I must have given those to you guys last time I was here," I said. I immediately went out to the car and picked a few treats for them. They reciprocated with a discount on my tab, which was mighty kind of them. We were enjoying our conversation with them and a few customers who had straggled in while we were there, but unfortunately it was time to hit the rocky road and head into Portsmouth for a few stops back to Boston.

We had been to our next stop, Earth Eagle, a few times in the past on recent trips to the area. Once, we even bumped into Steve, Heather and company from Selin's Grove, who were on vacation at the time. Earth Eagle brews some seriously off-the-wall stuff. This visit proved no different. With that said, I felt I appreciated what they did rather than considered myself a bona fide fan of the brewery. That is, until this particular visit.

Earth Eagle brews some oddball stuff, but it's damn tasty!
Perusing the chalkboard, I found myself wanting to try, well, everything! I was stoked to see yet another Rauchbier on the menu. This trip was turning into the Rauchbier trip. But one particular beer really piqued my interest - Puca. This was described as a "curried pumpkin porter with rum-soaked coconut." What? Yes indeed. And let me tell you, this was freaking delicious! None of the flavors strong-armed the others out of the spotlight. Instead, I was treated to an amazingly balanced concoction of odd ingredients. Speaking of odd ingredients, my next selection was something called Erebos, a black gruit with horehound, star anise, sweet fern and colts foot. Gruits are "hopped" with herbs and spices rather than traditional hops, hence all the weird ingredients. I'm typically not a huge fan of star anise flavors in beer, but it was held at bay here and only offered a hint of black licorice. Next, Brewslut and I shared a pour of Petite Galoot, a rum barrel-aged "session" barleywine-style ale. Session Barleywine? Sign me up! I absolutely love me a good barleywine, but I often find the high alcohol tag hinders my ability to go with quantity whilst traveling. This was quite tasty as well. Of course, I couldn't leave without a pour of Smokestack Lightning, a traditional German Rauchbier. I typically have to go stag with smoked beers, because Brewslut isn't too keen on them. I, however, love 'em! This one was right on the nuggets. While we were there, we enjoyed some tasty brunch-like grub and talking about Hendrix with one of the guys in the kitchen. Apparently, it was Jimi's birthday and this guy would be playing his music all day at the brewery. Fine with me. I always thought Mitch Mitchell was the unsung hero of that generation of drummers (always overshadowed by Moon, Bonham, and Ginger Baker). Good tunes, good beer, good food, and good peeps. That's what it's all about!

We've been digging the downstairs lounge at Portsmouth lately.

Up next was our obligatory stop at Portsmouth. The first time I visited was back in 2010 for the annual Kate the Great Imperial Stout release. Yes, I used to stand in line for hours in cold, rainy weather to get a few bottles of highly coveted beer. Thankfully, it was a short-lived phase I went through, because... well, fuck that shit! I'll leave all of the waiting in line to the hipsters and millennials who just use the stuff as trade bait. Whales, bro! 

Anywho, we took a short walk to Portsmouth, which is just around the corner from Earth Eagle. the last time we visited, we sat downstairs in the lounge area. Since the space had its own bar and was typically light on children compared to the larger upstairs dining area, it definitely appealed to us. Settling in, I ordered Surrender to the Flow, New England style DIPA that was pretty tasty. Brewslut went with a Belgian Kriek with Blackberry on the beer engine. For dessert, we shared a pour of Coffee Milk Stout. This one was brewed with the cold water extraction of El Conquistador coffee from Breaking New Grounds coffee shop in Portsmouth. Good stuff fo' sho'! Unfortunately, our visits to Portsmouth are pretty uneventful unless we're with a group of friends. Typically, the bartenders aren't too chatty, and the bar is sparsely occupied. So we finished our beers and hit the high road. Besides, Pleeps had a bit too much of the Coffee Milk Stout and needed a quick intermission.

Pleeps is down for the count!

Where to now? Off to Liars' Bench, Portsmouth's new kid in town. We were able to add them to the itinerary since we couldn't get to Tributary or Barreled Souls, but I'll admit that I hadn't heard of them. To be honest, I can't remember if Dan told us about this place or if it was someone at Stoneface earlier in the day. Either way, we were here. I wasn't sure what to make of this place when we first arrived. The tasting room definitely had an unfinished vibe. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. We pulled up a few bar stools and perused the menu, which was scant. We settled on two beers - France Pants, an American Pale Ale, and Hai Ikki, a Saison brewed with rice. Both were enjoyable. While we imbibed, I glanced around the room and noticed game tables, large community tables that seemed more like shared work stations in an office building. Part of me felt like I was hanging out in an abandoned warehouse with a few other squatters who also happened to be drinking good beer. I can't explain it, but I just liked this place.

My view from the bar at Liars' Bench.

Since I have so many beer T-shirts in my wardrobe (rivaled only by the amount of band shirts), I seldom purchase them anymore. In the past, I'd buy perhaps three or four shirts on any given trip. These days, I might get one if I really like it. Liars' Bench proved to be the "one" of the trip. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was going home with me. This one was one of those really soft dark heather gray shirts featuring an outline of New Hampshire filled with a bunch of randomly sized Liars' Bench logos, which are (most likely) purposefully reminiscent of a mirror image of the state's shape. So while we didn't take home any beer, unfortunately, I did return with a souvenir of our visit. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this tiny brewery, especially since we get up to Portsmouth somewhat frequently.

Pleeps enjoys France Pants while wearing no pants.

I was pretty excited to get back to our next stop, Throwback. We had first visited back in March of this year on my birthday beer jaunt, and I couldn't wait to get back. I didn't think it would be so soon after our initial visit, but I'm not complaining. When we arrived back in March, we opened the place and had a sizable Team D(r)INK constituency in tow. The staff was amazing (including my favorite server who gave me a hard time when I asked for a different bobblehead figure upon ordering my first beer). I saw The Dude and HAD to have him next to my beer (and Pleeps) for a few choice Kodack moments.

Inside Throwback Brewing (Hampton, NH)
With a huge selection of beers available, it was tough to whittle it down to just a few. We each settled on a few short pours and shared them. Sharing is caring, and that's how we get to sample so many beers when we travel. Pleeps also has to get a swig or two in as well. Water helps too. Here's what we enjoyed during our visit:

Gin & Juice - Hopstruck Red IPA aged in gin barrels. LAID BACK! I was stoked to see a gin barrel-aged beer on tap during our visit. I'd fallen in love with these in Portland, OR over the summer and was hoping the trend would make its way to the East Coast. I guess it did!
BA Gourdgeous Pumpkin Ale - Brewed with real pumpkins and aged in Flag Hill apple brandy barrels for a year. Yum yum gimmie some!
Hippo-HOP-amus - black session IPA with rye and piney hops. This was also pretty bangin'!
Scapegoat Coconut Porter - roasty dark porter with coconut, chocolate and vanilla notes.

Slate beer boards at Throwback.

We were pretty peckish when we arrived, so we also enjoyed some tasty fried rice bowls for dinner. They'd only just opened the pub in 2015. I appreciate their vision of creating dishes using ingredients sourced within 200 miles of their location in Hampton, NH. They even run their very own Hobbs Farm and grow a variety of ingredients on premises. I saw a few chickens running around when we arrived, which I thought was cool. Afterward, we chatted with the servers, who were super friendly and funny. I ran out to the car to grab them a few beers, which they appreciated very much. This place is awesome, and will always warrant a visit when we're in this neck of the woods.

Painting inside Throwback Brewing's brewpub.

Day 7 - The Drive Home

Our first stop on the road home was Two Roads, situated in Stratford, CT. We walked in through the main entrance, up a flight of stairs and down a hallway until we reached the bar, which was overlooking the brewhouse. It was early in the day, so it was pretty dead. We planted ourselves at the bar and checked out the beer list. Like many of our first stops of the day, we opted to enjoy sampler flights. We each got our own this time since we'd only be making stops at a total of three breweries while we made our way back to Central PA. In talking to our bartender, I was surprised to learn that Two Roads was as big as they were. She mentioned that they were number thirty-something on the Brewer's Association's 2015 list of Top 50 U.S. Craft Breweries based on total sales volume. (Lucky for me I researched this; turns out they aren't even on the Top 50. Go figure.) Still, the brewery itself was pretty immense, especially for a brewery that opened its doors in 2012. Outside, the place reminded me of an old school or large post office. Inside, it was vast and warehouse-like, but with wooden floors and high ceilings.

Entrance to Two Roads Brewing Co.
Each flight included five beers, plus I piggybacked on some of Brewslut's beers. We both got our own pour of the Espressway, because... well, coffee! Here's the run-down:

Road 2 Ruin - DIPA with citrus, pine and floral notes.
Espressway - Oatmeal Stout brewed with cold pressed coffee.
Two Evil: Pachamama Porter - Collaboration with Evil Twin; brewed with sweet potatoes, purple main and Aji Panca chili peppers.
Route of all Evil - hefty Black Ale with mocha, molasses and dark fruit notes as well as a big Pacific Northwest hop bill.
Holiday Ale - traditional Biere de Garde style ale for the holiday season.
Geyser Gose - Another collaboration with Evil Twin, this Gose was brewed with ingredients sourced from Iceland including Icelandic moss, rye, herbs, sea kelp, skyr (a cultured dairy product similar to yogurt), and birch smoked sea salt. (Yeah, we picked up some cans of this one to take home!)
Bog Wild - sour ale brewed with local CT cranberries, various spices, and a Belgian yeast strain.
Tart IPA - sour IPA hopped with Simcoe, Comet and Chinook.

Pleeps in his classic pose... with a sampler flight!

As expected, our favorites were the Espressway and Geyser Gose, and we picked up a few of each in the cool gift shop before we left. For a relatively new brewery, they seem to have everything pretty dialed in. The beers were all solid, they're not afraid to experiment, and they have some pretty sweet branding. Chalk up another "thumbs up" for Connecticut. I'm sure we'll be back at some point in the near future.

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There wasn't much going on at our next stop, Defiant in Pearl River, NY. The town reminded me of a the coal region in NEPA for some reason. Not sure why, but I got that vibe when we pulled into town. I found out about this place while doing some research on the great Beer Mapping Project web site. I'd never heard of them before, but it was right on the way home and Captain Lawrence was closed, so we needed to stop somewhere, right? By this point in the trip, I had run out of cash and turned to using plastic. Unfortunately, this place was cash only, and the on-premises ATM was out of commission, so I had to find a bank. Luckily, there was one just up the street about a block away. I walked up and had to get a cash advance from one of my credit cards because the ATM wouldn't accept my bank card. Nothing like making me work for my beer. 

Main entrance to Defiant.

I got the impression that Defiant didn't really care about their beer. It didn't look like they'd made any improvements since they first opened back in 2005. It just felt outdated. The beers were pretty expensive comparatively, and while they weren't undrinkable, they were lackluster. The place was pretty huge and boasted a long bar overlooking some of the tanks in the brewhouse. In the back, there was a huge open space used for events and occasional live music. The place was empty when we arrived save for one guy and the bartender. They didn't offer sampler flights, so we were forced to get either 10- or 20-ounce pours. They did have a good variety of beers on tap, about 12 or so in total. The Smoked Porter caught my attention, so that's what I went with initially. Brewslut opted for the Tart Cherry Lager. The Smoked Porter had a hint of smoke but was more akin to a robust porter with chocolate notes. The Tart Cherry Lager wasn't too bad, but it wasn't memorable either. My next selection was the Catskill Hop Harvest. I couldn't find any information about this, but figured this was brewed using hops from a local NY farm. I didn't really care for it, unfortunately. The hop character was pretty muted and non-descript, so it didn't do anything for me. Our last beer was the Weapons Grade DIPA, which was pretty solid overall. It had a pretty big malt backbone, but it wasn't too sweet, which was a pleasant surprise. The best thing about our visit was the dry-rubbed, smoked wings we ordered. When we arrived, there was a sign advertising their BBQ. Unfortunately, they never serve food on Mondays. However, the bartender said they always have wings available. Since Two Roads didn't have food, we were pretty famished, so we each got a dozen. They were pretty freakin' bangin'! Aside from the wings, it wasn't the most memorable stop. I was hoping we'd end on a high note at our next stop. 

Old school tanks at Defiant.

The last few times we found ourselves in or around Easton, PA, Two Rivers had eluded us. When we went to see Dweezil at the State Theatre a few years ago, the brewery didn't exist. Last year when we drove through, they weren't open. One other time, we didn't have time to go. Finally, we were getting to check out what they had to offer. I'd heard good things from a co-worker at Tröegs who'd recently visited, so I figured that was a good sign. Man, she wasn't kidding when she said they were great!

When we arrived, we parked on the main street and found that Easton metered until like 8 p.m. There were several entrances to Two Rivers, but each one we approached had a sign that read: "Please use next door." After the third sign, we finally came to the entrance. Inside, this place reminded me of an old hotel bar maybe from the 40s. There were a few seats at the bar, so we occupied two of them. In reviewing the menu, I noticed it was happy hour for another 30 minutes, which was cool. We were pretty hungry and they had some tasty-sounding specials. The first beer I noticed was a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout. When I inquired about it, I was informed that it had kicked recently (like within the hour). D'oh! So I settled on a pour of Flowers Helping Hands IPA 2.0, a hazy IPA hopped with El Dorado and Simcoe for a juicy mix of citrus and melon with a hint of pine. I found the name of the beer to be rather curious, so I did some research and discovered that the beer was named in honor of a guy named Steven Flowers, who gives free haircuts to homeless and needy folks. Pretty cool story, right? Brewslut went with a pour of Mammy Morgan's Key Lime Brett IPA, a tart, funky IPA brewed with a plethora of interesting hop varieties and a wild yeast strain. Like my beer, this one also featured an interesting name that also tells a story. Turns out this beer was named after Elizabeth Bell Bay "Mammy" Morgan, a hotel keeper and leading citizen in Easton during the early 1800s.

Food-wise, we ordered some poutine, a Canadian delicacy featuring fresh-cut fries, cheese curds and gravy. This particular version featured chicken gravy, so it was "Ffejetarian." I've had some excellent poutine in our travels, and this was on-point. Happy hour pricing made it even better! The beer was so good that we decided on two final pours to close out Drinksgiving '16. I went with the Esoterik Imperial Stout. Like the others, this was also - you guessed it - named after someone. This thick, jet black stout boasted coffee, chocolate and black currant notes, and takes its name after Anthony Marraccini, someone who has been influential to the arts community of Easton. Brewslut went with Sixth Street Sour, a lacto-soured young bruin fermented on French oak with sour cherries and raspberries. Back in 1995, Weyerbacher began brewing on Sixth Street in Easton. Twenty years later, Two Rivers started brewing just two doors down from the original Weyerbacher facility. There's lots of stories in them there beers!

So there you have it! Drinksgiving '16 was tons of fun, and we covered a lot of ground in a few days, including a ton of new-to-us breweries in Boston and visits to some regional favorites. Not sure where we'll go next year for the big 10th anniversary, but one thing's for sure... we'll go somewhere. Thanks for reading. Until next time...

This isn't the monkey you're looking for.

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The Pour Travelers thank you for reading about our beer travels!