Our first stop was Stoneface Brewing. I had heard nothing but good things about Stoneface and was excited to check it out. The only beer of their’s I had previously had was Hopulization which was a superlative double IPA. We went on a private tour of the brew house. Stoneface has an impressive 15 bbl system and several new 30 bbl fermenters which they ordered to keep up with demand. It was funny listening to how the maneuvered the tank inside the brewery, hired a rigger crew to stand it upright, and had guys standing next to the tanks as they were lowered making sure it didn’t topple over. I’m not sure what was more terrifying: a massive tank falling on top of a person, or a $10,000 plus piece of equipment falling over and breaking. As makers of hoppy, contemporary American ales Stoneface is up there with Bissell Brothers and Trillium Brewing as the best in New England that I have had. (Note: still have not made a beer pilgrimage to Vermont or to Treehouse). If I had more fridge space at home I would have left with a growler of the IPA and Mozaccalypse. Shame on me for such shoddy planning.
The next stop was Beara Irish Brewery, a new brewery that opened in Portsmouth within the past few months. We were greeted with a flight of all four of their current offerings. The O’Sullivan Stout is a very good dry Irish stout. Their other beers while not traditional Irish styles, still used Irish barley blended with local New Hampshire ingredients. I meant to ask if they used Irish Ale yeast like WLP004/1084. The strain is very versatile, it works in any British style but probably finishes with a clean enough of a flavor that it could work in a beer like their Rye Craic IPA. I liked that the beers while not served on cask or nitro, were still lightly carbonated and served at cellar temperatures like a traditional Irish ale. The brewery and tasting room is located in a strip mall. They’re brewing in a 3 bbl system, 1/5 the size of Stoneface. It was interesting to see how a new nanobrewery operates.
The final stop was SoMe Brewing (pronounced sum) in York, Maine. When we got there we realized that we had tried one of their flagships, Whoopie Pie Stout at the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp festival last summer. We enjoyed a diverse flight of several excellent beers: stout, IPA, tripel, and even a dunkelweizen! My favorite was Whale Bait, a Black IPA where the roasted malt doesn’t clash with the hop flavor and finishes very smooth. Owner Dave Rowland lead the tour of their brewery which is similar in size to Beara. It was interesting to talk to Dave about how as a small brewer they build as much equipment as they can such as a bottle filler, labeler, and even the cool room where the draft system is housed. I joked that he should share his labeler design with Stoneface who is still labeling all of their bottles by hand. Dave also talked about the challenges of growing the business responsibly. If you’re a small brewer making beer on something of a shoestring while living off the business, how much of your initial profits do you invest in additional capacity to keep up with demand? Should you move to a bigger location? In a way having great beer that everybody loves is when your problems start.
At the end of the tour we stopped off at Portsmouth Gas Light for a check-in toward the Portsmouth Beer Week Superstar badge. They were kind of busy so we left after a drink and went to the Portsmouth Brewery for dinner. They had 12 beers on tap and we split two flights of six. I particularly enjoyed the Cream Ale, hoppy American Pale Ale, and the Royal Impy (Imperial) Stout. By the time we went to the Brittish Beer Company I needed to slow down. I nursed an Old Brown Dog served on cask, and an O’Hara Irish Red. I can only hope my Rundown Irish Red is 75% as good as O’Hara’s.
After calling it a night we went to Ri Ra for lunch. Ri Ra might be the most beautiful pub I have ever been inside. The wooden bar itself is gorgeous, but the pub is located inside of an old bank and still has cathedral ceilings, a dome in the center, and even the old vault doors. Ri Ra has locations in Portsmouth, Portland, and Providence. Salem would be a perfect place for a fourth location. My maple bacon burger was excellent and I finally tried Guinness Blonde Lager which was a solid if unspectacular beer. I’d describe it as an all-malt American lager brewed with contemporary American hops as opposed to noble-type hops usually found in mass-marketed American lager.
We stopped in The Thirsty Moose Taphouse. With it’s massive selection of draught lines, I fully plan to stay longer next time. They had Hop Hunter on draught. I liked the beer more than Deadspin, but the hop oils didn’t exactly replicate wet-hopping to me. If anything the bitterness felt more intense.
On the way home we toured the Redhook Brewery. Jake, our tour guide was very knowledgeable and his passion for beer was obvious. Redhook is marketing itself as “crushable craft” which I think is a fair assessment. They are making money brewing what they brew and aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel. There is a pilot system at the brewery and they do serve the experimental one-offs at their brewpub. Regrettably we did not check it out. That is another one for next time. Seeing how immaculate and state-of-the-art the brewery is shows Redhook’s commitment to quality.
Kona Brewing Company and Widmer Brothers Brewing products are also brewed at the facility; all three brands are part of the Craft Brew Alliance. I do wish they had more capacity at the brewery. I read in a separate article that the capacity at the Portsmouth brewery is part of the reason Widmer’s products aren’t more widely available on the east coast.
My favorite part of the weekend was having a chance to talk to the different brewers. I already touched on what is involved going from homebrewer to pro-brewer, but talking to people who have done it provides even more perspective.