I’m a New England girl. Born and raised in Connecticut and having gone to college in Maine, I am quite used to making the trip along Route 84 and 495 up and down the Northeastern seaboard. Just before crossing over the state border into Maine, looking out to my right while driving along the metal suspension bridge that hangs over the Piscatagua River, I would always see the sleepy town of Portsmouth, NH. It looked exactly as one would expect any Navy-base port to look; plenty of barges, cranes and a dingeys dotting the river butting against peninsulas jutting out from the water. Despite the innumerable times I’ve driven this route, admiring the picturesque New England seaside town from afar, never did I actually get off the exit to take a closer look.
The Ale House Inn
That is, never until an internet sale for a stay at a cute little brewery-turned-inn called the Ale House Inn caught my eye. After a bit of internet research, low and behold this sleepy industrial-looking town, at least as it looks from the highway, is home to a number of small and larger scale breweries. Many, I can buy in my liquor stores in Connecticut, and some even further away like Washington, DC. Just like that, a weekend brewery tour was in the making with a friend equally enthusiastic about beer.
The Ale House Inn, as mentioned, was a brewery at one point in time. Housed in an older brick building, The lobby still has the exposed bricks and beams above. The rooms however, offer quite a modern, sleek style, complete with the expected amenities such as a TV and ipod dock, in addition to a personalized ipad programmed with, among other things, activities in the area, news sources, and weather. And bonus, upon check-in you are offered a complimentary bottle of the locally brewed Smuttynose Beer! Doesn’t get much better than that!
After settling into the hotel, we started our tour at the Portsmouth Brewery which is walking distance from the Inn. It’s easy to find, right on busy Market Street, and offers their own collection of beers in addition to the also local Smuttynose brews. Having a hard time deciding on a specific beer, we got two flights in order to get a sampling of everything. It was helpful, since the unique names of their beers often don’t give any indication to what type of beer it is. It was delicious. And bonus! They had two cask beers on tap!
Blue Maid Grill
For dinner, we headed to the Blue Mermaid Grille, mostly because I read online that they offer events every night and it being a Wednesday, options for live entertainment were rather slim. It ended up being a fantastic choice since not only did they have a decent selection of regional beers, but the unique food was amazingly flavorful with a Caribbean flare and the Open Mic Night made it quite a festive environment. We ordered a not-usually-offered grilled banana as well as fish tacos. It was so good I wanted to repeat the dinner again, but being there for only a few days, I refrained.
Flatbread Pizza Co
A brewery tour is nice in that you’re not rushed in the morning as it’s frowned upon to drink beer at 10am. So, we began our day with lunch at Flatbread Pizza Co. Although there are numerous chains all over New England, the restaurant is independently owned, offering organic, brick oven flatbread pizza with locally-sources ingredients and regional draft beers. If there ever is a Flatbread Pizza Co. nearby, I can’t miss it.
After lunch, we checked out Redhook Brewery which is the only activity requiring a car, as it’s about 4 miles from the center of town. This brewery has a feeling of a modern restaurant and even offers food to accompany it’s beer offerings. A flight again, so we can enjoy a little bit of everything.
Returning to the center of town, we take a stroll around the downtown streets filled with cute shops and galleries, taking in the sights, sounds of the seagulls along the port, and smells wafting from the little restaurants that line the streets. We continue on to stroll through Strawberry Banke, a set of historic, beautiful 18th century homes which were preserved by a group of local citizens in the 1950’s when the town was attempting to revitalize the city and nearly tore them down. If I ever forgot I was in New England, this is a pleasant reminder of the rich history and beautifully old architecture New England region offers.
British Beer Company
Among one of the many meandering walks around the downtown area we took while exploring, we noticed British Beer Company’s advertisement for happy hour, which was free wings and $4 Irish drafts. Being a fan of dark stouts and porters, there is no way I could miss this. Not to mention the FREE meaty wings, complete with buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing?! I’m there.
Earth Eagle Brewing Co
Finally, one more stop on our self-guided tour and we happened to save the best for last. Earth Eagle Brewing Co. is located on a side alley, that makes it somewhat hard to find. Though, since Portsmouth is such a small town to begin with, walking on foot to explore makes finding even the most hidden business possible. Earth Eagle Brewing Co is a nano-brewery, meaning they make their batches large enough to supply growlers to enthusiastic customers of their brewery, but no distributions to larger stores. Not only was the beer some of my favorite out of all of the breweries, this casual hangout is where the locals go. We spotted my waitress from Portsmouth Brewery there as a customer. If you find a spot that the locals hang out in, you’ve really hit the jackpot of genuine when traveling.
Overall, Portsmouth, NH is a little known gem not only for the quaint New England seaside town it is, but because it’s hiding a handful of micro-brews offering a very diverse array of styles and tastes sure to please any beer enthusiast. Amazingly, over the two days, we tasted over 50 beers. Now that’s a record I’m not sure I will ever be able to beat.