New England Brewery Series: Earth Eagle Brewings (Portsmouth, NH)

Earth Eagle Brewings is located in a small tasting room beside the A&G Homebrew Supply Store, which is owned by one of the brewers.  You can read their whole story over here but the short version, I will be happy to oblige you with.  They began brewing three years ago, and right off the bat they were interested in brewing beer without hops, and thinking outside of the box.  Some of you might say “Without Hops!?!”   And yes, they like to brew beer without hops.  Traditionally these beers are called Gruits and can be brewed with everything from yarrow, to juniper, to heather, etc…  It turns out, hops are really just an herb that became popular to throw in beer.  When beer began, in fact, no one had really heard or thought of using hops.  This was, of course, thousands of years ago, so don’t quote me on this, but in actuality it wasn’t till the 1079 (according to Wikipedia…) in the Hallertau region of Germany that hops were used in beer.  In England, hops were actually condemned in 1519 as a “wicked and pernicious weed” (wikipedia.org).  It actually took till around 1600 for hops to finally be accepted and mainstreamed in use in English beers, and from there move across the ocean to America.

Anyways, I apologize for my history lesson on gruits and hops, but my point is that Earth Eagle Brewings is going back to the old ways and brewing beers without hops! But not to worry, they are appeasing the normal taste buds too with some spectacular IPA’s and Red Ales.

Walking into their tasting room, one is met with a terrific small rustic warehouse atmosphere that almost reminds me of a farmstand.  The brewing area is connected to the room through a wide doorway that is pretty much blocked off by the bar, and everything is a beautiful dark wood color, which makes the place feel natural and home-like.

On to the beer; I visited with my brother and my girlfriend promptly at noon when they opened, and thus was one of the first to try them (which means I get mad beer cred, right?).  They came in terrifically affordable $1 sampler glasses with the brewery’s logo nicely displayed (I bought a glass to have) and they were offering six different beers that day, three of which were gruits.  First up was their traditional gruit made with yarrow, wild rosemary and sweet gale, and it very well may be the most pleasantly drinkable beer I have ever purchased.  My memory of it is a little muddled on all the tastes, but rest assured I purchased a 32 oz. growler of it and will be reviewing it later in the week.  The second beer poured was Puca, a curry pumpkin porter that had a thick nose of curry.  As I remember, Puca had a good curry taste with strong pumpkin tastes in the background and faint roasted malts.  The beer tasted quite good, and handled the curry flavor far better, I think, than Ballast Point’s Indra Kunidra, which is the only other curry beer I have tried.  The third beer I tried was New England Gangsta’, their west coast, citra dry-hopped IPA, and let me tell you it was one hell of an IPA.  In fact, I think it is the best IPA I have had in a very long time.  Thick juicy hops coat the nose in such an inviting smell that I wanted to shove my nose in it, and the taste was so fruity and refreshing with just the perfect amount of bitters.  New England Gangsta’ is an IPA to be reckoned with, and may have stolen the title of “New Hampshire’s best IPA” away from Smuttynose’s Finest Kind.  We sampled a lovely cup of candied nuts and trail mix throughout the sampling and chatted it up with the two brewers and plenty of other excited beer enthusiasts that stopped by.  Our fourth beer proved to be Backyard Bouillibose, a pale ale based Gruit brewed with local herbs that gave it a medicinal minty smell and flavor that reminded me of the dentist, but in a good way.  Fourth up was William Wallace, a Scottish Gruit brewed with juniper berries and heather that sat in the glass like murky swamp water and had a very light earthy smell.  The taste is what sets William Wallace apart though.  The beer tasted richly earthy, and the flavors slowly built as you tasted it, further adding complexity to the taste.  The final sampler beer was Red Ryder, an American Red Ale brewed with 30% rye malt and dry hopped with Amarillo.  Red Ryder was tasty and crisp with tasty Amarillo hop fruit notes, slight caramel malts, and some nice spicy rye notes melding beautifully together.

Overall I was supremely impressed by Eagle Earth Brewery.  One of the brewers let me know that they are starting a barrel-aging program as well, and have already started a Belgian-style gruit on it which sound fantastic to me.  At one point in the tasting I was also talking to the brewer about New England Gangsta’ as he poured me a growler of Exhilaration, but he got confused and ended up pouring some of the Gangsta’ and some of the Exhilaration into the same growler.  He graciously poured me another growler, but in the meantime I and several of the other patrons called for samplers of the new mixture, which proved to carry some of the succulent fruity hop taste and much of the smooth drinkable herbs that the Exhilaration demonstrated.  If the mixture were to happen again I would advise more of the Gangsta’ to help bring out those juicy hops, but overall it was a terrific accident, and quite tasty.

We ended up heading home with a 32 oz. growler of the New England Gangsta’, a 32 oz. growler of Exhilaration, and 64 oz. growler of William Wallace, and you can expect individual reviews of all of them very soon.  Earth Eagle proved to be a terrific new local brewery.  They are currently only doing tastings out of their tasting room and filling growlers, but they did say they have plans to start up a bottling line, which is good news for all.  As we were leaving a line had stretched out of their building and into the street as people lined up to get in to the tiny tasting room and try the stuff.  For all in the area and any visiting, I advise you to give the place a try.  They are terrific and affordable, and one of the brewers said they are releasing a double IPA sometime soon, which I suspect will be just as delicious as the Gangsta’, if not more so.  I’m very excited to see where their experimentations with gruits go, and I’m very excited to continue to sample their beers.  Cheers to their beers!

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