It’s Portsmouth Beer Week! For those not in the know, Portsmouth, NH and the surrounding area has been exploding with beer recently, and they’re annual beer week is a great way to showcase this. My brother and I stopped in on Monday night to see how the fair city was doing, despite the fact that my brother had to work early the next day. We started our quest at the Sheraton right on the water. There we met Chris Shea, the head brewer for Henniker Brewing Company, who was pouring samples of his beer alongside the Sheraton’s Beer Master/Beer Concierge Brian Aldrich. The Portsmouth Sheraton is the first hotel to work a Beer Concierge into their employ, and it is a very exciting thing to see. Mr. Aldrich says he has been there for about two months now (I apologize if I am getting this wrong, it was a great night of drinking and some of the facts got blurry) and is slowly working to make the hotel’s bar a great place to find local beers. He said that his ultimate goal is to make the Sheraton a great place to stay at and to try out the local beer scene at the same time. At the moment, the Sheraton is well known for their wine list, but Mr. Aldrich is hard at work to make it known for its beer as well.
Back to the tasting, however, I was really impressed with Henniker Brewing Company. I don’t mean to offend, but I had seen their bottles floating around and had read a few mediocre reviews of their beers, but I had never really worked up the desire to try them. Sure they were local, but with silly names like “Hop Slinger” and “Amber Apparition” and mundane styles like an amber ale, and IPA, and a porter, I never really was inspired to try them (that will change now, as it seems I have become a bit of a style snob and forgotten how great a simple porter can be). Chris Shea was pouring nearly the entire lineup of Henniker Brewing, and he was very excited to explain it all to us. I was immediately taken with his knowledge of brewing history, specifically with English styles. Chris is a man who is passionate about his beer and its history, and he is not afraid to tell you. Many times when I meet a brewer I’m told the age-old saying “a brewer is his or her own worst critic,” but Mr. Shea didn’t seem to be one for that saying. He gushed about his beers in a way that let you know how much of himself he had placed in the beer. He also mentioned that they were coming out with a double IPA next Monday, and in his own words he said it was “Amazing.” It was really refreshing to meet a brewer that was blunt and liked the stuff he was making. Cheers to Chris!
On to his beers. We started with his Whipple’s Wheat, an American Wheat ale with some great hop additions. I believe there was Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo in the beer, and they kissed the tongue with the perfect amount of hop character. Bright citrus hops layered a crisp snap to the light wheat body and made this beer a perfect session beer for those craving hops. Next up was the Amber Apparition, a beer I’ve seen on shelves for a while, but had snobbishly dismissed as “just an American Amber Ale.” Boy was I proven wrong. Amber Apparition is just a malty American amber ale, but it is expertly crafted with delicious caramel malt, a wisp of roast, rich toffee flavors, and enough complexity to blow every other malty amber ale I have ever had out of the water. I liked this beer a lot. Following Amber was the Working Man’s Porter, which Shea said was inspired by a porter recipe from the 1800’s. Shea went on to explain how in the 1800’s the difference between stouts and porters (a question I have been struggling with since I started drinking beers) was in the malts. Porters had pale, brown, and black malts while stouts were made with caramel, pale, and black malts. Today, of course, that definition doesn’t hold up, but Shea says he is sticking to it, and that is how he’ll make his porters and stouts. The Working Man, by the way, was silky and delicious with a smooth rich roast coffee and chocolate flavoring, and superb drinkability. After that came Hop Slinger, my only disappointment in the group. Hop Slinger shows Shea’s English brewing inspiration and has a fair amount of malt backing it up. The beer is juicy fruit sweet, but it just comes off too sweet and bland for my taste in an IPA… which was too bad. After that we had their newest release, The Roast, which is their stout brewed with local coffee roasted at White Mountain Coffee in Concord, NH. The stout was rich with fresh brewed coffee flavors of a nice medium roast. This paired well alongside roasted malts and just a touch of caramel that made the beer supremely drinkable and complex. In the end, I think Whipple’s Wheat was my favorite, only because I’ve been looking for a good session hoppy beer lately, and that fully fit the bill. Henniker Brewing is doing some awesome interpretations of traditional styles, and their execution is spot on so far. I do wish I liked their IPA a bit more, but honestly, who needs an IPA these days? There are far too many on the market, and Henniker is doing something superb with their other beers which I very much appreciate. Cheers to Chris Shea and the Henniker team. Expect reviews soon!
After that, my brother and I set out for Earth Eagle Brewings, where the Earth Eagle crew was teaming up with Great Rhythms Brewing to release their collaboration, Grande Dégel Saison, a Double Saison with ginger, lemongrass, and New Zealand hops. I hadn’t been in a while, and was pleased to see the expansion they had added in. I was also pleased to find the place packed, and that EEB is now serving full pours of their beer! I settled down with a sampler flight and worked my way through the lineup.
First up was the Wormwood Verte, a beer brewed with the spices and herbs found in absinthe. This beer tasted like absinthe, and unfortunately I’ve had bad experiences with absinthe and could not drink any of it. EEB hit the nail on the head as far as making a beer that tastes like absinthe… it just is not my cup of tea. After that came the Grande Dégel which was hugely lemony, with a nice pop of citrus and ginger, and just a touch of booze (it was around 10% ABV). It was an excellent collaboration, and will surely be knocking people on their ass all week. After that was the 2014 Porter Cochon, which is a porter that is boiled with a smoked pigs head. I had had last year’s version of this and was quite excited for this year’s. Unfortunately, this year’s version was a little stronger in the herbs and spices that they put in with the pig’s head, which mellowed the smoke and gave the beer a minty finish. It was a good beer, but I wanted more of that meaty smoke! Next was the New England Gangsta, a beautiful little IPA that I have reviewed on this site when it first was released last year. Since EEB’s founding, Gangsta has changed up its flavoring a little, it is much danker now with a touch of earthy leaves and grass, which I really like. The beer is still gangsta’ in flavor, though I’m not sure I would hold it as highly as I first reviewed it at. After Gangsta was Nocturnal, their big old winter stout, which was smooth and chocolaty and delicious to drink. The final beer of EEB was Hanuman, their Belgian Gruit Tripel, which was funky but great. The beer had cidery flavors alongside Belgian funk and the more expected Tripel flavors. As always, I had a great time at EEB and can’t wait to visit again.
To close out the night, I was going to hit up the Thirsty Moose which was supposed to be having a Founder’s tap takeover. The Thirsty Moose has had KBS in the past, and I was foolishly hoping they still had a keg lying around or something. The Thirsty Moose is an 100-beer-tap joint, so I was a little confused how Founders would be taking over the taps… It turned out they were just offering a sampler flight of some Founders beer for cheap, but I had had all their beers before and wasn’t really interested, so I opted out of the Thirsty Moose and got sushi and house warm sake at Sake instead. I wish I lived closer and could hit up all the events of Portsmouth Beer Week, but from what I saw it was an excellent event. If you are in the area be sure to check it out! Cheers and beers, folks.