Archive for the ‘New Hampshire’ Category

Rule 37: Merrymeeting Stump Puller

Modern Drunkard Magazine’s articleThe 86 Rules of Boozing, by Frank Kelly Rich states:
Rule 37. Try one new drink each week.
The Rule 37 series of posts chronicle my attempts to accomplish this feat every week.
For the recipes of R37s past, click the Htf do I make these drinks? tab.

The Lady Friend’s familial clan has a lakehouse (they’re among the New Englanders who refer to such locations as “camp” even though there is a roof over a walled structure, and thus, no actual camping is involved) on Merrymeeting Lake in New Hampster.

No, I hadn’t heard of it either.


Here’s a handy map.

Regardless, if you can avoid the dreaded “daytrippers,” it’s an excellent place for drinking WAY too much, though the drive home Sunday morning along winding dirt roads with many drastic elevation changes and the Lady Friend at the wheel can be a bit… horrifically ungodlyawfulmurderousvomituplungsandliver. That’s the technical term. But I never learn lessons about drinking too much so we packed some beer and cocktails and headed out to the aquatic splendor of central New Hampshire. I didn’t pack any bar tools, figuring there’d at least be a lowball glass (there was), some ice (yup), and a shot glass for measuring (there were plenty of those). What I did bring were the two simple ingredients for making a Merrymeeting Stump Puller.


Begin imbibing.

I found this drink in a copy of Mr. Boston, and it was apparently invented by a “Ronald Sperry” for some Boston “Shake Up the World” contest. That’s all the detail it gives. The original name was the MONTANA Stump Puller, but I’ve made a slight ingredient adjustment to make this one a bit more unique to Merrymeeting. Also fitting, the specific area of Merrymeeting where the Lady Friend’s relations “camp” is known as Adder Hole. It’s the shallower end of the lake, so there’s lots of trees in/along the water slowly being absorbed into the watershed. Which means lots of logs and stumps that needed removal over the years, making this drink even more fitting.

This is not to be confused with the “Gull Lounge” on the end of Pete’s Sandbar. That stump was quite well-preserved with alcohol until the ice claimed it one winter.

rule37merrymeetingstumppullerMerrymeeting Stump Puller
Adapted from the “Montana Stump Puller,” Mr. Boston 65th ed (2000).

– 2 oz Canadian whisky (Canadian Club Reserve 10yo)
– 1 oz Dr. McGillicuddy’s Mentholmint Liqueur

Dump it into a rocks/Old Fashioned glass over ice and give it a stir. The original recipe called for creme de menthe, but I don’t have any. Then again, the original called for this to be served in a shot glass, but it makes 3oz. They didn’t say if this was a double, or if it should be split into two shot glasses, so I’m not too worried about not following their instructions to the letter.

Yes, that’s “whisky” with no “e.” It’s Canadian.

rule37merrymeetingstumppullerbottlesThere’s three reasons for using the Dr. McGillicuddy’s here. First, I don’t have any creme de menthe. No, this mentholmint liqueur isn’t a perfect replacement, but it’ll do. Secondly, the Doctor holds a place of honor in the Lady Friend’s clan’s liquors/liqueurs of choice. Apparently it’s quite popular to sip during ice fishing. Or regular fishing. Or yardwork. Or hiking. Or grocery shopping. They’re quite fond of it, is the point I’m trying to make. I had never tried it until meeting this group, and I jumped right in. It’s like liquid candy canes mixed with alcohol and happiness. Thirdly, I wound up with a nice big bottle (and a little pocket-sized sipper) of the Doctor at their last Yankee Swap. I contributed some very Mainely gifts of Allen’s Coffee Brandy and a 2-litre of Moxie. Uncle Ron was quite pleased to get it.

Into the cocktail we go. Start with a sniff.

It smells… not good. Like toothpaste and caramel gasoline. The sugary mint is pretty powerful in here, and that Canadian whisky is just… antiseptic? Yeah. Let’s hope it tastes ok.

Oh my.
That’s… not bad.
In theory, I was expecting this to be like a cheap version of a Mint Julep. All the ingredients are there. Well, sort of. There’s whisky (Canadian Club is no bourbon), mint and sugar (thoughtfully provided in one go, thanks to the Doctor), and ice. It is a bit heavy on the sugar/mint side, and there’s a wash of the whisky malt and alcohol warmth towards the finish of the drink. It’s really not bad. Not GREAT, but not bad.

I mixed one of these “upta camp” and there was even a bottle of the Doctor nestled in the freezer among the ice cubes and frozen vegetables. I supposed I didn’t need to bring my own bottle along. The Lady Friend’s father reluctantly had a taste, then seemed to warm to it a bit more with each sip. After our cruise around the lake, he happily made another one for himself. He’s part of a crew that heartily enjoyed their cocktails back in the day, though they preferred Wild Turkey to the blended Canadian stuff. They even made a club about it.


No, seriously. That’s the Wild Turkey Canoeing and Climbing Club.

Simple to mix, with only two ingredients, and one of them is the Doctor. This would probably be better with a better whiskey, but you’ll have more of a flavor battle against the mint. However, given the fact that the Lady Friend’s father tried a couple of them, it seems like the Merrymeeting Stump Puller is officially endorsed.

Drink Free or Die Part II: Frank Jones Brewing

So the Lady Friend and I took a day trip up to our home state of Moo Hampsha for some good ol’ Granite State boozing. This is Part I of the adventure. For those who may have missed it, there’s a handy map on my White Birch Brewing post that shows why NH is the best state ever, besieged on all sides by other scary New England states (and a Commonwealth). Part 1 starts here.

Drink Free or Die: Sobriety is the Worst of Evils.

This is going to be a different sort of brewery tour.

Let’s set the Way-Back Machine to the 1880s.

New Hampshire actually has a pretty big role in New England brewing history, which I was oblivious to until a chance viewing of a vintage beer ad slideshow. I’d show it to you, but it was on and they seem to have taken it down as if it never existed.

This was the picture

I recognized the name “Frank Jones,” and saw “Portsmouth, NH” in there as well. That intrigued me, and kicked off some research. Having grown up in Seacoast NH, I had heard the name Frank Jones, but mostly only in reference to the convention center off of the traffic circle. Turns out he was a pretty big deal. Frank was a businessman, politician and brewer, and even served as mayor of Portsmouth for awhile. As a young man, he moved from his hometown of Barrington, NH, to the hustle and bustle of Portsmouth, and started working with Swindell Brewing, owned by Englishman John Swindell, around 1858. Swindell’s business started tanking, so Frank bought him out. I’m not sure what he did after that to turn things around, but business took off. By the Civil War, he was profitable, and had a local competitor: Eldridge Brewing Company, also of Portsmouth, founded in 1864. These two were the big players in Portsmouth until Prohibition, though several smaller breweries also sprung up. Ironically, post-Prohibition, Eldridge started up again in various forms and produced Frank Jones’s ale among its products.

Back to Frank: he continued expanding the brewery, and sales kept rising. They brewed 150,000 barrels of ale in 1882, making Frank Jones the LARGEST producer of ale in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Holy snotrockets. Let’s put that in perspective. First of all, I’m sure you’re thinking “What about Miller, and Budweiser, and Pabst, Schlitz, Coors, Stroh’s, and all those? Weren’t they making a lot of beer as well?” Sure they were. But they were mostly making LAGER, not ale. Secondly, how much is 150k barrels of beer? That was Harpoon Brewery’s production in 2011. That’s a LOT of beer. We’re talking a Harpoon-sized operation in the 1880s. By this time he was adding buildings left and right… a malt house, a cooperage (barrel house), ANOTHER malt house, ANOTHER cooperage, and a 140′ clock tower.

This place was HUGE.

This was just Portsmouth; there was a second brewery in South Boston, formerly called Henry Souther & Company. It’s the one that is actually represented in that first picture. Under “Portsmouth, NH” the caption reads “Depot 82 & 84, Washington St, Boston“: Washington Street runs right through Dorchester. That print is apparently in the Boston Public Library archives.

Anyway, in 1889, Frank went public and sold out to British investors who were sniffing out brewery purchases in America. Frank stayed on as head of the brewery, and they hit their peak in 1896 producing 250,000 barrels of ale. That’s over 7.8 million gallons. Insanity.

There’s even a SONG about the beer from about 1897:

Hurrah for Jones’ brewery, may it never fail
Brew us beer and porter and beautiful stock ale,
That’s the stuff for me, my boys, it drives away all pain,
Whenever I can get a glass of it I’ll have it just the same.

Frank died in 1902, but not before making sure he had the biggest tombstone in the city.

Most of these brewery buildings still exist, off of Islington Street (behind CVS, next to the Pic n’ Pay/ Hannaford’s) near downtown Portsmouth. I’ve probably driven past them hundreds of times, and never gave them so much as a glance. Some of them have been repurposed/renovated and contain various businesses, like a tech company, yoga studio, and even a bar, located on the aptly named Brewery Lane. The Lady Friend and I went for a look.


This was a serious brewery.

I couldn’t really tell you which building is which, though I have a vague sense from the postcard above. The dominant building still standing has a big white stone near the top which reads “Built 1884 by Frank Jones,” which I believe refers to the expansion of the main brewery building. Shorter, lengthy, two story buildings along Brewery Lane (where train tracks once ran) are the malt houses, currently containing businesses under the title “Malt House Exchange.” There’s just a parking lot where the largest building, and the clock tower, once stood. Most buildings are boarded up and have graffiti sprayed everywhere within reach, though the solid brick walls are still standing. The buildings that are left appear to be pretty sound, structurally.

I found an opening in one of the boarded-up doorways, and squeezed inside the main building for a look.

Lady Friend added for scale.

Dirt floors, and an empty, cavernous space. Portions of the beamed ceiling look to be recently replaced, though pigeons roost everywhere up there. Various fuse panels and electrical conduit is another up-to-date addition, most likely installed for work crews to repair the structure. More graffiti, and I wonder if the person who scrawled the drinking philosophy knew this was a brewery. One section is an addition likely from the post-Prohibition days, with steel beams extending out from the original brick facade. Real estate banners hang on the building’s exterior, and I would love to find out what this property would cost. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, and a tad drafty. Smuttynose Brewery looked into these buildings for their new brewery home, though it just wasn’t feasible. Funnily enough, Smuttynose is currently located at Heritage Ave. in Portsmouth, which was one of the former Frank Jones Brewing Company sites. Smuttynose holds the title of the largest brewery in New Hampshire, a distinction that once belonged to Frank Jones. History!

Dusty history.

So what happened? FJ was the largest brewery around and employed something like 500 people. Where did all that business go? Simple. Prohibition. Ugh. Prohibition went into effect on the national level on January 17, 1920, but had already been enacted statewide in New Hampshire in 1917. The brewers were forced to shut their doors, and the Frank Jones Brewing Company, LLC, was finished. Well, kind of. After Prohibition ended in 1933, old rival Eldridge began brewing again in the former Frank Jones buildings. They later renamed themselves “Frank Jones Brewing Company” in 1937, and even produced some of the original FJ recipes. The company was sold in 1947 to a rum distiller called Caldwell Incorporated, but the big midwestern macrobrew lagers were taking hold, and consumers’ tastes shifted to the lighter beers. Frank Jones finally went down in 1950.


Apparently, you can actually still get some of Frank’s Ale. After an attempt to revitalize the brand in the early 1990s with contract brewing at Catamount Brewery (now Harpoon’s Windsor, VT location) a restaurant in Barrington (Frank’s hometown) sprung up that offers Frank Jones’ Original Ale and IPA. At least they used to. I sent them a message trying to get more information about where and how they brew these beers, but I still haven’t heard back from them. I think it would be a worthwhile adventure to get the real story, even if I have to go to *shudder* Barrington. That’s not even EPPING. Yikes.

Also, it seems there are further plans for the site, though there’s no telling how recent this information is, or if it’s even still heading in that direction. It could be the reason I spotted some recent electrical work, though there is still a real estate banner hanging on the building. I’m not sure if the deal fell through, or if they simply haven’t taken down the banner yet.

The more information I found out on this topic, the more buried I became in the brewing history of the area. One major source for this post was the website, with this page of incredibly informative history. Other sources are linked within the post, but Rustycans in particular was extremely helpful. There’s also a book that was recommended to me by JT of Smuttynose called Brewing in New Hampshire, which seems like it will be an invaluable source of information once I get my hands on it. Then this article from had a lot of important information, and the unique perspective of one of the current tenants of the FJ site.

If you have any other information about the Frank Jones Brewery, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below. I have a feeling I’ll be digging into this topic for a long time.

Finally, one last comparison from past to present, as of February, 2012. You can see the brewery building that still exists on the left, and the adjoining main floor, though another story was added on at some point. The giant clock tower, and largest building, would be right about where that lamppost is, in the middle of the shot. Nothing remains of the either: it’s now just a parking lot.

A “Special” Rule 37: The Cullen Mutrie

Modern Drunkard Magazine’s articleThe 86 Rules of Boozing, by Frank Kelly Rich states:
Rule 37. Try one new drink each week.
The Rule 37 series of posts chronicle my attempts to accomplish this feat every week.
For the recipes of R37s past, click the Htf do I make these drinks? tab.

Ok. By now most people in New England (prob EVERYBODY in New Hampsha) has heard the story: Thursday night, five police officers went to serve a warrant at 517 Post Road in Greenland, NH. Exact details are sketchy, but in a nutshell, all five were shot, and Police Chief Michael Maloney (eight days from retirement) was killed. This led to just about every police officer in the state to swoop down on the house in an eight hour standoff with the armed suspect. Finally, around 2am, the SWAT (well, in NH it’s the SERT) team sent in a camera robot and determined that the suspect, Cullen Mutrie, and an unidentified female companion were dead.

This happened about 1.5 miles from my parents house. I went to nursery school and high school with Cullen. We never hung out in high school because he developed some… interesting… hobbies. Namely steroid use. Last year he was arrested and charged with NINE FELONIES due to steroid possession. Before that he was charged with domestic assault, and police officers went to his house to confiscate his many firearms (in his bedroom, living room, vehicle and carried with him). That’s when they found the steroids. Before THAT, in 2007, he was brought up on assault charges stemming from a bar fight at the Portsmouth Gas Light (I’m assuming this was in their “club” upstairs, rather than the restaurant portion of the building). So yeah, clearly an outstanding citizen. I remember whispers of his ‘roid use back in high school. He was always a big guy (over 6′) but began to suddenly put on LOTS of muscle. When arrested in January, he was described as 6’3″, 275 pounds. Initial reports from Thursday describe him as “as being a very large ‘juiced’ guy, very muscular.”

Now, this whole thing would be quite amusing, except police officers were shot and killed. I love watching the spectacle of someone’s life imploding, but when you take innocent people out in your Titanic-like existence, that’s not ok. Especially police officers. A good friend of mine is ( /was /is going to be again someday?) a police officer, and I certainly wouldn’t be thrilled if he got shot. One of the officers that DID get shot last night also attended our high school. It all hits very close to home, and I don’t even live there anymore. Because of this, I really don’t have much sympathy for Cullen. He made his choices, and it’s just a shame that he had to ruin other lives along the way. So in one final sendoff, here’s a “Very Special” Rule 37.

The Cullen Mutrie

– One bottle of Muscle Milk. Spike with creatine and other anabolics if you’ve got them.

– Five shot glasses of the liquor of your choosing

Chug the Muscle Milk to build mass until the cops show up. Take five shots. Hole up in the house until the SWAT team arrives.

Can’t say I’ll miss you, Cullen. Glad you’re gone, but it’s sad that you took a police officer with you.

Drink Free or Die Part I: Smuttynose

So the Lady Friend and I took a day trip up to our home state of Moo Hampsha for some good ol’ Granite State boozing. This is Part I of the adventure. For those who may have missed it, there’s a handy map on my White Birch Brewing post that shows why NH is the best state ever, besieged on all sides by other scary New England states (and a Commonwealth).

Drink Free or Die: Sobriety is the Worst of Evils.

Note: This article contains several factual updates from the original post following correspondence with JT, the Smuttynose Minister of Propaganda.

Someday I’m going to publish a book of all these wonderfully sexy brewery exterior shots.

Our first stop of the day was Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, NH. They’re located (like many breweries) in an industrial park, off of Route 1, though if you grew up in the area (as I did), you can sneak around the back way and avoid all the traffic lights. The downfall of Smutty is that their Saturday tour starts at 11am, which is great if you live in Hampton; not so great from Boston. [UPDATE: They do also have a 5:30p Friday tour, and have just added a 1p Saturday tour.] With some spirited driving on my part, we made it just in time, though it was about 20 degrees colder than Boston, and there were patches of ice still in the parking lot. Stupid frozen NH. Thankfully we got to warm up pretty quickly as Smutty starts the tour with beer samples, as any good brewery will do. They also pointed out that we were penned in by the incredibly secure “defined drinking area,” as NH state law requires that we be caged to drink the beers. We donned safety glasses prior to wandering through the production floor, though this is only the second brewery I can recall that requires eye protection (Allagash was the other).

You’ll beer your eye out.

First off: a little history. Smuttynose is one of the earlier microbreweries (though no longer a microbrewery) in the Seacoast area, and is named for Smuttynose Island, part of the Isles of Shoals where a couple people got axed. Literally. They were killed with an ax (or hatchet… depends who you ask). Anyway, it’s a cool piece of local history, and just sounds like a cool brewery name. Their harbor seal logo ties in as many seals hang out on the Isles of Shoals and along the NH coastline. Apparently the mascot seal on the logo is named “Shmarmy.” I doubt I spelled that correctly. But they like it, saying that “it’s a weird name and we like weird things.” Cool.

Smuttynose and another local brewpub, Portsmouth Brewery (we’ll get to that later), are kind of mired in shared history, as Smutty’s beers are offered on tap at PortsBrew, and I was never sure if they were owned by the same person or what the deal was. It’s somewhat confusing, so here’s the gist:

- Peter and Janet Egelston (brother and sister) start the Northampton Brewery (MA) in 1987 along with another couple, the Metzgers.

– In 1991, the Egelstons and Metzgers start the Portsmouth Brewery in downtown Portsmouth, NH’s first brewpub.

– The Egelstons buy out the Metzgers in both Portsmouth and Northampton in 1992.

– In December of 1993, Peter Egelston buys some assets of the former Frank Jones Brewing Company (more on that one later as well), and uses it to start Smuttynose in January of 1994.

– Finally in 2000, Peter and Janet trade off their partnerships: Peter takes over the Portsmouth Brewery, and keeps Smuttynose, while Janet becomes sole owner of Northampton Brewery.

So basically, PortsBrew and Smutty are owned by the same guy, but brew different beers. As a brewpub, PortsBrew doesn’t really bottle/distribute, whereas Smutty is a full-fledged brewery distributed in 19 states. All this info was on the tour, but it’s spelled out much clearer on their website’s FAQ section. Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention, take notes, shoot pictures, and drink a beer all at the same time. Sometimes, I even have to put the beer down. See what I do for you people?

I’m a saint.

So, the usual kind of tour. Blah blah blah, beer beer beer. It was a bit livelier than some, and the tour guides were quite amusing. Here’s some of the noteworthy stuff. Their year-round grain bills consist mainly of two-row malted barley, in amounts ranging from 80% to as much as 98%. The remaining portion is made up of a heavy roast chocolate malt, used in the darker beers, such as Old Brown Dog. There are three main sections to their facility: the brewhouse, the cellar, and the bottling line/warehouse. Beers are brewed in the brewhouse, fermented and conditioned in the cellar (which is not actually in a cellar), and then bottled and packed for distribution. They are force-carbonating their beers with a device [UPDATE: Called an inline pin-point carbonator, though they refer to it simply as “the carbonator.“] that “looks like a piece of Cold War weaponry.” All of their beers are unfiltered (the clarity comes from the use of a brite tank, which allows yeasts and sediments to settle before bottling). They do roughly 38,000 barrels a year in production, a third of which is kegged. The flagship beer by far is the Smuttynose IPA (also called FinestKind, which is in small type at the bottom of the label) accounting for a whopping 42% of their sales. The big sellers behind the IPA are the Old Brown Dog and the seasonal Pumpkin, each of which hold about 9% of total sales. There are 38 employees, and yes, they each get one free case of beer, per week.

Currently, the Heritage Ave building is at maximum capacity, and the big news around Smutty is that they’re finally moving. They’ve been looking for a new spot for quite some time, as chronicled on their blog, but the new destination is down Towle Farm Road in Hampton, NH. They’ve had to move a farm house and two carriage houses off of their foundations (though the barn stayed put) to make everything fit. Quite a project, but now Smutty is going to REALLY start cranking. Their 2011 capacity was just shy of 38,000 barrels, and the addition of four new 200bbl fermenters, and a 200bbl brite tank will up production by a whopping 10,000 bbls in 2012. A new facility included a visitor’s center and restaurant on-site at a possible Route 1 location in Portsmouth was unfortunately squashed by Portsmouth zoning laws. The new $16 million planned facility in Hampton includes a 95-seat restaurant, visitor center, administration offices and 42,000 sq ft brewery. Good to know they’ve finally landed after being screwed by Portsmouth politics, abandoning plans for revamping old breweries, and walking away from a doomed Newmarket project.

Just keep them bottles a-comin’.

We finished the tour back where we started, in front of the taps in the strictly defined “drinking area” and continued to slake our thirst after the long, dry 30 minute excursion. Here’s what was on tap:

Common Man Ale Um. An ale.
5% abv. I had never heard of this one before.
Nose: Light barley malt. Slight hint of citrus.
Taste: Light and easy. Mild cereal taste. Crisp and refreshing.

Woodward Ale A hoppy Pale Ale with orange peel.
4.7% abv. Didn’t know about this one either. It’s contract brewed for the Woodward Hotel in Boston. Neat!
Nose: Slight sweet orange aroma, with a malty back.
Taste: Sharper than the Common Man Ale. Certainly an orange flavor on top, with a dry, hoppy bitterness.

Old Brown Dog Brown Ale
6.6% abv. Now we’re talking. A Smutty classic. The dog on the label is Olive, brewery owner Peter Egelston’s dog.
Nose: Roasty toasty. Slight roast bitter, but smells delicious.
Taste: A roast bitter start, but then malty sweet with some brown sugar. Yum.

Robust Porter Yup. It’s a porter.
5.7% abv. Peter’s partner, Joanne, is the art director for the beer labels, and designed the old-timey strongman label. Bully!
Nose: Roasted, slight coffee bitter and some malty sweetness.
Taste: Bitter roast with a slight malt sweetness. It certainly is robust. TASTY. Om nom nom.

Smuttynose IPA aka FinestKind India Pale Ale
6.8% abv. A great IPA. One of the Irish Lad’s favorites. Magnum and Simcoe hops with a Centennial dry hop.
The two old guys on the label, Cy and Paul, responded to a call for “two old geezers for a beer label.” Cy has since died, but Paul is still kicking. He had a heart attack three days before the last Red Hook Beerfest, and was pissed that he couldn’t get out of the hospital to attend.
Nose: Savory and dank.
Taste: Sharp bitter. Crisp with some resin. A slight meaty/savory grease underneath. An excellent IPA.

I snagged a pint glass for my too-large-already collection, and exchanged info with the Smutty guys. As a bonus with the tour, everyone gets a coupon for a free Smutty pint at the Portsmouth Brewery. Total score, since we were already planning to visit PortsBrew later in the afternoon. Still a couple stops to make before that, however, including a dual-coast brewery, and a legendary chunk of brewing history. Stay tuned.

Make mine a Smutty.

Review: Flag Hill General John Stark Vodka

About a month ago I got an email from Flag Hill Winery & Distillery. I’ve been on their mailing list for quite awhile, having done their Harvest Fest before, and visited again last year with the Lady Friend, Sissy, and the Mother of the Lady Friend. They tasted the wine, I tasted the spirits.

Anyway, this email was a bit of a distress call. Literally. It was titled “S.O.S.: Save Our Spirit.” Due to low sales, their General John Stark Vodka is due to be removed from the NH State Liquor Store shelves. Which would be a shame. It’s a pity when small craft stuff gets squeezed out of the market, and it happens especially often with vodka. The vodka game is flooded because it’s one of the easier spirits to make, and is currently the most popular spirit in the US. Most distilleries make a vodka, since you don’t have to be as concerned with flavors; distill a spirit and filter everything out of it. But it’s very difficult to make any craft product from quality ingredients when the big brands can undercut your pricing.

Personally, I love having smaller, unusual brands on my home bar. It starts a discussion when someone asks “What is THAT? Where did you get it? I’ve never heard of it.” I didn’t have any Flag Hill products at the time of the S.O.S. email, so I sent a reply to their marketing director to see if I could do a review of their vodka, and help spread the word to get their sales quotas met, keeping a local product on the shelves. They agreed, and sent over a bottle for freebies. Yay for free booze!

Bam! Booze!

It showed up in space-age packaging from the future. I didn’t know shipping materials like this existed, and it was like the bottle had a suit of inflated armor. Plus, the FedEx box had a great warning sticker. Once I tore past the spacesuit, I got a good look at the bottle. Nice square shape, but with faceted corners, an overall nice look. The official name is Flag Hill’s General John Stark vodka. It’s made from apples sourced at the appropriately named Apple Hill Farm in Concord, NH. A unexpected result is is a gluten-free product, made from just distilled apples: no grain whatsoever. Strangely, the bottle lacks a pull-tab to remove the topper. A minor detail, but oddly overlooked in the overall design. No matter… I just hacked it off with a wine opener. Still, pretty much every other bottle of liquor I’ve opened has included a pull-tab of some sort (except for screw tops). Perhaps it’s because Flag Hill is primarily a winery. Under the plastic-y topper is a metal screw top, another unusual move. I’m not sure why I was expecting a cork, but… I was… so the metal cap threw me off again.

How do I get that goodness inside of me?

Before we get into the tasting, you should know about the namesake: General John Stark. He was born in Londonderry, NH, and fought during the Revolutionary War. Thankfully, he was on our side, because this dude was like Chuck Norris, Rambo and King Leonidas all rolled into one. He was captured by Abenaki Indians in 1752, and while held prisoner, decided to grab a club and attack one of them. Apparently this earned him some street cred (forest cred?), and the Abenaki adopted him into the tribe. He took part in the French-Indian war, and then followed that with some action in the Revolutionary War. He started that fight in 1775 at Bunker (Breed’s) Hill in Boston (Charlestown), ordering his troops to hold their fire until the British were nearly on top of them. He famously saw action at the Battle of Bennington in 1777 in Vermont (actually NY), leading a decisive victory for the Colonial forces (30 dead, 40 wounded while the Brits had 207 dead and 700 of their troops captured) and screaming that they would win the battle “…or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!” This victory became a turning point in the war, and Stark was commended as “The Hero of Bennington.” In 1809, Stark was unable to attend a celebration of the anniversary of the battle, instead sending a letter in which he wrote the phrase that would be adopted as the New Hampshire state motto: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” This pretty much makes NH better than any other state. Just sayin.

Onto the tasting. It should be noted that I sampled this neat, at room temperature. Most people assume that keeping vodka as cold as possible (stashed in the freezer for example) is the best bet, and this may be true of big brand bottles. However, the recent push in craft spirits follows the mindset of treating it as any other artisan liquor, and keeping it at room temp. Cold hinders both aromas and flavors, which can be advantageous for a mass-produced product, hiding the less-desirable cogeners, the culprits of unpleasant smells and tastes. However, you’d never sample a nice whiskey at freezing temps, so let’s give the vodka a chance as well. (The same can be said of beers… a macrobrew adjust lager will taste better when it’s as cold as possible, masking the overall cheapness of the ingredients. A craft IPA, on the other hand, should be taken out of the fridge to warm up for a bit before tasting. It makes a world of difference.)

Nose: Sweet. Apple sweet. Now, I know this is made from apples, but vodka is supposed to be pretty neutral… no real flavors or aromas. The last time I did a Flag Hill spirit tasting, I was left with the same impression of a fruited aroma. Not that it’s bad, in fact, I prefer it. But it would most likely interfere with recipes calling for a neutral ingredient. However, it could also add a little something to it, like a flavored vodka would. I wondered if I was imagining it, so I poured a sample of Bully Boy’s vodka, and nosed them side-by-side. The Bully Boy is much more astringent, and doesn’t smell of much except alcohol. There is a definite apple presence in the Flag Hill offering.

Maybe it’s all in the nose… time for a taste.

Taste: Good mouthfeel… smooth and coating, but not syrupy. There is indeed a hint of sweetness, but the alcoholic burn takes care of that pretty quickly. Not a terribly hot burn, which is always preferable. Once the booze evaporates, I’m again left with a distinct, ghosted apple flavor, juicy and sweet. Not a tart apple, but very nice.

Let’s try it in a cocktail. Perhaps a Kamikaze.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t amateur night at the local dive doing body shots with tipsy sorority girls in their late teens. At least, not that the Lady Friend knows about. This is the Kamikaze as a legit cocktail… craft spirit, fresh lime juice and even name brand curaçao. We keep it classy here. Sometimes.
When the Lady Friend is around.
Which is a lot.

The Kamikaze

– 2 oz vodka
– 1/2 oz Cointreau
– 1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Nose: Naturally, there’s little else but a lime aroma to this one. Probably since I garnished it with both a lengthy lime twist, and a big ol’ lime wedge. But there is another sweetness underneath… apples and oranges. Makes perfect sense, with the orange Cointreau and the apple notes of the Stark.

Taste: Lime. Triple sec dryness. The vodka makes its precense known at the finish, with a meek alcoholic burn, but it’s well-blended with the lime and orange flavors. The Stark doesn’t seem to put up much of a fuss, but also doesn’t get buried behind the tart lime. Which I suppose is a roundabout way of saying it mixes very well. Yum.

Well, overall I enjoyed it, but after I reconciled a few things. I do have to nitpick with the fact that I got apple sensations in both the nose and the flavor. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but for me, vodka is all about neutrality. There should be no aroma, and no flavor. Vodka becomes dependent on mouthfeel and hotness of the spirit. So as a strictly defined vodka, Stark falls outside the guidelines. However, I really don’t like vodka for precisely those reasons. There’s nothing to smell, nothing to taste, and you have to judge it by how horribly it burns your mouth. Not only was the Stark pleasant to smell, it also finishes with a lovely apple essence that I really enjoyed. I won’t say it tasted like an apple spirit, but rather it was a spirit with a hint of apple. Two different things. According to me. But the Flag Hill was tasty, even if it wasn’t a strict neutral vodka.

Go get some.
Keep a local craft product on the shelves.

Where to buy:
– NH State Liquor Stores
Use their product locator to see which stores have it in inventory

– MA Liquor Stores
This one is trickier, since NH is state-controlled, and MA is not, so it’ll vary store-to-store.
To find where the product is carried, you can contact the wholesaler here:
Sun Wholesale
Michael Hechler
Office: 617-232-7776

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along.
Put it to the test: send me your booze!

White Birch Brewing

Ah, the unspoilt expanses of granite-laden New Hampshire. The Lady Friend and I were up that way to visit Maggie the Thunder Kitten of Doom, and took the long way back to Braintree, by way of Hooksett, NH. It wasn’t exactly on the way; Hooksett is past Manchester on the way to Concord, so it’s a detour whether traveling on 101 or 93. Manchester is kind of like the last civilized outpost before the frontier lands of NH. The only reason to drive past it is to visit the mountains, lakes, or Vermont. You know, wilderness.

I’ve included a helpful map.

However, there was a reason for venturing into such dangerous, possibly bear-infested, territory: White Birch Brewing. No no, that’s White BIRCH, with an “R” not a “T.” Trust me, the White Bitch website is totally different. Anyway, I had seen their clean, black and white graphic labels on shelves in the South Shore area, but had never been intrigued enough to purchase one. As a N’Hampsha native, I can appreciate the white birch (state tree!) branding, but there would always be a different brew I was more interested in when beer shopping. Since we were already up in the Granite State, a minor detour sounded like a good excuse to finally check out what they do.

Well, as brewery exteriors go, that’s a different one.

Yup. It used to be a car dealership. Now it’s a brewery. It turns out they do pretty much all Belgian-style ales, which are not exactly my most favorite. But I was certainly willing to partake of the free tasting. Ben the Brewery Assistant was pouring the samples, so we dove in.

Belgian Style Pale Ale
Year-round flagship beer
Nose: Tart fruit, almost like a cider or a sour ale.
Taste: Foamy head. Belgian wheat, but not too banana/yeasty. There’s a nice hop bitter that helps to cut through the yeast. (The yeast used is their house yeast, a Belgian strain.)

Hooksett Ale
Nose: Caramel. Sweet malt.
Taste: Malty, with a slight bite to the end.

Wrīgian Belgian-Style Ale with Rye Flakes
Pronounced “Rye-gan”
Nose: Fruity malt aroma. Caramel.
Taste: Malt. Slight rye spice to the back end. Nice little bite to cut the malt.

Oak Aged Tripel
Flavored with rye-soaked oak chips
Nose: Foamy head. Slight sour apple aroma.
Taste: Starts fruity, foamy, with a soft carbonic. Slight spice in the start, changes over to malty mid, with a rye whiskey snap to the finish.

Nose: Dark color. Noses with a dark, malt, some syrup, and a slight roast.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Malty start, but Belgian yeastiness helps add spice to cut the syrup, without being too mouth-coating. VERY nice.

2nd Anniversary Ale
Flavored with oak chips
Nose: Malty, but with a sweet roasted flavor.
Taste: An open sweetness unusual for a beer. An evaporative sensation opens up the taste, unlike the heavy syrup sensation/mouthfeel that was expected from the malty nose. Maybe it’s a higher alcohol punch (it IS 9% abv) that helps cut through the malt and give a slight evaporation.

So, that did it for the tasting. All Belgian-based, which is not my preference, but certainly some interesting things with rye and oak in the mix.

Live Free or Die!
Yeah, pretty much everyone in NH has a vanity plate. It’s like a law or something.

So, White Birch is about two and a half years old (hence the 2nd Year Anniversary Ale we tasted). Two weeks before our visit, they had moved to their new (current) location, which was previously a car dealership. They’re running a 7 barrel system, which is quite a step up from the 20 gallon system they started with, proudly displayed in the main room. There’s plenty of beer for sale on the giant wall of happiness, and we picked up a Colonial Ale that looked interesting, though we haven’t cracked it yet. Among the beers were some dog treats as well, made from the spent brewing grain and some peanut butter. As we were snooping around, pickup trucks were drag-racing from the traffic lights on Rt 28/Rt 3/Hooksett Rd. Yeah, Hooksett is that kind of place.

Yup. Toooootally a former car dealership.

So. That was the White Birch experience. If you live up that way, or are making a road trip, stop by.
Beware of bears!

The Monday Hangover: Dec 10-11

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Another week down.

Friday night we skipped over our usual Rule 37 cocktail night to attend a party in Natick. It was the Irish Lad’s company holiday party, which I had bartended last year, and took on the role once more this year. I put together a limited menu of well-known cocktails and set up shop. The Lady Friend was on hand to chit chat with various peoples, eat three ice cream sundaes, and fetch me a beer and a hot dog. The Irish Lad procured a keg of Jack’s Abbey Hoponius Union India Pale LAGER, and the keg kicked long before the party did. It was tasty. The Engineer and his wife were both there, as was Wifey, of course. Her friend requested a mixture of cranberry juice, orange juice, and club soda, which Wifey overheard and asked for the same, but with vodka. Another amusing moment was when Wifey asked for a refill on her Cape Codder, to which I replied “Do you really want that? Or do you want The Mystery Drink?” Of course, she couldn’t resist, and went for the mystery drink, which was a variation on a Rum Stone Sour, and very sweet, much to Wifey’s delight.

If there’s any question as to what the most popular liquor is, using this party as a baseline, it’s vodka by an overwhelming majority. Vodka really caught on in America in the 1950s, and by the mid-1970s, became the best-selling liquor in the country. Below is the breakdown of drink popularity from the party. This is a rough recollection; I really should have kept track of real numbers.

50% vodka tonic
20% vodka cranberry
10% gin & tonic
5% vodka “martini”
5% rum & coke
10% everything else

Another fun one: some guy came up to me and ordered a Martini but “with splash of orange juice.” Instant suspicion… gin or vodka? “Vodka… but light on the vodka and with more orange juice.” Um, ok, so that’s a Screwdriver, and nothing close to a Martini. Whatev. I did the whole fancy bit with the shaker and he seemed impressed.

I went through two and a half of the big handles (1.75l) of vodka in about 3 hours. That’s over a gallon of vodka. Yikes.

Apparently when you’re this guy, the rules of parking don’t apply.

Saturday’s event was another Bully Boy tasting, this time at Curtis Liquors in Weymouth. Yes, Bully Boy is now available at Curtis! I had made a Twitter comment many weeks ago to the effect of “Oh Curtis Liquors, you complete me… if only you sold Bully Boy.” I was then contacted by both Bully Boy and Curtis saying it was in the works, and now, here we are! The Lady Friend and I had some liquid shopping to do, so we stopped by. There was only one Bully Boy this time, Will, and we chatted a bit in between shoppers sampling the samples. Lots of fun stuff coming down the line from these guys, so keep an eye out. I’ll let you know what’s up with the BBoys.

In the meantime, the Lady Friend and I wandered the aisles seeing what there was to see. We picked up a couple bombers to drink that night, and I scored a sixer of 21st Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA. I marveled at the sight of Bully Boy on the shelves, though the $30 price tag is right at the limit of the price point. My general shopping rule for the South Shore is Curtis Liquors for craft beer, and Atlas Liquors in Quincy for spirits. That seems to be the best compromise of price, as the liquor at Curtis is a bit more, but with more beer selection, wheras Atlas has some of the best liquor prices, but more expensive brews. However, Curtis is bigger, and closer to SFHQ, so I stop by there quite a bit. I’ve gone through a decent chunk of their craft beer inventory, and have now been struck with beer ennui, cursed to wander the aisles with nothing seeming particularly exciting. I’ve reached a point where the interest lies in six packs costing $10+ and I usually just don’t want to spend that much. I did score a Wachusett Larry dIPA, which is something to snag whenever you see it, as it’s one of the few offerings from Wachusett I enjoy. It’s very very tasty, and not at all like their Green Monsta IPA.

We finished up at Curtis, and headed over to the Union Brewhouse for some more progress on our 99 beer list. Though not particularly crowded, one raucous group of of late twenty-somethings managed to drown out all other conversation with their howls and entirely unnecessary table pounding. Fortunately, they left soon after our arrival leaving behind a pile of Bud Light, Coors Light and Michelob Ultra bottles, the owl pellets of the Local Yokel. Once again, what you drink is your choice, but when you’re in a place with 17 taps and 100+ bottled beers, please have something other than the horrid light macrobrews that you can get ANYWHERE else.

As for the Lady Friend and I, it was a Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale for she, and a Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Tremens for me. I’ve had the Delirium Tremens several times before, and it’s very, well, Belgiany. Makes sense, being a Belgian ale and all. Light body, full of carbonation, and cloudy, yeasty, banana-clove. Not my go-to. It was an effort to take this one down… I just wasn’t in the mood. The Lagunitas of the Lady Friend looked much more appetizing, as a hoppy and tasty dIPA. This one has a bit of a story behind it. Basically, around this time of year, Lagunitas would be releasing their Brown Shugga seasonal, but they decided not to this time around. It just takes way too much of the brewery’s resources to produce, and would take the equivalent of three regular production cases per one case of Brown Shugga. Keeping their strangely aggressive sense of humor, the brewery said “There is no joy in our hearts and the best we can hope for is a quick and merciful end. F*@& us. This totally blows. Whatever. We freaking munch moldy donkey butt and we just want it all to be over.” Source. So, they made Lagunitas Sucks instead, and it’s pretty tasty. I haven’t had the Shugga yet, so I couldn’t tell you what we’re missing.

After her Lagunitas, the Lady Friend went on to sip a Southampton Publick House Double White Ale, while I continued to take down the DT. Lots of Belgian floating around. We decided to head back to SFHQ for an evening in and pick up a pizza on the way. After the Lady Friend called in our order to Bertucci’s, we finished our beers and got sorted for the dropping temperatures outside. This is where the Grand Scarf Kerfuffle began. She couldn’t find her scarf, which was a gift from her grandfather. Well, allegedly it was a gift TO her grandfather from someone visiting Scotland, and he regifted it to the Lady Friend. So she liked the scarf, and it wasn’t draped on the back of her chair at the bar, nor had it slid to the floor. A search of the Phantom didn’t reveal it either, and she lamented that it must have fallen off at Curtis. Which is nowhere near Bertucci’s. Sigh. So, detour to Curtis, and it’s nowhere to be found. Well, guess it’s gone. Over to Bertucci’s, pizza acquired, back to SFHQ. Turn on the light. Um, is THAT the scarf, lying there on the floor? Yup. Happy Lady Friend, slightly peeved SquirrelFarts. Time for pizza and beer before I choke someone with a 100% Scottish wool scarf.

It was a bomber of Alpine’s Pure Hoppiness IPA, one of the last California survivors, while the Lady Friend had her first go at a Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard ale. Very malty, and the high abv started taking effect as the evening wore on. We watched North by Northwest, because she had somehow never seen it, and I finished off with a can of Brew Free or Die. They’ve got a new can design (since last year) and it’s pretty awesome… it’s got Mount Rushmore (which coincidentally features pretty heavily in the latter portions of North by Northwest) and Lincoln is breaking out of the rock to kick some ass. Or so it appears to me.

Told you it was awesome.

Sunday. A trip up to Moo Hampsha. Ugh. The Lady Friend was heading to her parents’ house to help decorate the Christmas tree, and they requested my help for a very special project: distract Maggie the Kitten so she wouldn’t mess up the tree while they were hanging ornaments. Welllllll… ok. If I must.

I wasn’t entirely successful.

On the way, we stopped by a Stop n Shop in Stratham on the way to get me sorted with a Mix & Match six pack. I really wish all liquor stores had this feature. Many times I don’t want a whole sixer of one particular beer, and just want one or two to test it out. I managed to make a pretty quick selection of some new and some old favorites:

- Geary’s Hampshire Special Ale (an ale with a bitter start a Belgiany banana-ness to the finish. Ew.)

Sam Adams Holiday Porter (too malty, not enough roast. A weak offering intended as a crowd pleaser like most Sam)

Shipyard Blue Fin Stout (Drank this one after dinner. Nice dark roast, not too sweet, not too bitter.)

Red Hook Winterhook (Nice. It has the ale flavor consistent with Red Hook brews, with some mild winter spice)

Shipyard Fuggles IPA (Got two of these. It’s simple, but good)

I started with the Winter Hook, and moved to the Geary’s after. The Winter Hook wasn’t bad, but the Geary’s didn’t appeal to me. A real bitter-stale start, then that yeasty banana-clove grossness usually associated with wheat beers. The Shipyard IPA went well with a dinner of spicy marinated chicken and roasted potatoes, and the Blue Fin Stout was lovely for after the meal. The Lady Friend drove us back to Assachusetts, and I had the Sam Holiday Porter to finish the night off. Not bad, but nothing amazing. It supports my theory that Sam Adams makes beers for a very wide audience, and doesn’t want to offend. Still, it was a nice end to the weekend, and helped me ease into a happy slumber, another weekend gone too soon.


The Monday Hangover: Nov 26-27

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Well, given the holiday, our drinkventures actually started Wednesday night with a Very Special edition of our weekly Rule 37 drinks: Champagne Night! We made four different champagne inclusive cocktails with great success and a proper use of a value-priced bottle of sparkling wine.

The Lady Friend ventured up to Moo Hampsha for various family Thanksgiving shenanigans (apparently Squirrel Farts was a popular topic of discussion) and returned Friday afternoon in time for us to venture over to Bin Ends and their weekly beer tasting. This week was Sixpoint Brewery out of Brooklyn. We met @SaraSixpoint, the New England rep, who was pouring samples of the Sixpoint lineup. We tasted The Crisp (lager), Sweet Action (cream ale), Righteous Ale (rye ale), Bengali Tiger (IPA) and Diesel (hoppy stout). All were excellent, and the Lady Friend wound up buying a pack of the Diesel (they come in 4-packs of 16oz cans). We also scored some Cava (Spanish sparkling wine), some German sparkling, and a bottle of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, partially because I’ve been looking for a bottle of Old Tom to try, and partly because it had a little black cat on the label. Old Tom gin was very popular in the 18th century, and is sweeter than the London Dry style (Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay). Because of its sweeter taste, it works better in a Tom Collins (no need for extra sugar) and has a smoother, rounder flavor. Later in the evening, I tried it with a Negroni, and it worked well, with a bit of a sweeter taste, as expected. The Lady Friend was intrigued enough to try a Tom Collins, and seemed to enjoy it, but then moved on to a Michael Collins (Tom Collins with Irish whiskey instead of gin).

Also, Bin Ends now carries Bully Boy.

Before our ginventures, we hit up Cathay Pacific in Quincy for some Chinesey “Polynesian” food and, the main event, tiki drinks! While this place is no Kowloons, there aren’t many other places around for tiki drinks. Plus, it’s fantastically cheesy, and the karaoke bar is a sight to be seen. You have been warned. The drinks aren’t the best in the world… they’re what you’d expect from a place trapped in a time warp like this one: a bunch of fruit juice, sour mix and cheap rum. That said, they’re still tasty and festive. The reviews on this place are pretty hit or miss, but I’ve never had a problem here. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it for an occasional change of scenery. Plus, tiki drinks! I started with a Suffering Bastard then moved to a Fog Cutter, and enjoyed both. The Lady Friend went with a Navy Grog, which tasted like bubblegum, and closed with a Zombie. Apparently the one at Kowloon is much better, as she remarked that she had a buzz halfway through that one, whereas the Cathay Pacific version didn’t do anything.

Since we were already out, we figured it’d be good to keep the ball rolling and headed over to the Fat Cat Restaurant in Quincy, which had been recommended to me by several people. Apparently they have fantastic Mac & Cheese and a cocktail list. Now that I look closer at it, they have some good beer offerings (including Boulder Beer’s Mojo, one of my favs), but, as was pointed out by the Lady Friend, all of their cocktails are vodka. FAIL. (Also, they misspelled “cocktail” on the menu. I don’t think I’ll be going there after all.) I managed to acquire the bestest parking space evar directly in front of the place, yet when we went it, it was jammed. All the space at the bar was taken up by people eating, so we couldn’t even get near it. Screw that. Instead, we went down Hancock Street to The Half Door, an Irish pub, and ordered beers. I had a Guinness, since that’s what you drink in an Irish pub, and the Lady Friend finally got to try a proper black and tan (half Guinness, half Bass pale ale), which she recently kept confusing with a Black Velvet (half Guinness, half champagne). Then it was back to SFHQ for the aforementioned gin cocktails and sleepy time.

Caturday brought a trip to NH to hassle Monstro the cat and pick up Elsa’s snow boots at the SF Homestead. The Lady Friend had a lunch in downtown Portsmouth with family, then we hoofed it over to her parents’ house to see their new kitten, Maggie. This little furball was a bouncy ball of crazy, and was particularly interested in sitting near, then on, then beside, then IN my pizza box. Fortunately the slices were in my hand at the time, and she tentatively stretched out a little white paw trying to snag a taste of whatever deliciousness I was holding. None for you, moocher!

From there, we ventured over to Hooksett for a tasting at White Birch Brewing (more on that later) and back down 93 to home base. By this time foodening was becoming necessary, and the Lady Friend chose La Paloma’s in Quincy, where apparently she used to go quite frequently. Naturally, several margaritas were involved, though the prodigious use of sour mix really, well, soured the experience. Again, it was to be expected from this sort of place, and they were tasty, but not as good as El Serape in Weymouth Landing. But few places are. When I was taking a picture of the margs, I think the 21ish-year-old bartender thought I was trying to take sneaky pictures of HER. Sorry, not the case. I mean, what interest would I possibly have with a young, attractive female bartender? Um. I should stop talking.

Anyway, the Lady Friend splurged on the ULTIMATE ‘RITA which tasted pretty much the same as the others, except for a slightly increased orange flavor, apparently from the Patron Citronage. After a margarita of my own, I sipped on a Pacifico lager with dinner, and by the end of the meal, she was quite bouncy and raring to go, much like the kitten. So, we headed over to the Union Brewhouse to get another beer crossed off of our 99 bottle list. Mine: Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Rum Cask Scotch Ale. Tasted like caramel vanilla. A desert beer. Waaaaay sweet. The Lady Friend went with a St. Bernardus Prior 8 Belgian that tasted like wet rubber to me. I was not a fan. We sipped our respective beers, surrounded by the Bud Light swilling masses that frequent the Brewhouse, until finally returning home to SFHQ, for a Newcastle Brown nightcap. Roasty toasty with just enough malt. A lovely end.

The Homecoming: Throwback Brewery

There’s a brewery in my hometown.

If you live in Portland, Boston, Burlington, or even Syracuse, that may not be such a big deal. However, I’m from a small town in the seacoast area of New Hampshire called North Hampton. If you’ve ever heard of Hampton Beach, it’s just north of that. It officially separated from Hampton in 1742, and only has about 4,300 people living there. At least we don’t have any witches.

Anyway, I was flipping through the Yankee Brew News (Aug/Sept 2011 Issue, Vol 22, No 4) several weeks ago, and there was a list of breweries attempting to use all (or mostly) locally-sourced ingredients. For example, Allagash (Portland, ME) uses Maine-grown barley, Just Beer (Westport, MA) uses local cranberries, hops and pumpkins, and The Vermont Pub and Brewery (Burlington, VT) puts Lake Champlain chocolate into their Imperial Double Chocolate Stout. Then there was “Throwback Brewery, North Hampton, N.H.” with probably the longest list of local ingredients.

Wait… what?

So I did a bit of digging.

Throwback Brewery was started in 2010 by two women, Annette and Nicole. Annette, the head brewer, was an environmental engineer and consultant in her previous, non-brewer, life, but has been home brewing for ten years, including an internship at Smuttynose Brewing in Portsmouth, NH. Nicole has also been homebrewing for about a decade, and the two of them started the brewery with the intent of creating an environmentally friendly, local ingredient-sourced product. My knee-jerk reaction was that it was a bit on the hippie tree-hugger side for me, but I would withhold judgment until checking out the place, the space, and the beers.

Saturday was the day. The Lady Friend and I hopped into Elsa, who was due for a wash and wax at the parental homestead. The Irish Lad and Wifey were coincidentally also in NH for the weekend (her parents live in Hampton) so we made plans to meet at the brewery. My brother and father were also intrigued, so they came along to check it out. Then Wifey’s dad drove her and Irish Lad over (he’s a beer fan as well; he joined us for the Craft Beer Fest in Boston earlier this year). Finally, Lady Friend’s Friend (she made that name up) joined in. Good lord. I have trouble getting this many people together on purpose for a brewery tour. I’m surprised they didn’t bring Zero along as well.

Yet another in a series of glamorous, decadent, brewery façades.

Throwback is in a small, tucked-away industrial park of sorts off of Route 1 (Lafayette Road) in North Hampton. If you’re heading north, it’s just past the Shel-Al Campground (trailer park) and almost (but not quite) across the street from the gray plaza where Callahan Motors is. I highly recommend using Google Maps street view to see exactly where it is before you go. Why so much detail? Because I grew up in this town and even I would have blown right past it. There is a small sign, and it’s in the middle of the second building in the industrial park. Don’t worry; you probably won’t get assaulted. North Hampton isn’t that exciting. Usually.

So, at about 3:20pm, everyone else finally started showing up for our 3pm meet time (don’t ask) and we began the tasting. There are three options: a free plastic tasting cup, a $5 tasting glass or a $7 pint glass. They’ll give you a pour in any of these, but I recommend going with the 5 oz tasting glass or 21.5 oz pub glass, which not only usually gets you a better (more generous) pour, but gives you a souvenir to keep. So I added another glass to the ever-growing collection. They had five beers on tap at the time, and I squeezed through the crowd (mainly composed of Squirrel Farts readers). Nicole, decked out in an Animal tshirt, started pouring.

One of each should do quite nicely.

Hog Happy Hefeweizen
Nose: Wheaty, banana/ clove.
Pretty typical for a hefe.
Taste: Light, clean taste. No cloying or sticky unfiltered wheat/yeast taste or mouthfeel. Genuinely tasty, clean, and refresing. I was surprised. Even Wifey (who HATES beer) liked this one. At least, I think that’s what she attempted to scrawl on my notepad.

Dippity-Do Brown Ale

Nose: Sugary, like brown sugar or slight molasses. Malt.
Taste: Very roasty and bitter. Smooth. A lot of coffee-roast type bitterness, but very nice and tasty.

Hopstruck Red IPA

Nose: Sweet hop. Yeah, that’s all I put.
Taste: Sweet initial, then slight hop bitter. Malty smooth finish with the hop bitter lingering. Very nice. Green tree fruit, like an unripe peach. Green, but not grassy. Yum.

Maple-Kissed Wheat Porter

Nose: Brown sugar again. Maple detected, but not out of control. It smells syrupy, if that makes any sense.
Taste: A touch of smoke. Tree bark. Grassy/ wooden. Not overwhelmingly maple-flavored, which deserves mention. Unusual, but nice.

Campfire Smoked Robust Porter

Nose: Slight smoke (the others seemed to smell much more smokiness than I did). Smells like a German dark beer… bock?
Taste: Starts very malty, then smoke. Rauchbier. Not charcoal, but ash. Burnt. Again, flavored, but not overwhelming. Balanced.

Fun fact: Those illustrations are by Nate Walker, an artist who grew up in nearby Stratham, NH. He’s the one who did the Giant Ant sculpture in Market Square in Portsmouth, which was then vandalized. Naturally. Apparently Lady Friend’s Friend’s sister dated him in high school. Can’t escape the vortex of NH.

After finishing up our tastings (and pretty much chasing everyone else out of the place), Irish Lad purchased some merch and started chatting with Annette, the head brewer. I joined in as well, and eventually she offered to show us around, which we gladly accepted. Their main focus is to have locally-sourced ingredients, and the goal is to have everything come from a 200-mile radius. Right now, they’re achieving about half of that, but it’s a start. Wheat is coming from a farm in Rollinsford, NH, hops from Maine, and two-row barley from Valley Malt in Hadley, MA. Some other ingredients, such as adjunct chocolate malts for the porters, are coming from Wisconsin, but will hopefully be found in New England soon. Throwback is grinding their own malt, and it travels up some pvc piping to the hopper like an oversized hamster tube.

Throwback runs a three barrel brew system. Their tanks are recovered from a single malt flavoring plant, and were custom-adapted by a welder friend for use in brewing. It’s an open flame system, not steam jacketed, using a pair of 320,000 btu propane burners. The kettle has a 175 gallon capacity, and is wide and short, allowing for a good boil, and making it easier for Annette (she’s pint-sized… see what I did there?) to gain access. Being a small operation, they couldn’t afford a powerful enough pump for the whirlpool, so Annette manually paddles it. Gotta really love brewing to stand over a boiling wort and paddle your own whirlpool.

There are no big shiny fermentation tanks here. The brews go into the “fermentation barn,” essentially four, temperature-controlled closets with giant plastic tubs to let the beer bubble away. A CoolBot hacks and overrides the normal air conditioner settings and keeps the temperature much colder, and stable. I totally need one of those for my apartment. At this point, Wifey suddenly got interested, because the fermenters all have pictures of Muppets on them. Government requirements state that each fermenter have a unique ID name/number, so a Muppet naming convention was established (it’s easier to remember). Of course, Wifey piped up with the suggestion to rename the grain hopper to “Doc Hopper,” a character from The Muppet Movie. Le sigh.

So, right now the challenge for Throwback is keeping up with demand. They started putting the works together in 2010, but then had to wait for stacks of government paperwork and forms to be issued, filed, and approved. Demand has been overwhelming, but this might be because they’re the new kid in town. They just had their first official tasting in mid-August, and it’ll take time to let the intial response die down and see what the real, steady numbers are. In the meantime, Throwback is busy brewing. They self-distribute (in snazzy red 5.4 gal kegs), and also have a couple bombers available. At the brewery, they’ll fill your growler or growlette with happy beer wonderfulness. There’s merch available, including their “beer-oir” shirts, referencing the ponciest term in all alcohol, “terroir.” They’re really striving towards the whole local-ingredient goal, but making some very tasty beers in the process, which is what it’s all about. As with all new businesses, there’s still a long way to go but Annette seemed to be ready to go, commenting towards the end of our tour:

“I have enough confidence in what I do to keep going as long as I can.”

Well said. Keep brewing, Throwback.
Welcome to the neighborhood.

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