Beer Tasting Journey in New Hampshire

On my short road trip through New Hampshire, with a stop in Vermont, I decided to search for as many breweries as I could. My original plan was to visit Concord, but I didn’t have anywhere else set, so I checked road trip routes and nearby breweries and other sites of interest.

john stark nh
John Stark pointing the way to beer in Manchester

I could only think of a few breweries in the state off the top of my head, but I found a beer trail map for New Hampshire that I picked up at the New York Times Travel Show (it’s amazing what you find while cleaning). Most of the breweries on the map were out of the way or farther north than I planned to drive.

While it might have been fun to drink in Nashua (also a shorter drive), I settled on Manchester because there were enough breweries along with the Currier Museum of Art. I was correct in choosing Manchester for drinks — there are a lot of fun bars and a few good breweries. There were more breweries than I visited, but they would have required driving or taking an Uber/Lyft, neither of which I wanted to do.

new hampshire beer
My first beer in New Hampshire. And that glass is plastic

As my day of sightseeing ended early as the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses were still closed due to Covid, I headed to Murphy’s Tap Room — I had been walking for a while and wanted to sit outside while the sun was slightly out. I ordered RVP (robust vanilla porter), which was a good introduction to New Hampshire brews. It was a lighter porter with a decent vanilla flavor. It was, unfortunately, served in a plastic snifter (being right after vaccination, I forgave this).

foundry manchester
Part of the Foundry neighborhood in Manchester, NH

Visiting New Hampshire Breweries

I took a brief rest at my hotel before heading in the opposite direction to Stark Brewing in the Foundry neighborhood along the Merrimack River. It’s a nice area to walk around, though the path along the river is surrounded by parking lots. I was disappointed to find that the brewery only had indoor seating, but it was nearly empty when I arrived (I departed as it got more crowded). The bar staff recognized my discomfort with being inside and offered to put on their masks, but they assured me that everyone was vaccinated.

stark brewing
Inside Stark Brewing in Manchester, NH

When I looked at the menu, I realized how far from home I was — eight beer samples cost only $10! I had gotten used to ordering four samples for $15 in New Jersey and New York. At that price, I ordered six more samples for $7.50.

stark new hampshire beer
This was only $10!?

As Stark Brewing got more crowded and I had tried 14 of their beers, I decided it was time to head out and see what else was available in Manchester, NH. I headed a bit farther north in the city to work my way back to my hotel, which was how I ended up at To Share Brewing.

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Sample #2 at Stark Brewing

It’s a nice setup at To Share Brewing with tables and bar seats spaced out for the pandemic, but I wanted to avoid being indoors. The rain had other suggestions, so I sat at the bar and struck up a distanced conversation with a couple at the other end. It is a comfortable, brightly lit bar — a great place for socializing. While the brewery doesn’t offer as many samples as Stark Brewing, the pours are a bit larger. To Share Brewing also serves half pours for anyone who doesn’t want to order samples.

to share brewing
A lot of open space at To Share

Before closing, on the couple’s recommendation, I ordered a half pour of their Up Cider. I was skeptical, but these people seemed to have similar tastes, and they were right. This is one of the best dry ciders I’ve had — it was so good, I bought a four-pack to bring home.

to share new hampshire beer
Some large beer samples at To Share

On the way back to my hotel in Manchester, I stopped at Industry East for a cocktail and Thirsty Moose Tap House for another beer and to escape the rain. Industry East is good for a drink, but it is a small space and got crowded right after I ordered. Thirsty Moose is a huge sports bar with a large drinks menu — it would be great for game day.

cocktails manchester NH
Not my cocktails at Industry East

On my second day, I did not feel great after all those drinks and the lack of decent food. But I still made my way to Concord Craft Brewing — it was one of the few businesses in Concord open Memorial Day weekend. And it was busy on a Saturday afternoon.concord state house

Unlike my experience in Manchester, Concord Craft Brewing required customers to sign in for contact tracing purposes and wear a mask when not seated. The beer itself was good, particularly the Apres Brewski, which is the first so-called Kentucky common style beer I’ve had — it’s a pre-prohibition beer style like a dark cream ale. Just about everything else offered that day was an IPA of sorts, but I tried one of their sours as well (though I wasn’t impressed by that one).

concord craft new hampshire beer
A sample at Concord Craft Brewing

The downside to Concord Craft Brewing during a pandemic was that the samples were served in thin disposable plastic cups. Other than the waste of plastic, it was a fun experience that I’d recommend — it’s a friendly space right near downtown.

On my way out of Concord the next day, I decided to stop at Henniker Brewing as it was just off the road on the way to Brattleboro, VT. Checking directions before I headed out, I decided to write down detailed directions as there was no traffic light to make the left turn and I was concerned I might miss it (there isn’t much out that way). Henniker is out in the woods.

henniker brewing
The road to Henniker Brewing

But it is a cool little brewery out in the middle of nowhere, and it was nice way to end my New Hampshire beer adventure. This was the first brewery I visited that served samples in a cupcake pan — it’s like an afternoon liquid dessert. I only got to try four beers, but it was definitely a good introduction to the brewery — the only disappointing beer was the King Misanthrope Russian imperial stout, which was overpowering and boozy. The other three beers were much better, particularly the IPAs (Hop Slinger and Red Scooter), though I might have gotten them mixed up with one being a bit more citrusy.

new hampshire beer
Some tasty cupcakes…er, beer at Henniker Brewing

On to Vermont Beer

As I arrived in Brattleboro, VT, I had little plan — the goal was to hike, eat, and visit Hermit Thrush Brewery. Hiking was out as the weather said so. Eating was more or less out because almost everything was closed. And I didn’t have much time to get to Hermit Thrush as it closed at 6pm on Sunday. Fortunately, it only a couple blocks up the hill from Latchis Hotel (an interesting hotel in an old movie theater).

latchis theater
The Latchis Hotel and Theater

Unfortunately, Hermit Thrush was still operating with outdoor seating only. As I arrived at the brewery, it started raining hard — I was offered a table under a large umbrella to stay semi-dry (the high barstool was set in a pond). It was colder than expected and I was tempted to spend $45 on a hoodie.

hermit thrush brewing
Cold and rainy at Hermit Thrush

Fortunately, the beer at Hermit Thrush brightened up the dreary weather — they make the best sours I’ve had (the advantage of specializing in sour beers). The best I had of the four samples was their collaboration with Magic Hat to produce Sour #9; this made Magic Hat’s #9 much better. I also enjoyed the Rowdy Monk, which was surprising because it’s 14.5% but didn’t have such an overpower flavor.

hermit thrust brewing
At least my beer was dry

I brought back a can of their Ginger Gin Barrel Saison. It is weird and delicious, but not for everyone. It smells like sour gin (probably best to not imagine that) but has a mixed flavor of juniper and ginger with the sour saison.

My final stop was Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery, which sits just over the bridge leading to New Hampshire. This is a cool place with outdoor seating overlooking the Connecticut River — it would’ve been a beautiful view if not for the rain. Whetstone Station was also the only restaurant open for dinner on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I was uncomfortable sitting inside among a crowded restaurant for the first time during the pandemic, but beer helped. The food, however, did not. I’ve never had anything so bland as the clams in beer broth — I can only assume the cooks had Covid and hadn’t recovered their senses of taste and smell.

connecticut river
The Connecticut River outside Whetstone Station

The beer was decent, but not as good as the other breweries I visited. Granted, usually brewpubs focus more on the food than the beer. If it hadn’t been crowded during a pandemic, I might’ve stayed longer to try more beer. The best I tried was the Nonconformist imperial lager, which was smooth and too malty. The Penguin was good for a lighter porter, and the Big ‘Stoner was alright for a sweeter double IPA.

whetstone brewery
The beer was better than the food at Whetstone Station

Overall, it was a fun trip to try some new breweries. It was also a necessary step toward post-vaccination normalcy. Next time I’d like to explore a few more towns and breweries in New Hampshire.

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