You have only to peruse the taps at any local bar to know that craft beer is "where it's at," and not just any craft beer, but locally brewed beer from small breweries popping up all over the Seacoast.
Now that tourist season is here, we'll see actual beer tourists coming in on "beercations" because I'm not the only one who scopes out which breweries to go to whenever I travel. It's a national pastime.
WHAT: Granite State Growler Tours (includes transportation to each brewery, beer tastings, exclusive brewery tours, Q&A with the brewers, a snack, water, coolers full of ice to keep your growlers cold, prizes)
WHEN: Saturdays 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Sundays 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., and special occasions
WHERE: Tours depart from The Community Oven, 845 Lafayette Road, Hampton
Enter Granite State Growler Tours, a business dedicated to showing both locals and beer tourists just where to go to find our local craft brews. Fourteen seats, snacks and stops at some of our best nanobreweries and distillers for sips and samples, discussions with the craftsfolk who make the libations and a chance to pick up some beer and even rum to take home.
I joined the tour on its inaugural trip on Saturday, April 13, and had a brewful time. David Adams, who has a regular day job as an engineer, started the whole process of setting up the tour business just a few months ago and now has a very comfy bus complete with sudsy art all over it, wonderful advertising, as we found out from folks waving to us as we rode from brewery to brewery.
The tours leave from The Community Oven in North Hampton, which might change as they progress. Finding a departure spot in Portsmouth is in the works. Tours run Saturdays and Sundays and last about four hours. The timing worked out quite well and the driving time was nicely paced. I scribbled my name on a tag, adhered it to my black sweater and settled into my seat on the bus with eight other guests. Adams drove and Mark Chag Jr. was the Guy Who Told Us Stuff while we drove. He gave us information about the history of taverns and brewing on the Seacoast.
The information sparks conversation and even I learned a few things. It would be great if they would add more information about the current beer scene — what's going to open, the Who's Who in the Seacoast beer world, what the scene will be in the future.
Our tour guides gave us wonderful soft pretzels from St. Anthony's Bakery in Exeter, which I was delighted to see because you have to get up pretty early to snag one of those before they're all gone. There is water on board and an ice chest for you to place growlers in during the trip. I want to emphasize that there is no beer drinking on the bus. This is not a party bus at all. We stopped at the breweries and sampled (all included in the $55 price) and there was ample beer and spirits, not to worry. The tour leaves at either 11 or 11:30 a.m., depending on the day, so do eat a hearty breakfast because there aren't any lunch stops — yet — plans are in the works for perhaps picking up a boxed lunch to eat on the bus while in transit. They will reserve a table at The Community Oven after the tour if you like.
The stops will change depending on what's available as well as what opens in the future. They'll also conduct private and custom tours, which is great for birthday parties or family reunion. One big benefit of taking the tour is that you get in before regular tasting hours so not one of the places is crowded, and we got more personalized attention from the brewer or distiller. We began at Sea Hagg Distillery in North Hampton, not a brewery of course, but a good place to learn about our new distilling industry coming up. They make wonderful rums. Some of the tour-goers were a bit taken aback by sipping straight rum, but it is indeed a good sipping rum.
Another benefit of taking a personal tour is that the brewer or distiller will offer tastes you might not get otherwise, in this case an eau de vie and a brandy they're working on. We got a sneak peek. You can buy bottles of rum there.
We also went to nearby Throwback Brewery and got a tour, tastes and schmooze with Annette Lee, one of the brewer/owners. We got the lowdown on what's coming for spring and a bit about the proposed move to a nearby farm where the brewery will expand from a three-barrel brewery to a whopping 15. They'll be able to brew more of their interesting experimental brews, like one made with chaga, and have more of the most popular, like their delicious Hefeweizen.
We stopped at Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth as well, a popular place that has limited capacity and gets very crowded when growler and tasting hours begin. There you'll find gruits, brews made without hops. While some of the people on the tour had never tried that variety, everyone loved them, so that brings in another benefit — trying things you might never have ever been exposed to. I tend to think the tour is more for newbies to the craft brew craze or from outside the area, because really anyone who's really into craft beer has been to these spots and knows the brewers already but it's nice to have undivided attention.
Our final stop on Saturday was Blue Lobster Brewing Company in Hampton (right next door to The Community Oven). We ate cheese and crackers, and learned about upcoming brews, like a Saison. Blue Lobster has limited tasting/growler hours, so getting almost an hour of special attention from owner Michael Benoit was a rarity and a great experience.
Another great thing about the stops on the tour is that the breweries and tasting rooms are all so different, from hip and small to more polished and open. It made me realize the great diversity we have on the Seacoast in these breweries, which really all popped up within the past two years, most in the past year. Granite State Growler Tours are working on adding more stops and even venturing into Massachusetts (despite their name), to bring us to the new breweries in Amesbury and Newburyport. I'm glad they've launched. Cheers!
Robert's Maine Grill, in Kittery, Maine, will hold a "Community Supper" on Wednesday, May 1, to help support Seacoast Eat Local. This organization aims to connect people with sources of locally grown foods and advocates eating locally for the health of the environment, community, culture and economy. Through advocacy, organizing and education, it works toward a sustainable local food system to meet the needs of both producers and consumers.
The "Community Supper" starting at 4 p.m. The main focus of the supper is a $14, three course menu — a mid-week "recession buster" offering. The menus are in the spirit of Robert's style: Maine comfort food with an updated twist. Robert's regular dinner menu is also available. To add to the community spirit of it, each Tuesday and Wednesday Robert's donates a portion of proceeds from the evening to a local nonprofit. Upcoming Community Supper menus are posted at http://www.robertsmainegrill.com/.
Blue Lobster Brewing Company will hold its inaugural beer dinner at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 1, at the 401 Tavern, 401 Lafayette Road, Hampton. Chef Nora Hamilton has created a menu that includes 1,000 Day aged Gouda with Apple-Ginger Butter and Gingersnap Crustini served with Blue Lobster's Seizoen; Seared Yellowtail Ahi, Mango, and Avocado Salad served with "Stalkholm Syndrome" American Wheat IPA; Smoked Chipotle-Java Rubbed Brisket with Farmhouse Demi-glace, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecan Butter, Roasted Potato, and Jalapeno Corn Bread served with "Lobster Genome Project.1" Bier de Garde and two other courses. Tickets are $65. You're advised to make your reservations now as tickets are running out. Call 926-8800. Information: http://www.the401tavern.com/