By Jeff Mucciarone
Every year, the Hippo asks readers to pick the things they like best about life in southern New Hampshire — best restaurant, best local band, best hiking trail. The results of the 2013 Readers’ Poll were published back in March, but this year, the Hippo is giving some extra love to certain categories that deserve a little more attention. This week is a look at the best beer shops and the best restaurant beer selections. Our annual look at your 50 Favorite Restaurants ran in the April 17 issue, and you can find all of the winners of the Best of 2013 in the March 21 issue, both available at hippopress.com.
New Hampshire, along with the rest of the country, has experienced a sort of craft beer renaissance. That’s born out in vast beer selections at restaurants and beer shops, even at some grocery stores, as well as with countless numbers of beers on tap at local eateries and bars.
“There is a lot of interest now in craft beers,” said Bert Bingel, who opened Bert’s Better Beers with his longtime friend Ron Parker four years ago. “It’s been a huge upsurge.”
Thomas Neel, who runs the brewing operation at Candia Road Brewing, said he remembered the days when the only craft beers were Pete’s Wicked Ale and Nutfield. That’s certainly changed.
“Now there’s like 347 different kinds of IPAs to choose from,” Neel said.
Fifteen years ago, people could choose brown ales or pale ales if they wanted to shake things up.
“Now the default beer is the IPA, but not just a regular IPA — sometimes it’s an imperial IPA, or a rye IPA,” said Jeff Walch, who owns Jasper’s Homebrew & and Winemaking. “The styles are being pushed quite a lot.”
Drinkers can choose dark stouts and porters, or refreshingly hopped pale ales, or aggressively hopped India pale ales, or any number of fun seasonal brews. So pull a chair up to the bar or meander down the beer aisle and find the perfect brew for you.
Best Beer Selection at a Restaurant
1. Strange Brew Tavern, 88 Market St., Manchester, 666-4292, strangebrewtavern.net
Beers on tap: 88
Top pick: Firestone Walker Brewing Wookey Jack, a black rye IPA
Fall beer suggestion: Southern Tier Pumking or the Southern Tier Creme Brulee
SIt’s not just that Strange Brew has a lot of beers on tap; it’s also that it tries to cover all the bases with its offerings. The Tavern regularly wins the Hippo annual readers’ poll for its beer selection.
“It’s a different variety too,” said Deirdre Conway, manager at Strange Brew. “It’s the whole spectrum.”
With IPAs rising in popularity, Strange Brew has 20 IPAs on draft making it the largest category of beers at the Tavern. Conway said it’s not just typical IPAs either: it’s double and triple IPAs, black IPAs and red IPAs.
2. Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., Manchester, 644-3535, murphystaproom.net
When people walk into Murphy’s they are often amazed at all the choices, said bartender Gregg Ford. They appreciate the Taproom’s beer menu, which breaks beers down into categories.
“It’s almost like a beer education,” Ford said.
The Taproom features beer tasting combinations as well.
Beers on tap: 120
Top pick: IPAs, followed closely by whatever is in season.
Fall beer suggestion: Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter or Wells & Youngs Brewing Company Banana Bread Beer.
3. The Barley House Restaurant & Tavern, 132 N. Main St., Concord, 228-6363, thebarleyhouse.com
The Barley House always has Guinness and Smithwicks, but that’s just the beginning. The restaurant also features an array of craft beers, including Stone Enjoy By IPA, which is a limited edition batch that is fresh hopped — it must be finished by Sept. 13. “It’s a super nosey IPA,” said server Mechelle Zydenbos. “If you’re into IPAs, that’s the one to get.” The Barley House also features Allagash Brewing Company White, Mayflower Brewing Company Porter and Founder’s IPA among its selections.
Beers on tap: 12
Top pick: Barley House 10-year Pale Ale, brewed by Harpoon for the restaurant’s 10-year anniversary in 2010. The unfiltered ale has been a staple ever since.
Fall beer suggestion: Long Trail Brewing Company Imperial Pumpkin. “It’s not as sweet as Pumpkinhead,” Zydenbos said.
4. New England’s Tap House Grille, 1292 Hooksett Road, Hooksett, 782-5137, taphousenh.com
People walk into the Tap House and they think it’s their new home, said owner Dan Lagueux
“You’ll find a lot of places that have a lot of beers, but we take a lot of pride in making sure everything is done properly, in terms of rotation,” Lagueux said. “I try to change it up to make sure people see new things so they get excited about the new beers coming out.”
Right now, Lagueux said it’s a beautiful season for beer with all the fall beers coming out.
Beers on tap: 48, including 25 beers from New England, with six taps rotating each week
Top Pick: Switchback Brewing Company, as well as White Birch Brewing’s offerings.
Fall beer suggestion: Southern Tier Pumking. “One of the best beers in the world for pumpkin flavor,” Lagueux said. He also said he can’t wait for the Woodstock Autumn Ale Brew.
5. Milly’s Tavern, 500 Commercial St., Manchester, 625-4444, millystavern.com
At Milly’s, patrons enjoy craft beer brewed right on the premises. Assistant brewer Brian Link said customers are more in tune with craft beers these days.
“They’re definitely moving away from the mainstream beers,” Link said.
With IPAs growing in popularity, Link said the Hopzilla Double IPA is “a very nice hoppy beer, with nice hop aromas and hop flavors that really come at you.” It’s an unfiltered beer as well.
Beers on tap: Eight on tap year-round, with eight more seasonal brews on a rotating basis.
Top pick: Tasha’s Red Tail Ale
Fall beer suggestion: Sour Pumpkin and the Blueberry Pumpkin Pie. The regular pumpkin ale should be available soon. “[The Sour Pumpkin has] a nice pumpkin flavor to start with and a sour finish — but not too sour,” Link said.
6. Martha’s Exchange Restaurant & Brewing Co., 185 Main St., Nashua, 883-8781, marthas-exchange.com
Martha’s Exchange, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month and is the second oldest brewpub in the state, brews all of its own beer. Brewer Greg Ouellette said he’s seen the growing interest in craft beers and Martha’s has certainly tapped into that. Martha’s is set to host a 20th birthday party this month. To help celebrate, Ouellette will tap the 20th Anniversary Old Ale he brewed last summer and aged for a year. “It’s an aged strong ale,” Ouellete said. He will tap it at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20. The beer will feature 11.5 percent alcohol content.
Beers on tap: Eight, with about 30 varieties rotated year-round
Top pick: IPA
Fall beer suggestion: Oktoberfest Lager, Pumpkin Wheat and Apple Brown Betty, a Belgian brown ale aged with toasted applewood
7. Cask & Vine, 1 E. Broadway, Derry, 965-3454, caskandvine.com
Alana Wentworth opened Cask & Vine in January and it’s been met with a great response. The eatery features a variety of specialty beers for patrons.
This month, the restaurant was hosting a four-course dinner with Founder’s, which would pair a different Founder’s beer with each course. Next month, the breweries Stone and Smuttynose will pair beers with another four-course meal.
“There’s chill music, no TVs,” Wentworth said. “People spend lots and lots of time here. It’s a great date night kind of place.”
Beers on tap: 12, always rotating.
Top pick: IPAs
Fall beer suggestion: Pumpkin varieties
8. The Holy Grail Restaurant & Pub, 64 Main St., Epping, 679-9559, holygrailrestaurantandpub.com
An Irish pub, the Holy Grail also has extensive beer offerings beyond the pub’s Irish staples, like Guinness and Smithwicks.
“We try to have local choices as well,” said manager Derek Keith, adding the pub rotates new beers in each week.
Beers on tap: 26
Top pick: Holy Grail Stout and Guinness
Fall beer suggestion: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
9. The Peddler’s Daughter, 48 Main St., Nashua, 821-7535, thepeddlersdaughter.com
Along with regular Irish and English favorites, like Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Bodington’s and Belhaven, The Peddler’s Daughter circulates craft beers as well, said barkeep Patrick Blow. The bar tries to keep a local emphasis as well. “There is a growing craft beer culture and we’re definitely interested in anything local too, because there are definitely some really good ones out there,” Blow said.
Beers on tap: 18, plus one or two cask conditioned beers
Top pick: Shipyard Monkey Fist IPA
Fall beer suggestion: Long Trail Harvest Ale
10. The Shaskeen Pub & Restaurant, 909 Elm St., Manchester, 625-0246, shaskeenpub.com
A staple Irish pub in downtown Manchester, The Shaskeen is a popular place to have a pint. It can be Guinness after Guinness, but people do come in asking for other choices. Manager Neil Brown said staff are happy to help patrons choose between the bar’s craft beer offerings.
Beers on tap: 19
Top pick: Guinness and Smithwicks
Fall beer suggestion: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale. “It’s a little bit sweeter,” Brown said, adding it can be served with a cinnamon-sugar rim. “It’s just a very tasty beer.”
Best Beer Shop
1. Bert’s Better Beers, 1100 Hooksett Road, Hooksett, 413-5992, bertsbetterbeers.com
When Bingel opened Bert’s Better Beers he had about 125 labels for customers to choose from. At the time, Bingel said there was no shop like Bert’s in New Hampshire. Four years later, the shop now has about 800 labels.
“I like to think we redefined the craft beer shop scene in New Hampshire,” Bingel said.
The shelves of beer at Bert’s would seem to pay homage to that statement. There’s whole sections for seasonal beers, IPAs, Belgian varieties, meads and even a gluten-free section.
Beers are priced by the bottle or by the six- or four-pack. Pick up a six-pack container when you walk in and mix-and-match to your heart’s content.
“We don’t tolerate mixing-and-matching,” Parker said. “We encourage it.”
Bingel, who is a certified beer judge, and Parker help customers choose their brews. The pair tries everything that comes through the door, so they know what they’re selling.
“Everybody leaves with a smile,” Bingel said.
The shop has tastings every Tuesday.
Top pick: Founder’s All Day IPA. While most IPAs are characterized by big hops and malt, along with a higher alcohol content, this IPA features the big hops and malt flavor, but with a lower alcohol content.
New on the shelf: Varieties of Shandy, which is beer cut with citrus. Bingel said shandies were particularly popular this summer.
Fall beer suggestion: Spaten Oktoberfest, a true Oktoberfest (a true Oktoberfest must be brewed in Munich, meaning most American beers labeled as Oktoberfest, are actually just Oktoberfest-style. Only six breweries brew true Oktoberfest.) Bingel also recommended the Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin and the Southern Tier Pump King.
2. Barb’s Beer Emporium, 249 Sheep Davis Road, Concord, 369-4501, barbsbeeremporium.com
Barbara Lambert opened Barb’s Beer Emporium in August 2008 in downtown Concord. She’s since moved her shop to a small plaza on Route 106, and she expanded her selection along the way.
“We probably left Main Street with 400 or 500 beers and now we have up over 800 different kinds,” Lambert said. The shop has a special cooler where customers can mix-and-match beers. “That way, there’s no commitment to buy a whole six-pack,” Lambert said.
The shop features tastings every Thursday.
Top pick: IPAs. “The hoppier the better,” Lambert said, noting that fresh-hopped IPAs are trendy right now, including Stone Enjoy By IPA. In general, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales and Founder’s Brewing Company have been among the most popular brands.
New on the shelf: Southern Tier Brewing Company Pumking, an imperial pumpkin with great pumpkin flavor and a higher alcohol content, Lambert said.
Fall beer suggestion: Woodstock Inn Brewery Autumn Ale Brew. “It’s a little roastier and maltier,” Lambert said.
3. The Beer Store, 433 Amherst St., Nashua, 889-2242, thebeerstorenh.com
Marc Foster and his wife Melanie opened The Beer Store in Nashua about two years ago. Customers have well over 500 beers to choose from.
“We’ve had a real good response from the local beer scene,” Foster said.
The shop hosts tastings every Thursday
“I really just traveled quite a bit, and I always tried to find different beers, so I got to see a lot of specialty beer stores,” said Foster, who grew up in Amherst. “There was nothing like that here. People were going down to Massachusetts to find a really nice beer selection, literally out of necessity.”
Top pick: IPAs, followed closely by whatever is in season, Foster said.
New on the shelf: Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin. “Not many pumpkin beers are dark, but people have been loving that,” Foster said, adding it’s a hefty beer at 10.5-percent alcohol content by volume.
Fall beer suggestion: Augustiner Bräu Oktoberfest. “An authentic German marzen,” Foster said. The shop has close to 20 pumpkin beers for patrons to choose from.
4. The Drinkery, 2 Young Road, Londonderry, 434-1012, thedrinkeryshop.com
Alana Wentworth dove right into the craft beer movement, opening The Drinkery, a specialty beer and wine shop, and Cask & Vine, a specialty restaurant featuring beer and food pairings. The Drinkery opened more than two years ago. “I started out as a malty, porter kind of a stout person,” Wentworth said, but I am definitely enjoying the world of IPAs.”
Top pick: Stone Enjoy By IPA. She also noted Berkshire Brewing Company’s Coffeehouse Porter.
New on the shelf: Southern Tier Pumking and the Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin
Fall beer suggestion: Harpoon UFO Pumpkin. “It’s really clean and fresh,” Wentworth said. “It’s not super-spiced up.”
5. North End Superette, 1308 Elm St., Manchester, 627-1416
“It’s all about beer here,” said Nirmal Singh, co-owner of the North End Superette. The shelves of craft beer provide plenty of credence to that statement. Singh says he takes whatever craft beers his distributors can get him.
The Superette hosts tastings whenever new beer comes in, Singh said.
Top pick: Founder’s, Dogfish Head, Lagunitas and Flying Dog Breweryhave sell well, Singh said.
New on the shelf: Henniker Brewing Company’s three offerings: Amber Apparition, Whipple’s Wheat and Hop Slinger
Fall beer suggestion: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
6. Candia Road Convenience Store, 836 Candia Road, Manchester, 669-6565, candiaroad.com
Thomas Neel said Candia Road Convenience, which is located right next to Candia Road Brewing (and operated under the same ownership), is sort of the original craft beer store in New Hampshire. The shop opened 22 years ago, and about a third of store is devoted to beer. Owners don’t really advertise it as craft beer shop, but its reputation grew.
“It’s still sort of a secret, hole-in-the wall place,” Neel said.
Top pick: IPAs. Neel mentioned Founder’s and Lagunitas.
New on the shelf: Uinta Brewing Company Hop Notch IPA or the Founder’s All Day IPA
Fall beer suggestion: Long Trail Brewing Company Harvest Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Tumbler or Founder’s Harvest Ale
7. Jasper’s Homebrew & Winemaking, 4 Temple St., Nashua, 881-3052, boomchugalug.com
If you’re visiting Jasper’s, you’re probably a beer aficionado already, given that the store doubles as a homebrew supply shop and a specialty beer store, owner Jeff Walch said.
“Talking to customers, we definitely feel a lot of energy and excitement, because there are so many new things available,” Walch said.
Customers are constantly asking about and trying new things.
“You have a convergence of styles,” Walch said
With shops like Jasper’s, customers can try lots of different styles or compare beers within certain styles.
Top pick: IPAs have risen to the top, Walch said, but he said he’s still amazed at how many dark beers, stouts and porters remain popular all year round. One of the most popular brew recipes at Jasper’s is a vanilla stout, which utilizes aged vanilla beans.
New on the shelf: About 10 varieties of pumpkin beers
Fall beer suggestion: In general, Walch enjoys the real German Oktoberfest varieties. “They tend to be an amber lager, though they can be golden in color, and they tend to have a really nice, malty backbone, and a significant noble hops presence, generally well-balanced,” Walch said. “Not too bitter, but not too malty and sweet.” Walch recommended Spaten Oktoberfest.
8. Harvest Market of Bedford, Route 101 Plaza, 29 Route 101W, Bedford, 472-7075, myharvestmarket.com
While the craft beer world has been taking off, it’s still relatively new to supermarkets. Still, Harvest Market offers a wide variety of beers. Like everywhere else, it’s all about IPAs right now, said store manager Ed Murphy.
“People love IPAs; the hoppier the better,” Murphy said.
But with the seasons starting to turn, people are definitely on the lookout for fall offerings now, Murphy said.
“Every year, autumn beers come out earlier and earlier,” Murphy said.
Top seller: Lagunitas IPA. “The whole line is a funky line with different tastes,” Murphy said. “It’s a great beer with a little bit of a fruity undertone. It’s got plenty of hops.”
New on the shelf: Fall beers. “We’re constantly changing,” Murphy said. “There are blends coming in, beers blended with wine. There are so many new beers. Some are aged in whisky barrels. There’s a lot of reading in the beer department.”
Fall beer suggestion: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale. “I think that’s the No. 1 fall pumpkin beer for us,” Murphy said. “Serve it cold with some brown sugar on the rim of the glass.”
9. Smokin’ Joe’s Ayottes Stateline Market, 100 River Road, Hudson, 883-5235, ayottesmarket.com
Just in the last year or so, Ayotte’s has expanded its beer selection considerably. Assistant manager Jimmy Manning said seasonal beers seem to be the most popular, along with IPAs.
People can buy craft beer six-packs by the pack or the bottle, which lets people try a wider variety without having to buy a whole six-pack of something new.
Top pick: The Dogfish Head line, as well as the Flying Dog line
New on the shelf: Woodstock Autumn Harvest. “It’s almost like apple cinnamon,” Manning said.
Fall beer suggestion: Shipyard Smash Pumpkin, which is best at room temperature and comes in 22-ounce bottles.
10. McKinnon’s Market & Super Butcher Shop, 236 N. Broadway, Salem, 894-6328, mckinnonsmarkets.com
McKinnon’s has expanded its selection as customers demand more and more variety in their beer choices, said Tara Thomas, the beer and wine buyer at McKinnon’s. “It’s evolving faster than wine at this point and that’s pretty crazy,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of local stuff, really, really good local stuff.”
Top pick: West Coast IPAs
New on the shelf: Seasonals in general, but Thomas was on the lookout for a Shipyard Bourbon Barrel Double Aged version of its Monkeyfist IPA.
Fall beer suggestion: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale and Spaten Oktoberfest