Brew Pubs/Craft Beer Stores in Ashland NH area?

Discussion in 'New England' started by HevvyMetalHippie, Jun 27, 2012.

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  1. HevvyMetalHippie

    HevvyMetalHippie Initiate (0) Nov 16, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Hey BA,

    I was wondering if anyone knew of a cool place to grab a pint and some food up in the Plymouth State area? Might be headed up to that part of the mountain/lakes region this weekend to visit fam, but I don't know if there's any destination out there to make the trip worth it. I guess I could try to hit up a spot on the VT border for some Heady Topper, but I thought I'd ask.

  2. koflaherty

    koflaherty Initiate (192) Nov 11, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    The definite best place in Plymouth is Biederman's. They have a solid draft list with some interesting locals and the sandwiches are terrific. It's in a basement so the atmosphere's not so great. It's right off the square and right by it is Chase St Market, which is a great deli / market / coffee shop with a good beer selection. I think that is the only place around there I've ever bought beer.

    We often go to the Common Man in Ashland. It has a beautiful space upstairs with a good but not great list of beers and the typical Common Man menu, which I think is very good. They also have a steak place on the north side of Plymouth, but I've never been there and the Italian Farmhouse on the south side, which has great food but probably not much for beer.

    We had a house near there for several years and I miss it. Plymouth is a nice town.
  3. Kinsman

    Kinsman Champion (863) Aug 26, 2009 California

    As koflaherty said, Biedermans/Chase St. Market in downtown Plymouth is definitely your best bet for beer. Although, I must disagree with him about the atmosphere in Bierdermans. It's tucked in down an alley way of Main St. below Chase St. Market and Cafe Monte Alto (great coffee) and has kind of a cool cellar vibe going on. Personally, I love it and have been to many highly rated beer bars that don't even come close to this place in terms of comfortable atmosphere. Summer time is nice since it's not flooded with PSU rift raft but they also close at 3pm most days because there's just not enough people around during the summer for them to do enough business. Taps selection is the best around and while they won't have any special releases or rarities, you can always find some top-notch craft on tap (i.e. Smuttynose Big Beer series is often available). Prices on beer are excellent since they know cheap college students wouldn't buy it otherwise and $2-3 pint specials are common. Even without the beer though, the sandwiches are worth it alone. Great place to stop for lunch while your around.

    Chase St. Market is upstairs, right on Main St. and has the best beer selection in town. You won't find anything there that you can't get in MA but if you want to grab something for while your in the area this is the place to go. Plymouth in general is actually a pretty attractive little town so it's worth stopping by if you have the time. As for finding some Heady, the Plymouth/Ashland area is about an hour from the VT border in the Lebanon/White River Junction area. The closest VT store with Heady I've found around there is another 20 minutes away in Woodstock, VT so it's certainly out of the way but doable.
  4. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    I've only been to the Chase St Market once, but I really liked it. It was a great pit-stop on a long drive back from Canada. And I've heard good things about Biederman's, but never been myself.

    I just wanted to add that the closest brewpubs, as far as I know, are the Woodstock Inn a few miles north (maybe 1/2 hour) of Plymouth on I-93, and the Flying Goose in New London off I-89, which could be on the way to Vermont if you're trying to get some Heady Topper. Unfortunately, the Lakes Region is probably the biggest beer desert in the state, but depending on where you're going and how much time you have to kill, those are probably your best brewpub options.
  5. barleywinebrewer

    barleywinebrewer Initiate (0) Jan 7, 2006 New Hampshire

    Check out burrito me as well in plymouth. Great fresh food and beer.
    FrankLloydMike likes this.
  6. Kinsman

    Kinsman Champion (863) Aug 26, 2009 California

    I believe that distinction belongs to the North Country. I can think of one place in Gorham that has decent beer and nothing once you get north of Rt. 2.
  7. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    That's true, but there's also a lot less people there than the Lakes Region. But I think the Lakes Region and the North Country above the notches are definitely the biggest beer deserts. The Seacoast is easily the beer heartland of the state, I'd say followed by Manchester/Merrimack Valley and the White Mountains. Everywhere else is pretty sporadic, and the Lakes and North Country leave a lot to be desired.

    I can think of so many small New Hampshire towns--and even bigger cities--where it seems like a quality brewpub would be a great community gathering place, but I don't think a brewpub has been opened in the state since Moat Mountain in 2000. The recent explosion of good beer stores in the southern portion of the state, and the growing number of small, production breweries opening or planning to open across the state is definitely welcome news. Unfortunately, I don't think any of those are in the Lakes Region or the North Country. Vermont and Maine have shown that brewpubs and production breweries can be successful out in the middle of nowhere, so hopefully someone will open one up in Berlin or Laconia.

    On a side note, I completely forgot that there was a Burrito Me in Plymouth. I've only had their burritos at the Southern NH Brewers Fest last summer, but based on that, I'd highly recommend a visit for burritos and good beer.
    HevvyMetalHippie likes this.
  8. Kinsman

    Kinsman Champion (863) Aug 26, 2009 California

    Somehow I knew my reply would prompt a lengthy response from you. It's nice the New England forums have a go-to guy for pretty much any NH question that gets posted.
  9. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    Haha. Somehow I did too. I love my home state, and I'm glad to see the beer scene improving there. I also love taking long breaks from work to type needlessly long BA posts.
  10. HevvyMetalHippie

    HevvyMetalHippie Initiate (0) Nov 16, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Yeah man as a native of The Shire (NH) I feel that the state is ripe for a beer renaissance. Although I hear that state laws make it very hard for breweries to conduct business and distribution to happen. Yes there are some places opening up like White Birch, Nepenthe, Moat Mountain, and some original guys like Tuckermans, but I feel like there's a hole in reputation/quality between Vermont and Maine. It does take time to establish a following like Hill Farmstead and the Alchemist, but I fee like NH would be a great place for a really epic brewery. The Lakes Region, the Kanc, White Mountains, Seacoast...

    I feel like with a solid beer, and a really cool/edgy marketing campaign, NH could have an awesome brewpub. Martha's Exchange makes solid beer, but the place itself is kind of meh.
  11. HevvyMetalHippie

    HevvyMetalHippie Initiate (0) Nov 16, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Imagine a brewpub up in the lakes region. It wouldnt even have to be in Meredith or some "posh" touristy place either. It could be a rustic escape that makes awesome saisons and farmhouse ales.

    Also while I'm getting worked up about the state of NH beer, what is the deal with The Common Man? They have a ton of restaurants all over the state, why not open a brewpub or even brew their own beer, or EVEN contract out Smuttynose or a small brewery to make their own beer? I've sent that dude a handful of e-mails saying that they need to get on the bandwagon, and really push the state into a better situation with beer. Considering how expansive the craft scene is in the country nowadays Common Man could really make a good situation better. How awesome would it be to have cool local beer made in a barn and served in barn/restaurants across the state? As of right now their beer list is pretty weaksauce. They should even get beer from Martha's Exchange, at least that would keep things rotating and interesting. And what a disservice to their rustic but delicious food menu.

    Local ingredients would be awesome, like maple syrup and malts and stuff? So tight butthole.
  12. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    Smuttynose actually makes Common Man Ale specifically for them. I've actually only ever had it at the Smuttynose tour, but it's a good, simple pale ale. I can't remember the details, but the guy said it was sort of a throwback pale ale--I think 2 malts, 2 hops. Crisp and nice--quite different from the Shoals.

    But I totally agree that they need to get more on the bandwagon. The C-Man Ale is about the only thing going on their beer list, as far as I can recall. And they already run some inns, a spa, a movie theater--why not hire a brewer and open a brewpub? Then distribute the beer to all their restaurants throughout the state. To say nothing of the quality (good or bad), they could be a sort of New Hampshire version of McMenamin's. I'd love to see them do it. If not that, then they need to improve their beer list. Between the great vibe and solid, Yankee food, they'd be an unintimidating place for people to introduce people to craft beer--and throughout the state, including several of the pockets that are currently pretty bleak.

    I feel like NH could use more brewpubs--VT and Maine both have a headstart on support for and prevalence of local breweries throughout the state, so small breweries in the middle of nowhere are probably easier to get started there. In NH, though, I bet lots of little towns--like Peterborough and Gorham, for instance--and downtowns in the cities could support a local brewpub if it was an unpretentious hangout for the community. As it is, I think Portsmouth Brewery, Martha's Exchange (which has a great space but needs to ditch the after 10pm nightclub) and Moat Mountain are the premier brewpubs in the state. I'm less familiar with most of the others, but Elm City in Keene also seems to be a good example of a brewpub serving as a community hangout while brewing some solid beer. And the Moat has a pretty strong marketing campaign--I especially love their logo--but it's directed mostly at their cans and bottles, rather than getting up to the brewpub.

    Anyway, it's getting better. I've said this elsewhere, but White Birch has been building a strong following in the Manchester area and Throwback has been doing the same on the Seacoast. I think those are great examples of sort of hyper-local breweries doing things right in the state. And as Peter Egleston wrote a few years back, NH--less than VT, Maine or even Mass--seems divided into distinct regions. There are plenty of historical and geographical reasons for that, but I think it explains why even Smuttynose isn't necessarily the state "brand." So I think that even more local or regional approach is a good way of growing interest in local beer specifically, and craft beer in general.

    As good as their beers are, I'm not sure places like Hill Farmstead or Oxbow could have survived where they are without local and state "brands" getting people interested first. That said, New Hampshire has its own farmhouse brewery, Prodigal Brewery, up in Effingham. They got off to a slow start with limited brewing capacity, but just bought a new brewhouse and will be expanding production shortly. Brewer-owner-farmer, Paul Davis, has won a ton of awards dating back to his days at Castle Spring Brewery in the 1990s, and most recently won a medal at GABF for Prodigal's baltic porter. Maybe that will fit more the farmhouse mold you mentioned.

    There are also a handful of breweries planning to or in the process of opening, from the Seacoast to the Sunapee area. It seems like it's still a pain for out-of-state breweries to distribute in NH, but the state recently relaxed laws on in-state breweries. They could relax them more, I think, but it's an improvement. I've said this before, but I think stores like Bert's Better Beers have really shown a demand that I think has existed under the radar for awhile. I think the same is true of the buy-local movements that have been growing in the state. Combine those and you should see more local breweries, and more interest in good beer in general.

    Sorry for yet another epic BA rant!
  13. HevvyMetalHippie

    HevvyMetalHippie Initiate (0) Nov 16, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    God I LOATHE the Martha's nightclub. Its so trashy. Unless you're going there to pick up some trashy girls, which could be fun...but I'd rather not do that while drinking good beer, hard to concentrate on the beer, and I think outside of craft beer scenes, people think its weird...which is okay.

    I've never heard of Prodigal Brewery, but Throwback is awesome. I heard they were a Kickstarter funded brewery? Thats awesome if its true.

    Nah its all good man, no rants at all!
  14. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    I don't know if Throwback was Kickstarter funded, but Prodigal funded their new brewhouse in part through Kickstarter. Right now, they're only on-tap at the Barley Pub in Dover and brew fests, but that should change soon. Speaking of brew fests, though, I'd highly recommend the Southern NH Brew Fest at White Birch July 14. A lot of small breweries in the state--including Throwback and Prodigal--along with some out-of-state breweries and some great food. I went last year and it was a blast. It's a good time to check up on some of the new breweries in the state--I first had Throwback there last year--and see what's going on at some of the old places that are out-of-the-way. Let me if you end up going--I'll try to say hello.

    And yeah--the nightclub really kills me. They do that at Milly's, too, but it doesn't have the same nice vibe during the non-nightclub hours. I guess at Milly's it's more of metal bands or hip-hop night, but either way it's not at all about the beer during those hours.
    southdenverhoo likes this.
  15. Kinsman

    Kinsman Champion (863) Aug 26, 2009 California

    I'm pretty sure I've shared this link before in previous threads discussion NH beer scene but I'll include it again: How do you sell a Granite State? Gives a pretty good outline of the challenges NH faces in promoting itself and certainly the beer scene is effected by this.
    FrankLloydMike likes this.
  16. barleywinebrewer

    barleywinebrewer Initiate (0) Jan 7, 2006 New Hampshire

    You and FrankLoydMike make good points about NH. It's a large part of what I love about this state - fiercely independent and so diverse. I think we might be able to claim the "stay-cation" slogan on the basis of if you live in NH you have so much you can experience all year that vacationing elsewhere often leaves me looking forward to home but I digress.

    The regions of NH are really so diverse and that town first principle described in Kinsman's post is really true. I talk to people from neighboring towns that often don't know that Hooksett borders their town. The just don't travel this way. The influx of population over the past 20 years - job types and households - means that in many towns in southern NH you find more people from out of state than in state. Unlike more populous states south of us, much of NH is small towns with lots of land. It can take a while to get anywhere. Maine and VT have that geographic challenge too but due to the hyperfocus of internet postings and stronger multiple marketing efforts it seems like those states are more friendly for beer.

    I think the reality in any state, NH no less or more, is that a brewpub is a daunting challenge. A brewpub is two expensive to start businesses interdependent upon each other for success. There was one in Laconia but it closed quite some time ago. I seem to recall one trying to open in the North Conway area that wasn't Moat but I think it did not achieve it's funding minimums so it never happened. Why don't we have more brewpubs? Many reasons for sure, a lot most likely due to the need for steady stable sales regardless of season to make those huge loan repayments.

    Breweries are a similar story. In MA, you have the 128 belt, 495 belt and other major and minor highways to facilitate transportation and larger distinct population centers. I read often about people saying self distribution is is a no brainer and that all start ups should do this. Having lived the reality in NH, I loved meeting my stores regularly but there are long stretches of beautiful countryside which must be traversed between stops. Long miles and road days means you aren't brewing, bottling or able to take calls. If you've gone from North Conway to Lincoln or from Lebanon to Lyme or Lebanon to Keene then you know what I mean.

    None of these are obstacles that can't be overcome but they show up early in the business planning process. To use the example posted above, I think it's easier to plan with confidence a restaurant drawing on the successful audience of the Common Man's efforts up north than it is to create a brewpub where outside of a handful of examples there isn't the same history of success as you see in stand alone restaurants.
  17. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    New Hampshire is definitely a beautiful, but at times confounding place. Without getting into politics, over just the past few years, it has passed some of the most progressive, as well as some of the most conservative legislation in the country. It is one of the smallest states--in land and population--in the country, yet it is divided into diverse regions and towns. It has been slower than its neighbors to get formally get into localism, yet it leads the nation (by far) in direct sales from farmers to consumers. It has some of the oldest and biggest craft breweries in the region, yet it hasn't shown the same dedication to craft and local beer as its neighbors. As someone whose family has been in the state for generations, I still can't quite figure the place out, but who doesn't love a challenge?

    Anyway, I think you make some really good points, that I just wanted to add to. Maine and Vermont, while both physically larger than New Hampshire, are more geographically homogeneous, I'd say. Maine is basically divided between forests and coast, with one principal city. I know it's more nuanced than that, but I'm generalizing. Vermont is even more uniform: mountains with small towns in the valleys between. Even Burlington is sort of a larger version of this in the bigger Champlain valley. Distance (and affluent vacationers) certainly separates Wilmington from Stowe, but geographically and culturally they're not so different. The same is definitely not true of Berlin and Portsmouth, which are separated by distance, geography, culture, industry and history. I think that's why it's easier for someone in Brattleboro to "Drink Vermont Beer", as the bumper sticker wisely advises, from Burlington and feel a connection, than it is for someone in Keene to feel like Smuttynose is really their hometown beer, even though those cities are much closer.

    On top of that, Burlington and Portsmouth are both several hours from Boston, and the only "principal" cities in their states. Manchester and Portsmouth, which sort of share the principal city title in NH depending on the category, are as close to Boston as they are to each other, and thousands of people around each of those cities commute to the Boston market daily. That's part of why so many people in southern NH are not from the area, and why many don't feel the same connection as people in Vermont and Maine--not that "transplants" can't come to feel as or more connected than natives, but it's harder, especially if they came from and still have one foot in a place (and its breweries) only an hour away... and when they might move back or somewhere else in a year or two.

    While I'd love to see more brewpubs, I really don't expect it to happen for all the reasons you stated. On top of it being more money, it seems like it's also two very different businesses--hospitality and manufacturing, sort of. Obviously, there's some overlap, and I don't have any experience in either, but I imagine running a restaurant is a lot different from running a brewery. That's why I think something like someplace like the Common Man adding a brewery component could be more (but probably still not very) likely to happen than a brand new brewpub, but I really have no idea. And of course, Smuttynose will have a sort of brewpub when they open their new brewery in Hampton.

    But I should say that from my experience at White Birch and Throwback, at least, the new, smaller breweries have something of the community feel of a brewpub. The taproom at Throwback is clearly a community hangout, as are the events that White Birch regularly puts on. And in both places, the strong direct-to-consumer sales that the state has shown farmers is evident in growler-fills and bottle purchases. It sounds like the same will be true of Blue Lobster and Earth Eagle when they open. I get the sense that this more intimate, hyper-local model is well-suited for NH, and along with all the new beer stores, will spread interest in good beer.

    One thing I've wondered, though, is how much NH brewers work together to promote local beer? I know the Vermont Brewers Association does a lot to promote local beer in the state--including the bumper sticker I mentioned--and I think the Maine Brewers' Guild and Massachusetts Brewers' Guild do the same thing in those states. I know the tourism division in NH has been promoting local beer lately, but I'm not aware of any brewers' group in NH--is there any group or concerted effort by the brewers and breweries in the state to promote NH beer?
  18. barleywinebrewer

    barleywinebrewer Initiate (0) Jan 7, 2006 New Hampshire

    Good points Mike. There's no brewers guild in NH for many reasons. Most I don't know if as I'm still so new to the industry. From my experience, it seems like the age old axiom of time and money. Noone has any time, nor spare money to dedicate staff to a guild. The interests of the brewing community have many commonalities but due to the almost 15 year spread in starting points the community has a wide range of divergences. Four things in my mind really stand in front of starting a NH brewers guild

    1. An active anti-craft well funded lobbyist effort from the major "beer" house monitoring and fighting any and all minuscule pro craft changes in legislature. This would be a major time suck for any guild, let alone a startup with short funding and potentially limited political connections.
    2. A close ratio of brewpubs to breweries. Bridging the gap in WIFM between business models will take time to create a consensus.
    3. Funding - with no major NH event to back a guild, a minimum budget of even 100,000 is a huge nugget to attain with less than 20 breweries / brewpubs in the state. Starting a guild with less than 100k for an annual budget and expecting any real results is naive in my mind.
    4. There is some contract brewing going on in state. The reasons, outside of NH locations of outsourcing and distribution models vary but suffice to say this is another area that has significant time, money and vested interests. Yet another area for a guild to have to navigate.

    Can it all be overcome? Sure. Is it going to be easy? Heck no. As a brewery owner myself, I have no time at all to dedicate to a roll in a guild and I know I'm not the only one here in NH like that. Maybe someday but probably not soon. Hope this helps.
  19. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    That all makes a lot of of sense--it's always nice to get the scoop on things from the inside. Thanks.
  20. Stringth

    Stringth Initiate (0) May 6, 2008 Maine

    So who's our major beer house again? Not swimming in those circles yet...thanks.
  21. FrankLloydMike

    FrankLloydMike Devotee (495) Aug 16, 2006 Massachusetts

    Not sure if you were being sarcastic or not, but in case not: I'm pretty sure he was referring to Anheuser-Busch and their big "beer" manufactory in Merrimack.
  22. snowy

    snowy Initiate (0) Jul 2, 2012 New Hampshire

    As a White Mountains resident who loves both beer and food, I have to concur that Biederman's is your destination in the Plymouth area, hands down. Terrific sandwiches made with quality Boar's Head meat and a decent, if not fairly utilitarian draft assortment. Try something from Squam Brewing if they have some on tap. Their brewer John Glidden does a nice job and often has beer available here. If there is none on tap, you can buy a bottle upstairs at Chase St. Market.
    Samaha's store also has some interesting beer sometimes, although you may find most of the same offerings at Chase St.
    Unfortunately, there is no bar at the Brewery itself in Holderness.

    Personally, I would avoid The Common Man, which is quaint but uninspired from both beer and menu standpoints.

    The Woodstock Station is a similar story. Their beer is sometimes referred to as "the beer colonic" in some local circles as it often has a delayed laxative effect on the drinker, particularly when one drinks draft at the source. With all due respect to the business itself, it is a popular and wildly successful attraction that is MOBBED most weekends during ski season and often in the summer and fall as well. The space itself is interesting, as part of the building was an actual train station that was moved to the site and incorporated into the structure, but the menu is much too big and tries to be all things to all people. Perhaps if the place concentrated on 15-20 entrees and appetizers rather than 150, they could elevate the quality of their mediocre cuisine.

    As to the discussion regarding brewers in the state, yeah, NH needs to evolve.
    There are some good brewers here that I think are often bridled by archaic laws. Bill Hurlicka at White Birch in Hooksett is easily my favorite in the state. A tremendously nice guy who brews an enormous variety of styles, most of them really good. Throwback is very good. Flying Goose makes some solid brews as well. Moat Mountain Smokehouse in North Conway used to be great, but their head brewer defected to Stowe Vermont to do his own thing, leaving his assistant to take over brewing duties. As a result, the beer simply isn't as good, although the food is pretty decent. Still worth a trip.

    Vermont remains the beer Mecca in northern New England.
    Between Hill Farmstead, Lawson's and The Alchemist, this place has the trifecta going on.
    Oh, and if you're after Heady Topper you'd better head to the source in Waterbury to be sure you don't get shut out.
    Mmmmmmmm....Heady Topper....
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