Posted on May 12th, 2011
As a Bostonian, I’ve grown accustomed to having a stellar craft beer selection and culture readily available. So I was excited to see what the first leg of my trip, in which I visited New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware, (spanning a decent portion of the Atlantic) would have in store. All the breweries I visited are producing an interesting and well-executed selection of beers to their local communities and beyond. What fascinated me the most was the realization that most breweries on this side of the country share a couple of common threads:
-A strong focus on staying style appropriate while creating interesting and delicious beer.
-They commonly offer extremely sessionable beers that become ‘staples’ in many craft beer lovers’ repertoires.
-Use of local ingredients and a significant consideration of the community they’re most immediately serving.
These tenets although not steadfast, but I found to be common amongst many of the breweries we know and love on this side of the country. As one might expect, a few stuck out amongst the rest, and are doing a great job in defining beer culture in addition to being super awesome.
Imagine entering someone’s slightly disorganized garage or cluttered home office: cozy, a little tight on space, but nice and homey. Now add some fermenting tanks, some brew kettles, a bottling and kegging line, a warehouse full of beer, and a few taps for on site drinking, and you’ve pretty much got Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As a Bostonian, Smuttynose is a particular favorite of mine. They are brewing super sessionable and style-abiding classics, from their Star Island Single to their Old Brown Dog Ale. Offering a hospitable and informative tour of the slightly cramped (they’re expanding to a dream brewery space sometime in 2012!) but awesome facility, you quickly get the feeling that Smuttynose really understands their following. Because really, what more does any New Englander want after drudging through six feet of snow than a wonderfully spiced Winter Ale….or three?
Fullsteam Brewery wouldn’t stand out against the surrounding warehouse buildings on its street if it weren’t for the giant red door with the Fullsteam logo on it. This brewery located in Durham, NC (and less than a year old) estimates that they will produce about 2,500 barrels at the end of their first year. They state that their mission is to create the identity of southern craft beer. If I do say so myself, they’re doing a fantastic job with offerings like the earthy, tart, and citrusy Sour Mash Sweet Potato Ale; or the Working Man’s Lunch, a dry and delicious dark ale brewed with cocoa nibs from local chocolate shop Escazu. Fullsteam showcases the flavors that reflect the culture and community of Durham, and distributes exclusively within North Carolina. And while using some creative ingredients (their website says they’ll soon be boasting a basil ale), they know the value in their staples like the Rocket Science IPA and Southern Lager. I wasn’t able to tour their facility, but the glass wall peering into their brew house was sufficient. From what I could tell from their beer and those drinking it at the bar, Fullsteam is only just beginning to show their significant and influential presence in the South and beyond.
Brooklyn Brewery is the 16th largest craft brewery in the US. Their flagship beer, Brooklyn Lager, was one of the first craft beers I had in my beer-drinking career. So when I had the opportunity to take a class on brewing yeast with Brooklyn brewer Chris Basso, I jumped at the chance. And after kindly pleading, Chris was kind enough to show me around the newly expanded brewery space and talk beer for a bit. The new Brooklyn Brewery has absolutely beautiful, brick walls and the most gorgeous lighting I’d seen of all the breweries I visited. Not to mention the awesomely shiny new fermenting tanks and brew kettles that will increase Brooklyn’s production capability ten-fold. I tried out the Main Engine Start (an Abbey Single), the first beer they brewed on their newly expanded system. Simple, dry, with a clean hoppiness and that nice full mouthfeel you get with a Belgian yeast. Nothing crazy, but delightful and über-sessionable. I followed that with their Irish Stout, true to style, a bit of coffee and chocolate with a slight bite at the end. Anyone that drinks craft beer knows Brooklyn Brewery, and with good reason: they are a beacon of delicious consistency and well-executed craft beer.
In all likelihood, you’ve tried beers from at least one if not all of these breweries, but what stood out to me was the passion and drive that these brewers possess was unparalleled, and that is evident in their beer. Each beer is a beautifully crafted work, paying homage to their history, community, and consumer. So if you have the chance, try any of the beers Smuttynose, Brooklyn, or Fullsteam is creating. Better yet, go on a trip and try them first hand.