Brewery Name: North Country Hard Cider
Type of Cidery: Retail Cidery
Location: 3 Front St, Lower, Rollinsford, NH. In classic mill town fashion, the roads can be a little tough to navigate, with a lot of unexpected one-way streets. Basically, enter the complex of buildings and go down toward the water on the right side. You’ll see the sign for the taproom there.
Facebook: North Country Hard Cider
Background: Deep down, I always knew I’d be the first to write about a cidery. Living in New England, you can barely take two steps without stumbling upon a new and exciting place making hard cider. Enter North Country, a unique little cidery tucked away in the rural mill town of Rollinsford, NH. North Country first grabbed my attention when I saw one of their growlers marked “Squash Cider” in a grocery store. My interest was piqued, but I assumed they would chicken out and just spice it with nutmeg and cinnamon--basically treating it like a pumpkin cider. But no. North Country roasted a boatload of squash and added it right into the recipe. The result is like nothing I had ever tasted, and wound up being unexpectedly delicious. To date, it might be my favorite cider I’ve ever had. Needless to say, after such a surprisingly amazing experience, I knew I’d have to make a visit to the taproom.
Growlers: Yep. You can buy and fill growlers in the taproom, and North Country has a small selection of bottled ciders available for purchase as well.
The Ciders: North Country had more than half a dozen different ciders on offer when I visited, and I was only too pleased to try all of them. Among those that I tasted, these were the ones that stuck with me the most:
Vibe: I love the vibe here. I happened to visit on a rainy day, which was unfortunate because they have a nice little outdoor area that would have been nice to enjoy. The cidery is located on the shore of the Salmon Falls River, in the old mill town of Rollinsford. It’s an absolutely beautiful area (although the streets can be a little maze-like), and I recommend visiting on a slightly less monsoon-y day than me if you want the full experience.
The inside of the taproom is gorgeous as well. Exposed brick and beautifully finished hardwood are everywhere you look, and a nice big window gives you a great view into the pressroom. There are board games scattered around the room to keep you entertained, and even though there isn’t a whole lot of space, it doesn’t ever feel particularly cramped. North Country makes really nice use of the limited seating area in a way that encourages patrons to talk and interact with one another (this is particularly true if you happened to bring a friendly dog with you).
The staff was really friendly, and we enjoyed talking to the woman behind the bar as she explained the different ciders to us. I visited alongside my girlfriend, who has a gluten allergy (tough luck dating a beer blogger, huh?), and they were extremely knowledgeable about which ciders would be safe to drink (as you can probably guess, the answer was mostly “stay away from anything barrel-aged”). We could see more staff in the back, busily bottling beers and preparing the next batch of ciders for kegging and distribution.
I talked about it already, but the thing that really draws me to North Country is the creativity they show in their ciders. The squash cider I mentioned above might be the single best cider I’ve ever tasted--and it’s definitely the most creative. Throw in a whole host of different barrel-aged ciders and flavor profiles that range from pleasantly savory to extremely tart, and it’s clear that this is a cidery that knows how to operate across a broad range of styles--and do them all well.
Dogs: Yes. There a handful of dogs in the cidery when we arrived, and we had a great time playing with them while we worked our way through the enormous tasting platters we had accrued for ourselves.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. Shockingly affordable considering the quality of the cider you’re getting...not to mention the enormous tasters.
Food: No food here. The taproom is purely for enjoying cider.
Final Thoughts: My palate for cider isn’t nearly as refined as my palate for beer, but you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the offerings at North Country Cider. Just the opposite, in fact--they offer so many different styles of cider across so many different flavor profiles that this might actually be the perfect place to go if you’re looking to figure out what sort of cider you like best. There’s something for everyone here, and I can’t recommend visiting North Country highly enough.
Brewery Name: Shanty Shack Brewing
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Facebook: Shanty Shack Brewing
Background: Santa Cruz is among the long list of California beach towns with blossoming beer scenes. Many come with the laid back Cali style that is associated with the region, and Shanty Shack embodies it perfectly.
Shanty Shack was born from two friends who developed of a truly innovative way to get their brewery off the ground. When they started out, the partners took an approach similar to that of a food share or community supported agriculture system by brewing beer and delivering personally to customers' doorsteps. Along the way, they found ways to incorporate local produce and herbs into the beers and made friends with local chefs who helped with food pairings and pushing their flavors even further.
All this work was done in anticipation of opening a brick and mortar location in Santa Cruz, complete with a tasting room, a beer garden, and room for live music. It's a microbrewery for sure, but size matters not when the place is full of happy people enjoying good craft beer!
Growlers: Crowlers are offered as a to-go option, but it didn't look like growlers were sold or filled.
The Beers: This was a relatively tame stop as far as the number of beers goes (you know, the whole driving a car bit), but we happened to stop by on a day that they had a couple of extra-exciting beers on tap:
Vibe: You can just tell these guys like beer and everything about the craft beer industry. The shop is cozy, but still offers plenty of space to sit inside at hightops or outside at picnic tables, enjoy live music, play outdoor games, or enjoy the beer garden. They make really great use of the space they've got and they keep everything clean but not corporate.
It was nice and crowded (plus a live band) so I wasn’t able to catch our beertender's name, but she was awesome! She told us a bit about their barreling program and gave some suggestions for each flavor profile. Extremely attentive, responsive, and pleasant--definitely one of the better interactions I've had at a Santa Cruz brewery.
In addition to the litany of seating areas and options, the live music seems to be a semi-regular thing, as is partnering with the food trucks that hang near the beer garden. Cornhole (with a sweet Shanty Shack paintjob) is available, and board games are inside, too. The parking is a bit hit or miss since it's in a mostly permit-restricted area, but we visited on a Saturday when it was very busy and still found a space after a few passes.
Dogs: Shanty Shack is very dog-friendly, with tons of space for the pups to run around as well.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. Super fairly priced for craft beer. Full pours are 6 to 8 bucks and vary a bit in size if it's a barrel aged beer or the like. Food is at food truck prices, but since it's not Shanty Shacks, I didn't really factor that in. Crowlers (when available) go for about $12, which is in-line with pint prices--so all around, no complaints on the dollar bills.
Food: Mentioned it a few times already, but they've got a space outside for a food truck, and, from what I can tell, that's a pretty common setup. Based on their website, it looks like they do some tasting room-style food on the premises during lunchtime (cheese, hummus, sandos, the like) and a few weekly dinners. The popcorn machine in the tasting room is a nice touch as well.
Final Thoughts: Great spot to remind you that drinking a good craft beer should be done comfortably and with friends. The venue breeds relaxation and everyone there seems to soak it up. Absolutely full endorsement from me when in (or heading through) Santa Cruz.
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