Brewery Name: Earth Eagle Brewings
Type of Brewery: Brewpub
Location: 165 High Street, Portsmouth, NH. It can be a little hard to find, because it’s hidden behind a series of storefronts, but usually they put a sign out front to direct you.
Facebook: Earth Eagle Brewings
Growlers: Yes, although not every beer is available for growler fills. Special pours and barrel-aged beers are usually restricted.
The Beers: Earth Eagle Brewings specializes in an unusual variety of beer: gruits. For those who don’t know (I had no idea), a gruit is a beer made without hops. I know what you’re thinking: how is that possible? The truth is the hops aren’t really necessary for beer, they’re just a useful flavoring agent and a way to cut the sweetness of the malt. Gruits use a different method to cut that sweetness: herbs and spices. Flavoring agents as varied as yarrow, heather, juniper, and ginger are commonly used, resulting in a wide range of potential flavors. Many gruits fall under the “sour” category, while others can be bitter or spicy.
During our time there, we tried six beers:
Acer-X: Flavored with chickweed, burdock root, wormwood, lemon rind, and (according to the menu) catnip, this sour gruit was our collective favorite. Nice pucker to it with a sweet citrus finish.
SMAPcherry: This dunkelweizen is made with maple sap, cherry, and a touch of smoke. To me, the smoke was a little overpowering, but Pete was a fan. Definitely a beer to check out if you’re a dunkel fan, because it’s a unique take on the style.
Stolen Funk: A Belgian table beer with a little bit of funk to it, this one opened my eyes. I’ve never been a huge fan of Belgians, but I liked this quite a bit. Maybe I’m a bigger fan of Belgian beers WITHOUT hops than with them.
13th B’ak’tun: I’m a huge fan of English strong ales (I grew up drinking Newcastle and it has stuck to my palate like glue ever since). I like that it’s a little strong, clocking in at 7.2%, but we had some disagreement over the flavor. To me, there was an extra hit of alcohol that I wasn’t a fan of, but York enjoyed it quite a bit.
Karma: One of Earth Eagle’s newest beers, Karma rides the New England Juice Train more than any of their others. Karma is basically mango juice. Boozy, delicious mango juice.
William Wallace: Finally we come to William Wallace, a Scottish gruit flavored with juniper berries and heather. This beer had a really nice balance to it, and the juniper shines though. York and I both loved this beer.
Vibe: This is a really cool place. I’m sure it’s a little different during the winter months, but during spring and summer they open up the side of the building and let the fresh air stream in. The interior is very cool, with a couple of booths, tables of various heights, and a rustic-looking bar setup. There isn’t a ton of space, but it works for Earth Eagle. And the ceiling beams are lined with beer cans from breweries throughout the country, which is a touch that I’m always a fan of.
The bartender was extremely knowledgable (I guess you’d have to be, with so many people undoubtedly coming in and asking “so...what’s a gruit?”) and cool to talk to. We went during the mid-afternoon, so there were only a few people there and she was able to take care of us quickly and easily. The vibe of the place really fits the beer style, honestly. Gruits are an older style of beer not commonly seen today, and the brewpub itself has sort of an earthy, old-world feel to it.
I’ve poked my head in once before, at night, when the small space can be a bit of a drawback. I wouldn’t have expected an unusual pub like Earth Eagle to be a hotspot, but I would be wrong. The place can get packed, and if you’re looking for a place where you can sit down and grab a few drinks, you might be hard-pressed to find a seat. That doesn’t change the high quality of the beers though, and there are plenty of times when you can easily pop in for lunch and a beer.
York’s Thoughts: This is where the ‘exceed my expectations’ weekend began. We walked through Shane’s sleepy hometown [Editor’s Note: Sleepy?!] to Earth Eagle and into the small alley door to be met with a great vibe and great beer. Let me be very clear here: the beer is great on any standard, not just for gruits. The Acer-X was one of the most fun beers we had all weekend and during the tasting, I completely forgot about the lack of hops that had me puzzled when we got there. Killer food and great staff made this place even more top-tier.
Dogs: [UPDATED] Kevin informs us in the comments below that Earth Eagle is unable to accommodate dogs due to the fact that it serves food. Says Kevin:
Just an FYI, any establishment serving food cannot allow animals in the establishment, hence the lack of dogs. In Earth Eagle's early days when it was just a tasting room, dogs were allowed before the food was offered. But one of the owners is partners in the homebrew store out front and their dog Oscar is there during the day if you need a dog fix.
Which obviously makes perfect sense. Thanks Kevin, we should have known!
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. We got a nice flight (with generous pours) and a delicious meal for about $20 a head. Especially for Portsmouth, that’s a tough price to beat.
Food: The food. Yes. Let’s talk about the food. In a word, the food was delicious. Earth Eagle has a more interesting menu than I’ve ever seen at a brewpub. Everything from specialty flatbreads to polenta burgers to jambalaya to bacon and dates on sourdough. While we were there, York had a spicy duck pastrami sandwich, while Pete and I each had the “Piglet’s Demise,” which Earth Eagle describes as “pulled pork with chipotle-pineapple BBQ sauce served over sriracha house-made swirled cornbread with house slaw.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t want to know you.
Final Thoughts: I’m always hesitant to give out 10’s, but Earth Eagle Brewings has my infinite respect for doing something completely outside the box. How many people even know what gruits are--let alone brew them? Not only did Earth Eagle introduce me to a new style of beer, they did it in a way that makes me eager to go back for more. Throw in delicious food, a homey vibe, and great staff, and that’s the recipe for a place I want to go again and again.
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