Brewery Review: Earth Eagle Brewings (Portsmouth, NH)

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Brewery Review of Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, NH.

In the world of restaurant/bar/brewery reviews the phrase “hidden gem” gets thrown around a lot, to the point where its special nature has become blurred. Hidden gems should not be common, thus the “gem” part, and they should be tough to come by, thus the “hidden” part. There are some other intangible ingredients mixed in, like shattering preconceived notions, rising above its surrounding environment or surprising through quality and experience. When you’re shopping at Target and are delighted to discover a small Starbucks tucked inside (let’s face it, you could use some caffeine), that does not qualify as a “hidden gem”.

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On the other hand, Earth Eagle Brewings personifies the term “hidden gem”. Anyone familiar with Portsmouth, NH will tell you there is no shortage of great bars & restaurants, but they also might be thinking “I never seen this Earth Eagle Brewings you speak of, is it downtown?”. The answer is “sort of”. If you are walking around downtown you can certainly walk to Earth Eagle (I did), but you’ll need to know where you’re going because it’s a bit off the beaten path. When a friend tells you they just found an incredible new bar or cafe nestled down some back alley behind a building with a tiny sign and a clientele of only knowledgeable locals, you probably roll your eyes. I used to do the same thing, because everyone wants to be the person that knew about that band before they were famous or knows the one super-hip spot that you need to use a secret knock to get into, so stories about such places are usually just stories. However, I have to admit that Earth Eagle is literally that place, a few streets off the center of town, tucked down an alley behind another business with a relatively small sign.
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So we’ve established “hidden gem” criteria #1, it’s hidden. What about the “gem” part? Well, right when you walk in you know you’re in a special place. It’s a true brewery tasting room, where beer is the priority. They offer a selection of 6 of their own beers as well as 6 guest taps. It’s small, cozy and unique. It’s the type of place that once you’re there a while you feel smart for not being in one of the more popular commercial bars downtown, and you even feel pity for the people who are, although you’re certainly not going to tell them about the cool new hangout you found (they’d spoil it). Earth Eagle is a book that shouldn’t be judged by its cover. It’s a place where you feel like you can comfortably mingle with other people that appreciate truly artisan beers.
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If you think I’m throwing the word “artisan” around a bit loosely, think again. These guys specialize in the rare and challenging beer style of gruits. In all my beer travels I have only found a few breweries that make authentic gruits (Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, MA comes to mind), but none that made such an interesting variety of gruits, including sour gruits, smoky gruits and even a sour smoky gruit. In fact, their sour smoky gruit, called “Smoke in the Trees” might be the most interesting beer I tried in 2016, and certainly one of the most delicious. The also have a small gastropub menu that will help you sop up all that great beer and keep you in your seats when hunger cravings come knockin’.
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The quality craft beer at Earth Eagle certainly makes it a “gem”, and when you consider how surprising it was to find such incredible brewmanship in such a low-key location that is cloaked by the shadow of more touristy downtown establishments, “hidden gem” is the only way to describe it. Bottom line, if you enjoy craft beer and you’re in Portsmouth, NH and you don’t go to Earth Eagle you will miss out on an experience that you can’t replicate. Take it from a guy that’s been to countless breweries all over the country, after a while a lot of them blend together, but Earth Eagle has a clear voice that cuts through the noise.
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If I hid a rare gem somewhere near you and told you that you could keep it if you found it, no strings attached, wouldn’t you seek it out? Of course, and once you found it you’d be happy you did, unless I just hid an old VHS copy of Jem and the Holograms, then you’d just be pissed at me.
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