The British have invaded!
OK, so maybe their timing is a little off, and this time, we don't mind the invasion.
British Beer Company has opened a South Willow Street location, in the old Chili's building, and its arrival speaks volumes about the state of beer distribution in New Hampshire.
The Plymouth, Mass.-based chain now has 11 restaurants and has grown since its start in 1997.
In beer snob circles (although I don't suppose they self identify as such), British Beer Company has a solid reputation as a celebrator of beer, carrying a wide selection of craft brew.
Just a few years ago, beer selection in New Hampshire was borderline awful.
It was a dark time for people like me. I would go to Massachusetts or Maine and stock up on a few of my favorites (a practice that I've since learned is legally questionable).
Beers like Young's Double Chocolate Stout were nowhere to be found in the Granite State.
For Father's Day, we went out for lunch at the new establishment. I ordered a Young's — on tap no less. We've come a long way, baby.
For years, most small breweries stayed away from New Hampshire's tiny distribution market. Having to pay a fee for each size of beer distributed, along with a few archaic laws about alcohol strength, suppressed our selection. So what changed?
Places like Bert's Better Beers in Hooksett — and more recently, The Beer Store in Nashua and Brewtopia in Keene — have given us a wider selection.
Bert Bingle, of Bert's Better Beers, claims the number of beers available has more than tripled. The selection started at around 120 breweries when they opened in 2009, and swelled beyond 400 this past year. There has also been a culture shift in some state laws.
I can think of only one way to celebrate.
British Beer Company's choice to move to New Hampshire is a high-water mark for us brew snobs.
Our Father's Day trip had me thinking of all this. I stayed with the British theme and ordered a Hobgoblin to go with my stout and Wensleydale burger. The food was good, better than the old “fine British cuisine” jokes we kept making. But certainly, the appeal for me will never be the food. It's what is behind the bar that counts in a place like this.
Downtown Manchester has its great beer bars — Strange Brew, the Shaskeen, Murphy's. And now, those who are more shopper-centric have a place to cool off, regroup and wet their whistle on South Willow.
We were scooted into a quiet section of the restaurant, complete with a door. It was nice, but probably nicer for the other people eating, as we have a small baby in tow and he makes his presence known from time to time.
I was giddy when we left, not just for the excitement of a new restaurant, but because I know how much a place like this means to New Hampshire as a whole.
While the economy has had its share of bumps and bruises, the beer economy has been strong. There have been plenty of jokes about our economic recovery being fueled by cupcake businesses sprouting up. One could argue that the beer industry has fueled an economic resurgence. As Homer Simpson once said “to alcohol, the cause of and the solution to, all of life's problems.”
I'll drink to that.
Adam McCune is the author of Funny Man Down. McCune's Manchester appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.