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'Nanobrewery' makes beer in small batches

Union Leader Correspondent

December 08. 2012 8:37PM
Growlers are lined up and ready to be filled at Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, the state's newest brewery that is taking advantage of a change to the state's laws governing brewers and wine-makers. (GRETYL MACALASTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH - A relatively new law is allowing a new crop of breweries to pop up in New Hampshire, serving small batches of specialty beers.

Earth Eagle Brewings opened the doors of their tasting room and nanobrewery on High Street on Nov. 17 and had an hour wait for the 20 seats throughout the night. It is currently the only tasting room in the city.

As a nanobrewery, Earth Eagle Brewings can brew up to 2,000 barrels a year, serve four-ounce samples in its tasting room, and fill growlers on site without having to serve food.

The cost of a state license for a nanobrewery is also significantly less than for a microbrewery at $240 annually. A microbrewery, like Smuttynose, can brew up to 60,000 barrels a year but pays an annual licensing fee of $1,200.

Earth Eagle Brewings is the latest nanobrewery on the Seacoast to take advantage of the law, which passed in June 2011. Blue Lobster opened in Hampton earlier this year along with Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, which is also focusing on artisanal brews using local ingredients.

Earth Eagles Brewings is a one-barrel brewery and has already had a hard time keeping its taps full.

"We've been trying to keep six taps on since we started, but we've had a hard time doing that because we're selling out of everything," said Alex McDonald, co-owner of Earth Eagle Brewings.

Within an hour of opening the tasting room on Thursday afternoon, two taps were already empty.

The tap list is constantly revolving, but McDonald said they always try to keep an India pale ale on tap because of its popularity.

McDonald and his wife, Gretchen, opened the adjacent A&G Hombrew Supplies about a year and a half ago.

They had been home brewing beers for many years but had to travel over an hour to get supplies.

They felt Portsmouth was an ideal location to open the shop and the business has been very successful.

McDonald said he and his brother-in-law, Butch Heilshorn, always dreamed of someday opening a brewery, and the new law and the home brew store helped move it along.

McDonald said 2,000 barrels is still a lot of beer, and as a one-barrel brewery they won't even come close to brewing that much this year.

About half of what they brew are gruits, herbal beers that are usually brewed without hops.

Their popular William Wallace Gruit is made using heather tips and juniper berries.

The craft brews come with creative names like New England Gangsta', Black Adder, Hawthorn Thicket, Jack Wagon and Obsidian, a chocolate raspberry stout made with mounds of Ghirardelli chocolate.

"We are also trying to create something that wasn't readily available out there," McDonald said. "We wanted to do something different, and as home brewers we had started entering contests and winning so we though we were doing something right."

Mike Boulerice of Portsmouth has been a regular customer at A&G and said it was something that had been missing from the city for awhile.

He said the addition of the nanobrewery is a perfect fit for Portsmouth.

"People say Portsmouth is a cultural mecca of New Hampshire, with arts, theater, music, and that I think is a natural home for craft beer," Boulerice said.

He added that nano breweries are the next natural step in the craft beer movement, and it is not just impacting the Seacoast.

Heilshorn and McDonald paid a visit to Canterbury Ale Works before opening Earth Eagle Brewings and were amazed at how many people drove out into the woods to partake in their craft brews.

"We knew we were going to be mobbed," McDonald said.

Since opening three weeks ago, the tasting room has seen a steady stream of customers. It is open Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at

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