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One of the buzziest breweries to open in New England this past year operates in an unlikely place—a strip mall in Hampton, NH, a beach town that swells with macro lager-drinking tourists in the summer months. There, long-time homebrewer Michael Benoit and his wife Roberta saw an opportunity.
"Craft beer on the Seacoast is a tricky business because although consumption of alcohol is high, [consumption of] craft is not high," Benoit told me when I visited the brewery last week. "I think there was a void."
Blue Lobster Brewing, which joins fellow Seacoast nanobreweries like Throwback Brewery in North Hampton and Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, has been helping to fill that void since they opened the clean, bright and spacious tasting room and 3.5 barrel brewhouse last November.
Head brewer David Sakolsky, who apprenticed at White Birch Brewing in Hooksett, NH and Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, VT, brews a solid core lineup—Gold Claw Pale Ale, Ragged Neck Rye Porter, Stalkholm Syndrome Wheat IPA and Black Claw Stout—as well as consistently interesting seasonals and one-offs, from Scotch Ales to Berliner Weisses. "I don't want to be known as the hop-forward brewery or the dark beer brewery," said Benoit.
The plan is to release a Biere de Miel (beer brewed with honey) series, with different combinations of honey and fruit for each season. For autumn, it's yams and meadowfoam honey, which Benoit said contributes a marshmallow-like quality. To celebrate their one year anniversary, and the Celtic New Year on November 1, it's a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale aged in a port wine barrel. They also brewed a collaboration beer with Oklahoma's Prairie Artisan Ales (a Serious Eats favorite), a farmhouse saison lightly hopped with Galaxy hops and fermented with Brettanomyces, called Little Lobster on the Prairie.
That combination of drinkable, consistent flagships and beer geek fodder special releases seems to have hit the sweet spot, and has drawn locals and tourists alike to the Blue Lobster taproom. Benoit says they sell about 80 percent of their beer out their front door, mostly on draft in 750-mL and 2L growlers. Their beer is on draft at only four to five area bars and restaurants, and bottles of special releases, which they only recently started doing, are available at shops on a limited basis.
"Bottling is not a mainstay part of the model. We use it more as a fishing expedition. The model for us was to bring them here," he said.
It's also confirmation of a theory Benoit has. He made the the conscious decision to not spend any money on advertising and believes that—if the beer is good enough—you shouldn't have to.
"If you're going to do this, if you can't make it by word of mouth your first year, you probably shouldn't be doing it. Because you don't need me to tell you how good my beer is. The beer should actually tell you that."
Here are three Blue Lobster beers that are worth seeking out:
In a market saturated with pale ales and IPAs, it's refreshing to taste a beautiful one, especially when it's just 4.5% ABV. Gold Claw is wonderfully aromatic, with notes of grass, grapefruit, and pine. Not overly carbonated, fairly dry, with pungent flavors of tropical fruits and piney hops, I'd toss a growler of this in my beach bag any (and every) day.
Ragged Neck Rye Porter
Ragged Neck's a 7.4% ABV roasty porter with a slight smokiness and a nice creamy and thick mouthfeel. It's not boozy or overly rich, and the rye's spice complements the coffee and smoke. A well-built porter that keeps you coming back for another sip and will have you reaching, or dreaming, for it on a chilly fall night.
Named for the Piscataqua River Bridge that connects New Hampshire and Maine, this is a 2.9% ABV Berliner Weisse brewed with New Hampshire wild blueberries and Maine plums. It pours a vivid, bright pink and, while not overwhelmingly sour, is pleasantly tart with the fruit making a subtle appearance in taste. Berliners, especially fruited ones, are in the middle of a resurgence right now and Blue Lobster's is a welcome addition.
About the Author: Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer. You can follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.