Thursday, September 22, 2011

Brewery Tour Stop #6: Haverhill Brewery

My wife and I had another toddler birthday party to go to this past weekend. Just like we’ve done before, we immediately think of breweries nearby to make the trip more interesting. As the kiddie bash was in Haverhill MA, we obviously thought of Haverhill Brewery. One brewery is all we planned to hit. But as the day progressed we didn’t stop there. We found ourselves at the Red Hook and Portsmouth Breweries as well. But let's look at Haverhill Brewery today (also known as “The Tap”, locally) and the sexy women that adorn their bottle labels.

We strolled into the Brewery’s pub around 2:30PM on a beautiful Saturday. This is a fairly large place split into two sides; restaurant on one, pub/bar on the other. It’s fairly dark inside. Old, gritty, well-loved. We sat at the bar and only after ordering a couple beer samplers did we discover a beautiful deck out back. We wished we sat outside, but I didn’t know if one had to order food out there, which wasn’t our original plan. We did end up ordering pickle chips, but I didn’t want to move at this point as I felt the bartender would lose out on the tip she earned thus far. If you visit The Tap and it’s a nice day, check out the deck first. 

Diving into our samplers, I first tasted my wife’s Homerun pale ale. Interestingly, this one doesn’t score well on BeerAdvocate or RateBeer, but my wife and I couldn't understand why. A significant hop profile was citrusy and leaf-like, while the malt was doughy and prominent. My wife loved this one, and as I can’t always notice such distinct hop and malt profiles simultaneously in other pale ales, it gets two thumbs up from me, too.

Next was their altbier, called Gestalt. It’s a pretty, dark copper ale that tastes and smells fairly simple; a little nutty and bready. Earthy hops are barely there, and carbonation is a little low. This is quite similar to Long Trail’s flagship ale. Satisfactory enough, if not a bit boring. Moving on...

What ended up as my favorite of the bunch was next in line – a hoppy schwarzbier. I recently brewed my own hoppy schwarzbier at a brew-on-premise facility, thinking “nobody’s done that before!” Haverhill shut me up. Their version had a great charcoal/bonfire note to it that was immediately noticeable. It sported relatively low carbonation (something my homebrew cannot claim), and a floral hop bouquet on the finish. This is my top recommendation at Haverhill for malt lovers.

My next sample took a nosedive down the enjoyment ladder. Their berliner weissbier was a complete change of pace from the schwarzbier. Picture a higher-end, alcoholic lemonade. It's one of the higher rated Haverhill beers on BeerAdvocate. Granted, it’s not as if it isn’t brewed to style. Its yellow, foggy straw color and its tart, sour, lemony flavor is appropriate for its breed, as well as its low, 3% ABV. But, I don’t drink enough “berliners”, and therefore can't say how well it compares to others. This one may work well on a hot day for people who normally drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

I, on the other hand, will pass.

Next up was a sample of the one beer I know fairly well from Haverhill - Leatherlips IPA. They bottle it and it's easy enough to find at a decent beer store. What I love about this IPA is that it's full of grassy, piney hops, which gives you the impression it's higher in alcohol. Normally, when an IPA tastes like this, I expect it to be at least 6.5% ABV. This is a mere 5.0%. That's unheard of for an IPA that offers such an abundance of citric, piney, and bitter hop notes. It would please any hophead looking for a serious fix. If you've ever been on the hunt for a (dare I say) sessionable IPA, this may do the trick. But, for me, it's bitterness would get cumbersome after two or three glasses.  One glass is certainly enjoyable, though.

I finished with their Oktoberfest. I love this style and hoped for greatness. It was fine enough. Typical, accurate, but didn’t stand out. I wished it had a bigger malt presence, but there was nothing wrong with it. It’s probably agreeable enough with most patrons.

So there were highs and lows at The Tap/Haverhill Brewery. I do recommend a visit to see for yourself, and there’s no better time to make the trip than this weekend. They’re putting on a brewfest this Saturday and other local brewers will be there pouring their own deliciousness. Participating breweries beyond Haverhill themselves, include: Notch, John Harvard’s, High and Mighty, Clown Shoes, Ipswich, Martha’s Exchange, Cisco, Sam Adams, Cape Ann, Boston Beer Works, Jack’s Abby, Harpoon, Watch City, Mayflower, Original Sin Cider, Frosty Knuckle, Narragansett, Woodchuck Cider, and Woodstock Inn Station. More info at

Stay tuned for a report from Red Hook Brewery in NH – a brand I struggle with and the cause of debates with my best friend.

Haverhill, MA

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