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On Tap: Salt Hill Pub to Salute its 10th Anniversary With Its Own Beer

From left, Salt hill Pub owner Josh Tuohy, pub general manager Joshua McGary and Sebago Brewing Co.’s head brewer Kai Adams taste a test batch of Salt hill Pale Ale. (Courtesy photograph)

From left, Salt hill Pub owner Josh Tuohy, pub general manager Joshua McGary and Sebago Brewing Co.’s head brewer Kai Adams taste a test batch of Salt hill Pale Ale. (Courtesy photograph)

Lebanon — Everybody in town knew it was a doomed spot for a business.

A hipster coffee house. A pool hall. Nothing seemed to work in the corner location on the Lebanon mall.

But then Josh and Joe Tuohy came along with an idea for a pub named for a neighborhood in Galway, Ireland, where their grandparents lived. Certainly, there were doubters. The Tuohys had plenty of doubts themselves along the way.

A decade later, Salt hill Pub in Lebanon not only is still around, but remains one of the most popular restaurants in the Upper Valley.

The pub will mark its 10th anniversary on June 18. To celebrate the milestone, the brothers will be toasting with a beer, of course.

But not just any beer. On that Tuesday, the Tuohys will tap an ale they brewed for the occasion. Specifically, an American-style pale ale.

As most everybody reading this knows, Salt hill is not a brew pub. There are no fermenters, no fancy copper kettles or sacks of grain stacked in the kitchen. I asked Josh why make a beer for the anniversary? Why go to the trouble?

He paused and tilted his head, as though this were the first time he’d considered the question.

“We just really like beer,” Josh said, laughing while he sat in the Lebanon pub. “And for the fun of it.”

In a way, it was in keeping with the restaurant’s beginnings, when Josh and Joe were making decisions that felt right, even if they didn’t have a 10-year business plan to follow.

Deciding to brew a beer is one thing. Actually finding someone to do it is another. Josh had worked at a brewery in Portland, Ore., for several years before he started Salt hill. He had some background, but needed to contract with a professional if they were going to have kegs of the “Salt hill Pale Ale” on tap by mid-June.

For help, the Tuohys turned to friends at Sebago Brewing in Maine. Josh and Joe spent a few days hanging out with the guys at Sebago during a trade conference last November. They hit it off, drinking beers and “geeking out on restaurant talk,” Josh said. It was just sharing a few laughs, at the time. But several months later, they had a handshake agreement to partner on a special, limited-edition beer for Salt hill.

Deciding on what the beer would be, however, proved a different matter. Ireland is known for its hearty dry stout, particularly Guinness. But that style isn’t popular for summer drinking.

“I don’t mind drinking stouts all summer,” Josh said. “But a lot of people don’t think of stouts as a summer beer.”

Josh told me that he also enjoys big, hoppy India pale ales. Again, however, there was concern that a strong and bitter IPA might be too much for a general audience.

And so, they settled on a pale ale in the realm of one made by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Josh and a few other Salt hill staff drove out to Maine for the brew day last month. He even got to add some hops as the sweet liquid boiled away. I haven’t tasted it, yet, but based on the details that Josh shared with me, it’s a beer that hits the middle ground on pretty much everything.

The alcohol at 5.3 percent will be enough to notice, not so much to put you on the floor. The bitterness will create a crisp finish, but is still a few shades under Sierra Nevada and certainly won’t come near the mouth-puckering hop bombs that many brewers are putting out these days as pale ales. Cascade hops will provide citrus grapefruit-like aromas and flavors, and the malt will be lightly toasted and have just a hint of caramel sweetness.

“It’ll be bright,” said Kai Adams, Sebago’s founder and owner. “A medium-bodied, session pale ale.”

Part of me wanted Salt hill to dispense with the concern for mass appeal and just make something really weird. How about an Imperial stout aged on oak soaked in Irish whiskey? Make a Guinness knock-off or maybe even the IPAs that Josh prefers.

Josh and Joe didn’t get to this point by thinking in this manner. Salt hill did not gain a loyal following through adventures in molecular gastronomy and radical atmosphere. It is burgers and beers, moderately priced entrees and a place where singles and families can feel comfortable having dinner.

It is what people in the Upper Valley want. There’s very little about the restaurant that seems imposed on customers.

The anniversary beer will probably be the same way. In fact, Salt hill regulars already have their own name for it — “Ten Spot.” Josh loves the unofficial moniker.

“The essence of a pub is the people inside it,” Josh said. “Without them coming through the door, we wouldn’t be here.”

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Valley News staff writer Chris Fleisher is a beer judge and the founder of the website BrewsReporter.com. He can be reached at 603-272-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.