New Hampshire Still Trails Vermont in Beer-Making

  • Mark Babson of River Roost Brewery pours a sample at the brewery in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 14, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Think of local breweries and brewpubs: River Roost in White River Junction; Harpoon’s branch in Windsor; the Norwich Inn; Upper Pass and Brocklebank, both in Tunbridge; and Flying Goose Brewpub and Grille in New London, among others. It’s a great selection, but most are in Vermont.

While the Seven Barrel Brewery was a pioneer in West Lebanon before it closed in 2016, New Hampshire has lagged behind Vermont, which has become known as a beer hotspot. The disparity is attributable to New Hampshire laws that made it harder for breweries to get off the ground, and to the resulting hill Granite State brewers have to climb to reach the level of their neighboring states.

“Vermont got a head start because they’re so welcoming to breweries,” said Scott Russell, who has been advising homebrewers and craftbrewers for more than two decades, most recently at the Lebanon Brew Shop, which closed in June. “New Hampshire laws seem to be holding people back. That’s my sense from talking to brewers.”

In 2011, New Hampshire rewrote the laws governing breweries to make it less expensive for the smallest to start up, but according to Russell and to Christ Prost of Polyculture Brewing Co., in Croydon, the laws are still not as accommodating in New Hampshire as they are in Vermont.

Plus, if you’re going to go where the market is, the cost is also prohibitively expensive. “Hanover would be an obvious place but the real estate prices are so high nobody wants to get into it there,” Russell said in a recent phone interview.

Finally, the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley has a bit of a marketing problem. Its brewers have to compete with both Vermont and Maine, specifically Portland, for loyal beer drinkers.

“If you’re living in the Hanover/Lebanon/Claremont corridor and can drive 20 minutes into Vermont to get Fiddlehead or Lost Nation, you have to convince people that New Hampshire beer is worth picking up. They live in the shadow of Vermont,” Russell said.

Well represented for years in the beer cooler by the likes of Allagash and Shipyard, Portland has become a hot destination for discerning beer lovers: In 2016, Forbes named it America’s Craft Brew Capital (at last count, there were 23 breweries and brewpubs and even a “brew bus” in Portland).

Polyculture Brewing is therefore something of a pathfinder in this area. Only in formal operation since May, Polyculture is already fielding calls from others hoping to get into brewing on a small scale in New Hampshire.

Russell, too, sees prospects building for the local beer economy: “I know a bunch of people who are looking into spots, in the Upper Valley and in the Lakes (Region). I’d be surprised if you didn’t see more growth, just because of the demand.”