Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Tag: Beer travel

Bringing Craft Beer Culture to Travelers – The Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel

Author’s Note: The Sheraton Hotel Portsmouth sponsored me to check out their hotel. The opinions expressed in this article are my own, but I was provided with a stay at the hotel in exchange for my commentary.

Seeking a taste of the local

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to try and explore the craft beer scene. With more than 2,500 breweries operating in the U.S., it is very likely that there are a few local breweries around any hotel in which I’ve stayed that could be on tap. But, more often than not, they aren’t. I’m usually greeted by a friendly server, and I ask him or her about what local beer they have available at the hotel’s bar or restaurant. And I get this answer: “For microbrews we have Samuel Adams and Shock Top.” From that answer, I know I can’t even ask him or her to recommend beer in the local area to try and seek out on my own, so I order a Sam Adams – a beer brewed a few hours away from where I live in Maine – while I’m visiting somewhere hundreds of miles away.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There has been a recent increase in the acceptance of craft beer as a viable asset to a community – something that brings jobs, tourism and spending dollars to a city. It’s becoming clearer each year that this trend is here to stay, and that the dollars that people curious about local beer bring with them to spend are worth nurturing. I was asked to check out the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel in Portsmouth, NH because of their beer-friendly reputation – and I was glad to oblige.

First Impressions

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When I checked in, the people behind the desk were genuine, nice and happy! I say that in surprise not because of my expectations for this hotel, but that I had recently stayed in a different  hotel in Portland for my wedding last month and was greeted by bleary-eyed people who clearly didn’t want to be there. The person that took my information here made sure I knew where everything was – it was so refreshing not having to ask any questions but to just have everything all laid out for me.

When I got up to the floor (which was the “Club” level of the hotel and has it’s own lounge) and found my room, I was happy to see a huge window that looked out over Portsmouth.


The view from my room – hello Portsmouth!

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All craft beer room service menu? Wow.

What also immediately impressed me was that in the literature left in the hotel, there were several key indicators that their craft beer reputation was deserved. When I peeked at the room service list, I noticed that in addition to a selection of wine and cocktails that all of the beer on the list was local and craft beer!

Secondly, the “Things To Do” listing in the hotel materials listed 10 things in the local area – including science museums and shopping – but two of the items on the list were the breweries

that were within walking distance of the hotel: Earth Eagle Brewings and The Portsmouth Brewing Company. I have to say I was surprised that beer made up a full 20% of a list of local attractions, but I’m also hoping to see that grow even more as new breweries join the fold in New Hampshire.

The Hotel Beer Master


Myself (left) and Hotel Beer Master Brian Aldrich (right)

First of all, let me tell you that this is the first hotel at which I’ve stayed that has not just a wine person, but a beer person. And the “Beer Master” – Brian Aldrich – recently wrote a book about New Hampshire beer, so his familiarity with both the beers that he was pouring for us and the questions I had about the local beer scene were fantastic.

The hotel hosts beer tastings of regional craft breweries and was hosting one at 4pm – I came downstairs to find Brian setup in the foyer of the lobby – not out of sight of guests – chatting about beer and books with several people with samples in their hand.


Growlers of Throwback Beer

The featured brewery was Throwback Brewing – a woman-owned nanobrewery in Hampton, NH. Three beers were being poured – having been picked up only a few hours beforehand.

The fresh beer that was being offered to sample included the Love Me Long Time Pilsener – a cloudy but slightly sweet lighter brew that worked well on the sunny day. Second up was the Maple Kissed Wheat Porter which had a subtle maple note to what is a solid dark wheat beer. Last (and my favorite and my mom’s too) was the Spicy Bohemian – a once a year release of a beer brewed with jalapeños. Depending on the year the peppers can add just a hint of flavor and heat, or overwhelm you with their fire. This year seemed to land in the sweet spot – both imparting some fun spicy flavors and stopping short of taking over your mouth.

The Beer Master did a great job pouring up the samples and answering questions – both about the beers being tasted and the other breweries in the state. I heard him give dinner recommendations to several guests and tell people about brewery hours so that they could try even more of the local beer flavor.

Local Connections

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At Brian’s recommendation, we stopped by Earth Eagle Brewing after the tasting and before heading to dinner. The brewery is literally steps away from the hotel, and had their doors open wide to greet visitors and locals alike.

We then headed out to WHYM (a beer-focused restaurant just outside of Portsmouth on Rt. 1) and treated ourselves to truffle fries (so good!). When we came back to our room, we found that a few local beers had been left there on ice as a nice gesture from the Beer Master himself. 🙂

IMG_20140614_144920_234Before I retreated into the softness of the huge hotel bed, I reflected on my day. I think that what I loved most about the experience of the weekend was that everyone I talked to had a recommendation – go here, check this out, sample this! And every single one was welcome. It’s that type of interpersonal connections that can help to grow the craft beer industry – whether you live in a place or are only there for a week, a night, or a day.

When a hotel invests time, energy and funds into creating an atmosphere like this, it can only help to grow the craft brewing economy in the local area. I have to give the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel major credit for fully embracing the idea – and for creating a welcoming atmosphere in which it can thrive.

If only I could be so lucky every time I traveled.


Maine Craft Beer Road Trip: Go west!

Ok, now that we’ve had the warm up trip a few miles North of Portland, let’s venture west. Like the pioneers before us, there is some unknown territory to the west and south – along with some scenic drives through some more of the open spaces in Maine. On this trip, I decided to hit several breweries that I had never visited, despite them being not too far out of reach than others more familiar to me. The town of Limerick is home to Gneiss brewing, that opened last year, and the Biddeford/Saco area has recently experienced a boom of beer activity (and will soon be adding to its beer landscape with a few more breweries in planning there). [Read more…]

Maine Craft Beer Road Trip : Freeport & Brunswick

There’s a lot more to Maine beer than what’s going on in Portland. A lot. But how do you visit and check out what’s going on in craft beer when the breweries are all so spread out, and trend towards rural, hard-to-reach locations? Well, you get a few friends together and you plan some day trips. I’ve put together some combinations that are do-able in a day – and can make for some fun beer adventures.

There are more reasons to visit Freeport than to take your picture in front of the L. L. Bean boot – and it has turned into a little hub of interesting beer and alcohol related stops. This trip has three stops, two in Freeport and one a few minutes north in Brunswick. [Read more]

Hops by Rail: A trip to Freeport

Returning home from the 2013 Beer Blogger’s conference, I tweeted to @Amtrak to thank them for providing wifi and plugs on their trains, because they were very useful for a blogger traveling home from a beer conference. I wrote a post en-route, and looked out the window as small Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine towns flicked by on my way back to Portland. I caught myself wishing that I could take a train to my job every morning, and reclaim those hours that I spend driving as productive time. A few days later I got an email from Amtrak asking me if I’d like to take a short trip and participate in their #Amtrakgram contest. The contest entailed taking photos or videos along the way using the popular mobile phone app Instagram while taking a rail journey. I thought about it, and decided to take a short day trip north to Freeport.

The rail system in Maine is limited, but expanding. I can hop on a train and go South to Boston very easily, but only recently have the stations been built to go north of Portland. I hadn’t yet explored any of that leg (which goes all the way to Brunswick, ME currently) so I booked a little trip to Freeport.

Freeport, ME is home to L.L. Bean, but also a few fermentation spots as well. Maine Beer Company, Gritty McDuff’s, and Maine Distilleries all have homes in Freeport – and the added bonus was that I could sample some brews by myself and still get home safely. The sun came out just before I boarded the train. I only brought a small backpack with me as I intended to walk around the town. If I had thought ahead, I could have made reservations to bring my bike aboard, as the entire DownEaster train allows you to do that – provided you reserve a spot for it.

I arrived in Freeport after about a ~50 minute trip, enjoying looking out the windows at the hidden back sides of Portland, Yarmouth and Freeport as we zoomed by. After a leisurely walk down Main Street in Freeport, I arrived at Maine Distilleries – makers of Cold River Vodka and Gin that is distilled from Maine potatoes. I was given a tour by an enthusiastic (if not a little green) employee named Ian, and we chatted about the ridiculous laws that plague Maine’s alcohol industry. A key example is that all of the bottles that are filled at the distillery must be physically brought to the capital (Augusta) and then brought back to the distillery if they want to sell it there. Every distillery in Maine (and there are now several) have to do this and it’s just maddeningly stupid.

Their copper still was not shiny and new, but was broken in and gave you the feeling that it had seen some things in its lifetime.

After sampling a tiny sip of their blueberry vodka (delicious, by the way) I thanked my hosts and took a quick trip down the street back towards the center of Freeport, where I stopped in to Maine Beer Company for a sampler. For $10 you can get 4 generous samples of their beer – I chose to get Collaboration Time III (a saison brewed with Bluejacket brewing of MD), Their pilot batch (also a saison style), MO and Lunch. I pulled out my laptop and started futzing around while I watched others in the room play games of jenga and have conversations about everything from wedding planning to invertebrate biology.

After having my fill of the samples, I wandered across the road and had lunch at Buck’s Naked Barbecue, accompanied by a Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA. I was sad that they didn’t have their new release, Bonfire Rye, on tap yet – but saw posters for an upcoming release party. The earthiness of the Rye would actually go very well with their signature barbecue sauce, so I think it will go over well.

Soon, it was time to return and board the train back home, leaving the town of Freeport behind me once again.

On the way home, I pulled up a route map of other train routes in New England. I immediately noticed that some of the stops
included major beer destinations:

  • Waterbury, VT (Home of The Alchemist and Heady Topper)
  • Brattleboro, VT (Which has a thriving beer scene and plentiful brewpubs)
  • Haverhill, MA (Home of The Tap)
  • Boston (Of course, home to Samuel Adams, Harpoon and countless microbreweries and craft beer bars)

I came home tired but content at the ease of the entire trip, dreaming about rolling through the green mountains of Vermont towards craft beer. I hope to plan another beer by rail trip again soon – hope you can join me next time!

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