Family Friendly Brewery

Four-beer flight at Tributary Brewing

Four-beer flight at Tributary Brewing

October in Maine is a bittersweet time of year. The sun is still warm, the trees are at their peak color, but the days are so short you feel like you’re going to cry when you think of the dark winter soon to come. I was feeling a little bittersweet on recent — and perfect — October Maine day when I visited Tributary Brewing for the first time. Sun crashed through the large storefront windows, brightening up the deep, steely blue that covered the place from floor to ceiling. People had told me the room was supposed to feel like you were underwater, but the atmosphere that Saturday was more airy than under-the-sea. It was like sitting lake side, sipping from a fresh beer, flanked by my friends on one side and my daughter on the other. The brew, the room, the band playing jazz standards were slowly curing what ailed me.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve been writing a lot about beer lately. A few freelance assignments headed my way, and a few pitches about craft beer were picked up. The money was good and beer makes a good subject. I was thirsty for more assignments. I just needed to do a little research.

The problem is, visiting breweries is not an easy task for me. As the parent of a two-year-old who is also married to a craft beer lover, trips to a tap room can be tricky. Neither one of us wants to be Those Parents — pounding back pints while their toddler ruins everyone’s day drinking. I could ask my husband to stay home with our child while I sample fresh and interesting beers with friends, but that just seems mean. Instead, I scan news clips and beer blogs for  family friendly pubs where our daughter can stretch her legs without disrupting others in the brewery. Thankfully, there are more and more of those in New England these days.

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Tributary Brewing taproom bar

West Coast breweries figured out long ago that parents need a pint just as much as the childless. Even more so, on some days. Breweries in Portland, Oregon now offer kid’s menus and Hopworks Brewery even features a play area for the tots. As the number of tasting rooms has grown in the Portsmouth/Kittery area, I’ve appreciated their welcoming vibe when my daughter is in tow. Neither the bartenders nor the brewers at Earth Eagle Brewings blinked an eye when we brought our daughter in last winter to fill our growler. When Tributary Brewing opened, I heard former Portsmouth Brewery head brewer Tod Mott was doing great things with beer. I also heard that parents of well-behaved children need not fear the stink-eye from the establishment.

Plenty of room to stretch out at Tributary Brewing's picnic tables

Plenty of room to stretch out at Tributary Brewing’s picnic tables

Mott is best known in beer circles as the master behind the highly-rated stout Kate the Great. He owns and runs Tributary with his wife, Galen Mott, out of a storefront in small shopping plaza two doors down from the Kittery Post Office. Tributary Brewing is not located in the booming Foreside neighborhood, where you’ll find the beer-lover’s mecca, The Black Birch, but the little plaza is home to the summer farmers market and, for many, is on the way home from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

I ordered a four-beer flight, which included 4-ounce pours of all that Tributary had on tap that day. It started with a Pumpkin Ale, not a typical choice for launching a flight, but it’s October, so who cares right? At 5.2% ABV, this delicious ale was light on the pumpkin spice, allowing the hops to shine through. You say you’re not into the pumpkin beer thing? Well if any pumpkin ale is going to convert you, this one will.

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Next was the Oatmeal Stout, a smooth, chocolaty, far-too-drinkable beer. I tend to stay clear of stouts and porters before the snow flies, and then only in moderation, but at 6.2% ABV, I could cozy up with a few of these and a cribbage board on a Friday night and be perfectly happy. The odd-man-out in the flight was Tributary’s Bier De Garde, a bright, bubbly and tart light beer that left your mouth smacking after the first sip. Not my favorite of the bunch, it was the strongest at 6.9% ABV. Following two beers that signal the end of the year, the Bier De Garde seemed more fitting for April than October. My final sample was Tributary’s IPA. At 6.5% ABV, this beer was perfectly balanced and a little bittersweet. Overall a completely drinkable beverage for a Saturday with friends.

I was downing my last gulp of IPA around the time the jazz combo started packing up their gear. It was getting dark and my daughter had eaten all the snacks we had brought. As glasses emptied, we brainstormed about finding dinner across the Piscataqua. Tributary Brewing was an easy weekend meet-up for a group of friends both with and without kids, but now we were on to the hard part — dinner for seven in Portsmouth on a Saturday night.

About Kittery, killed it

IMG_1916 The following post was to be published elsewhere, but did not make the cut. Here’s the piece, aimed at an out-of-town audience.

Getting Out in Kittery

I had been suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, so I suggested to my husband we get a babysitter and do a date night. Not wanting to spend half the evening looking for parking in downtown Portsmouth, we took a quick drive over the Sarah Long Bridge and enjoyed an evening of beer drinking and eating delicious food in Kittery, Maine.

Up until recently, Kittery had been a sleepy town with a tiny downtown – known as the Foreside – that included few things to do at night. But in the past few years, an infusion of young entrepreneurial energy lured Kittery residents back to the Maine side of the bridge for their drinks, dining and entertainment.

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

My husband and I started at the Black Birch, a low-key and tiny space known for its small plates and a killer beer list. We started out with the deviled eggs, three halves each with their own twist on the summer picnic classic. The wasabi-spiced was the clear winner. For dinner, I had the duck with a sweet citrus glaze, which left me scoping the sticky yumminess up with my fork long after the duck was gone. My husband had the brick chicken – a dish that left me wondering how they could make plain-old-chicken taste so good. My husband sampled the darker beers on the list – of which there are plenty – while I started with the 2 Govt., a bourbon-based cocktail named in honor of the Black Birch’s address.

If whiskey is your thing, you’re sure to find something to make you happy here. Not only do they offer a solid selection of bourbon and rye, the Black Birch also has a constant rotation of seasonal whiskey-based cocktails on their menu that go above and beyond the seen-all-too-often twist on an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Next to the Black Birch is Buoy Gallery, founded by young artists looking for a space to showcase emerging art both local and from away. If the gallery looks like it’s having an opening or an event, stop in. Buoy focuses on innovative and captivating shows. If it’s not open, don’t worry. The Black Birch and Buoy are connected by a back hallway and you can usually take a peek in the gallery near the restaurant bathrooms.

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Down the street is Anneke Jans, a fine dining restaurant with a casual yet classy bar attached to the main dining room. For nearly 10 years it’s been a trendy after work spot for Kittery’s professional class, and more recently inherited a top-notch chef to revamp the menu. If you’re going for cocktails, I suggest anything served in a martini glass. If you’re more of a wine drinker, there’s plenty to keep you happy on their list, too. Make sure to order the mussels, with bleu cheese. This once-weird combo is one of Anneke Jans’ signature dishes for its mix of briny and creamy tanginess.

The Foreside is not the only place of interest in Kittery. There are the shopping outlets on Route 1 which are easily accessible from Interstate 95. Here you’ll find Levis, Nike, Coach, and an entire building dedicated to the Gap-Banana Republic brand. There are your typical fried food restaurants along the strip, as well as the slightly upscale fish eatery, Robert’s Maine Grill, which is a must-stop for oyster lovers. For good food, good drinks and (slighty) less cost, drive north on Route 1 just past the outlets to the When Pigs Fly company store and restaurant. Here they elevate the classic pizza joint with craft beers, freshly made pizza, and oh-so-good sandwiches made on their own bread.

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

 

Kittery has long been the little sister to Portsmouth’s many great restaurants and was considered lacking when compared with the city’s art and music scene. But as rents climb and Portsmouth grows, young chefs, bartenders, artists and others from Seacoast New Hampshire are taking their ideas into Maine. This exodus has largely been Kittery’s gain and now those who come to visit Portsmouth have a whole new downtown to go to.

And then you get hit by a tanker

bridge

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is my neighborhood bridge. Most people call it just “the Sarah Long Bridge” or “the middle bridge,” but for me it’s how I get from Portsmouth to Kittery at least once a week.

It’s been nothing but drama as long as I can remember for that rusted out span. The lift mechanism  gets stuck or the guard rails are too rusty, causing the bridge to close for a few days, maybe a week. Whenever I hear there’s a problem with the bridge and to expect a closure, I think, “Well, this is it. It’s going to be closed for good now.” But she somehow seems to hang on.

Then she gets hit by a tanker. The bridge is now expected to remain closed for weeks.

The Portsmouth Herald did a great job covering this, dispatching multiple reporters. Here’s witness reaction and my favorite story on the traffic impact of closing the bridge. It also addresses the frequent question I get from people who do not live here: why three bridges? Well we’re down to two still standing and only one open, so perhaps insurance? Or that the next closest way to cross into Maine from New Hampshire is a 20 minute drive to the north? Or that you need more than one way to get across the river because of stuff like this?

It’s uncertain when the bridge will reopen, but what I can say for sure is that it will be a while before I get to cross your way again, old girl.

Best News All Day 3-4-13

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge over the Pisctaqua River in Portsmouth, new Hampshire.

 

Have you driven over the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge recently? It’s the one that connects the Route 1-Bypass from Portsmouth to Kittery. You know, the one that keeps closing down and is in a constant state of repair because it’s a rusty heap. Yes. That one. As efforts to replace the bridge ramp up, it looks like New Hampshire is going to have a tough time convincing Maine to go halfsies on the multi-million dollar replacement project, seeing as New Hampshire is getting way more out of the deal, according to a new study. (photo by Jerry Monkman)

Also around the state this morning:

— Driving through Concord on I-93 is a traffic nightmare anytime of the day, but I’ve always kind of liked the view of the city from that highway. The backs of all those old, brick buildings makes you feel like you are sneaking up on the city, getting a glimpse of the real, working side of the capital. The Golden Dome may be where all the action is in Concord, but driving past on I-93, it merely shimmers in the background.

Apparently city leaders don’t see it like I see it and are looking at sprucing up the view of downtown’s backside.

— Immigration reform is never high on the issues list when New Hampshire residents are polled, but there are many people in this state affected by these policies. Nashua Telegraph covers an immigration reform rally in the city Saturday, which provides a rare glimpse at New Hampshire’s immigrant population and the problems they are facing.

— A new bill could require high school students to take four years of math (ugg.) But a recent study suggests reports that students are entering college woefully unprepared in math may be overblown.

— I wanted to post something about the upper Seacoast region…Dover, Rochester, Durham perhaps. But Fosters.com is making it very difficult. Fosters, if you are going to have a pop-up on your homepage, users should be able to “x” out of it so they can see your product, not take me to some weird page deep within your site. Just sayin’.

— Elizabeth Kulig was elected Manchester City Democrats Chairman over the weekend, beating out Mike Farley, city dem’s former secretary. This 21-year-old is the youngest person elected to the post. Also worth noting, Alderman Garth Corriveau addressed the committee.

There’s been some peculation about what Corriveau’s ambiguous video message to his peeps meant last week. My guess is Corriveau still hasn’t made up his mind, though he’s really thinking about it. What he has to decide is whether he thinks his chances of beating Mayor Ted Gatsas are good enough to give up a relatively safe seat on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.