Story and Photos by Kendal J. Bush
“God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Although this quote is famously attributed to Ben Franklin, he never actually uttered those words. Nevertheless, the sentiment remains a relatable one with deep-rooted history.
The allure of beer predates Franklin by roughly 8,800 years, with its origins widely attributed to Mesopotamian culture in 6,000 B.C.E. However, the earliest form of beer dates back to China 1,000 years prior, in 7,000 B.C.E., and went by the name Kui.
Fast-forward to 2022 and China is the top beer consumer in the world, drinking up over 11,429 million gallons of beer annually, with the United States coming in second with an intake of 6,319 million gallons. Beer’s popularity has increased over time, making strides in production techniques and variety. In 1865, beer consumption in the United States averaged about 3.4 million gallons overall. Since then, consumption of the cool, frothy beverage has increased significantly.
While the number of beer-drinking establishments has similarly soared in the past 157 years, the feel of the local brewpub has remained more or less the same.
Ancient Sumerian tablets show beer drinkers in Mesopotamia sharing beer communally from a bowl using reed straws. Europe’s early public houses were often gathering places where locals and travelers alike could gather to share ale traditionally brewed by the matron of the house. The “public house,” later shortened to “pub,” became the center of the village community.
Today, the modern brewery, or brewpub, invites all generations of the community for fresh local beer, food, games and music. Less family-friendly pub traditions such as cockfighting, boxing and poker have been replaced with yoga, high-intensity interval training, book clubs and drag bingo. Games, music, singing and dancing remain popular activities for local beer establishments and nonalcoholic beers have seen an uptick in popularity as many health-conscious folks choose to opt-in on the fun and community while passing on the alcohol.
Of the more than 9,000 breweries in the United States, about 100 of those call New Hampshire home. Throwback Brewery in North Hampton is among the earliest breweries in the state (it was #13 to be exact), while others like Vulgar Brewing Company, To Share Brewing Company and Feathered Friend Brewing have recently emerged on the New Hampshire beer landscape. Is the market oversaturated? Throwback Brewery co-owners Nicole Carrier and Annette Lee say (practically in unison), “No way.”
“It’s hard to believe that it’s too saturated,” says Carrier. “In New England, you think, how lucky are we? There are so many great options.” Lee adds, “I’ve always felt like the presence of other good beers is good for everybody. And you have to be very genuine in what you’re trying to do with your beer. I think that goes a long way in terms of reaching out to people.”
The love of beer has been an organizing principal for communities all over the world, although its popularity was often aligned with the common folk and the working class. The wealthy and bourgeois often selected liquors or wine as their libation of choice. However, it wasn’t uncommon for folks to brew their own beer at home. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the early American home brewers — a hobby that has helped ferment many of today’s local brewpubs. Damon Lewis, Jason Harrington and Shelly Harrington met at a home-brew club near Dallas, Texas. After relocating to New Hampshire for a new job, Jason and his wife Shelly flirted with the idea of opening a brewery. They convinced their friend Damon to make the move and the trio opened the Vulgar Brewing Company, located on Central Street in downtown Franklin.
The word “vulgar” dates back to the 14th century. It comes from the Latin vulgaris, meaning pertaining to the common people. The English poet Chaucer made a name for himself by exploring the lives and language of commoners, and in the process gained himself a reputation for having a “vulgar tongue.” In 21st-century Franklin, “Vulgar” simply represents the preferred drink of the common people — beer. Carrier and Lee at Throwback Brewery say they have a three-fold reason for their brewery’s name. Along with a nod to the desire to “throw back” a beer with a friend, they also cite historical throwbacks to the first brewers (who also were women), and to the old pubs that welcomed everyone in the community and were often the center of them.
So whatever they are called — pubs, beer halls, brewpubs, breweries — they all share this — good beer, typically served in open, welcoming, family-friendly spaces and usually alive with activities and entertainment.
One of the latest additions to the local brewer community is the Feathered Friend Brewing founded by Tucker Jadczak. They just opened in March, but the beer business is deep in his blood. “My great-grandfather had the first liquor license after Prohibition to sell beer in Massachusetts,” says Jadczak. “He started an Anheuser-Busch distributorship and my grandfather continued the business with his siblings.”
The unassuming Concord South End establishment provides a great selection of beer, board games and live music. In addition to video game nights and corn hole tournaments, Concord’s popular Smokeshow Barbeque relocated right next door and cooks up tangy dishes for folks looking for accompaniments to their beer.
“We have lagers, IPAs, stouts and sours to make sure there’s something for everyone. We do seltzers too, which is kind of cool,” says Jadczak. “If you look at our tap lines, there’s diversity there — a style for everybody that wants to drink beer.” He calls his customers “a melting pot of people,” and notes, “We’ll have sports on, but we also have arts and crafts, or board games or music. There’s something for everybody to come in and enjoy and it’s a nice laid-back atmosphere.”
Just a short drive down the highway, you’ll find To Share Brewing Company tucked away in the north end of the Queen City. Touted as “Manchester’s Neighborhood Brewery,” the roomy, light-filled space sparkles with pops of bright colors, vintage records and a plethora of games. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the Union Street hotspot is bustling with families, friends and folks who love beer — kicking back to sounds of vinyl interspersed between sets of live music.
To Share was founded by Aaron and Jenni Share, who relocated to Manchester from the Washington, D.C., area in 2013. They quickly fell in love with the area and, after many years of home brewing, decided open a brewery to meet new friends and enrich the local community. Since opening in December 2018, Aaron says their ambition has been “to create a safe space for neighbors, friends and strangers alike to come together over a beer.” Their taproom hosts a variety of events, including fundraisers, and monthly book club and craft night.
Locals Gayle and Jim Stevenson live a mile up the road and frequent the neighborhood brewery a few times a week. When asked what it is about beer that brings people together, Jim replies without missing a beat, “Beer!” With a delayed laugh, he adds, “It’s a family environment, people bring their kids, spend the afternoon — it’s just really a casual, fun place. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t have to have pretenses. It’s just a cool place to hang out. And the beer is always delicious.” Gayle appreciates the lack of television screens and notes that “people aren’t sitting there on their phones. They’re socializing with other people they don’t know and end up knowing, and it’s just great to see people playing games again, instead of on their phones, you know. We came here yesterday with our next-door neighbor who is 88 years old.”
In the game room around the corner from the main bar, 3 ½-year-old Tommy is practicing the letter “L” with pastel colors on the wall-size chalkboard while her 10-year-old sister Bella plays board games and pinball. Kimberly Longley of Hooksett is the girls’ mother. She appreciates the inclusive atmosphere at To Share. Longley and her family popped into the brewery after spending the early afternoon at the local waterpark. “They have the music, they have the kids’ stuff. The chalkboard is amazing. It’s all-ages, so everyone can have fun.” She likes this as an option for families to get out and do things together “because date nights are hard to come by,” she quips with a laugh.
Just a table or two over from the Longley family — who are now enjoying a game of table shuffleboard — is a group of friends throwing back a few beers at a hightop next to the wall-size window while playing a game of UNO. The little ones in the house seem to enjoy the live music from husband and wife duo Molly and James. They play an acoustic set that doesn’t overpower the room, providing a great soundtrack to the buzzing of conversation and laughter on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The demographics of the patrons in the room are as varied as the selection of beers on tap. Many folks here know each other mostly from coming here. Local guy Paul Wendell seems to know about half of the people in the room as he makes his way from the front door over to the bar. On occasion, Wendell performs stand-up comedy for the crowd, but today he’s just there for the beer and camaraderie. “You’ve got to read the room. If I come in and there are kids here, I’m going to do a whole different routine than if kids aren’t here, but both are good.”
Wendell touts himself as a brewery aficionado who will make stops at different brewpubs in his travels as well as make destination trips to visit other breweries. He says he can judge a place by its employees. “I look for people that like working where they are. People that work in a place need to feel ownership of the place … and have something at stake. They all do here.”
Krystin Shields has been working at To Share for the last year and loves the brewery vibe. “It’s not where you go at 10 o’clock at night for that last cocktail of the evening. But it’s a place you go to have a beer, play a game, see some friends, meet up with somebody,” she says. Shields notes that the family atmosphere was cultivated with intention. “The beer drinkers are good people in general, no one enters here in a terrible mood,” she says. “And even if they’re having a hard day, when they leave, they’re in a much better mood.” She says the place attracts “a lot of hiker-types. So you end up with just good, wholesome people.’”
Melissa Smith from Hooksett is one of those beer-loving hikers who frequently coordinate hikes with brewery visits. A recent transplant from Baltimore, Maryland, she says, “The first thing that we wanted to do was visit all the breweries in the area. We’ll do a hike and look up where the closest brewery is to this hike, and we are hitting them on the way home, so it’s awesome.” On the way home from their hike up north earlier in the day, Smith and her crew made stops at Vulgar (their third visit) and Feathered Friend (their first time). “It’s super fun. They have music here, which is great and we love trying the different beers that they have.”
If a day of rigorous hiking works up your appetite, many of these beer halls strive to offer food that is as good as the beer they serve. Throwback has a fantastic menu with unexpected flavors created by their in-house chef utilizing as much local produce as possible — most of which is grown onsite. The made-from-scratch home cooking is a draw for patrons who appreciate the welcoming community and delicious food as much as they enjoy the beer. As with most of the breweries in New Hampshire, 4 oz. pours are available in the form of a flight for the curious brewerygoer who wants to try new things without overconsuming.
In addition to great beer, food and community, Throwback has cultivated a great selection of swag to sell to their devoted clients under their whimsical brand “Lady Sausage,” described as “swanky meats and smile-inducing garb.” Throwback’s working-farm location near the coast welcomes people (and dogs!) of all ages and offers a wide variety of recurring community events such as a weekly farmers market, Sunday Yoga, Seven Stages Shakespeare productions, cribbage and more.
Large, farm-style community tables are commonplace and encourage people to interact and socialize. Reminiscent of the old German beer halls, the long, large tables are a feature of many of the state’s breweries. “We are pretty community-oriented with the way that we do stuff here too,” says Jason Harrington of the Vulgar Brewing Company. Long tables are a feature of the outdoor patio area adjacent to the grassy common. “We can fit 10 people at a table and you’re gonna get to know whoever you’re sitting next to. We see a lot of conversations between people that don’t know each other out there — and now they do,” muses Jason Harrington. Shelly adds, “That’s another reason why we didn’t want to put any TVs in here. We want this to be a place where people can talk to each other — not just like a zoning out, watching the game kind of thing.”
Nestled at the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers in Franklin, Vulgar Brewing Company naturally appeals to hikers, kayakers and other folks who enjoy the outdoors or come for activities at the town’s recently opened whitewater park. Several families fill indoor booths with small children, enjoying the eclectic pizza offerings. “People will drive hours to go to breweries that they’ve never been to,” says Damon Lewis, one of the owners. “Breweries bring people and help a community come together, it gives a spot for people to conglomerate.”
For a town like Franklin, not known for the vitality of its downtown business community, it’s a huge boon just to have such a popular — let’s say “common” — attraction to folks from different walks of life.
“I don’t know if it was good advice or not, but my grandfather always said people drink in good times and bad. It’s a recession-proof industry because, no matter what, people are gonna be drinking. And it’s true. People drink to celebrate and people drink when it hits the fan,” Jadczak notes with a smile.
Beer has been a beverage that fuels humanity while bringing people together for centuries. The first public houses that dotted the European landscape came out of a need to keep beer local as it was too costly to produce en masse and did not travel well. Today, the tradition and love of fresh, local beer remains. And, although modern science makes claims on the health benefits of modest beer consumption, Thomas Jefferson’s unscientific observations have been famously quoted: “Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”
Whether the vitamin B, antioxidant xanthohumol and other minerals in your brew provide an actual health benefit or not, all can agree that the quality of local beers and the people that brew them play a welcome role in building communities, thereby keeping the love of beer flowing for centuries to come.
If you want to learn more about gatherings and activities like Seven Stages of Shakespeare or Sunday yoga at Throwback, drag bingo at To Share, kayaking to Vulgar Brewing Company or video game night at Feathered Friend, head to the New Hampshire Brewers Association website at nhbrewers.org. They have links to breweries across the state, providing information to community events, beer festivals and the best places near you to enjoy a delicious, local beer.