Finally, the Beer Bloggers’ Conference. No, wait, first let’s have lunch

For those of you just joining us, our intrepid beer bloggers slept the night away after a long exhausting day that had started with breakfast in Vermont and finished with a beer-themed dinner in Maine. As we pick up the action, the grey light of dawn has, errr… dawned.

Mid-morning found us heading south from Portland, retracing our steps back down the coastal interstate. Most of the bloggers we had met the night before were heading to Boston on a bus, but we were on our own.

Atlantic

The Atlantic rolls in…

As I mentioned yesterday, the Maine Turnpike has been carved through a forest, so your views are limited to trees. However, I longed to see the Atlantic. The motto of Canada is A Mari Usque Ad Mare (“From sea to sea”), and like all good Canadians, I’ve wanted to see the oceans on both sides of the continent. I’ve seen the Pacific many times, but I’ve never seen the the Atlantic crashing against rocky shores. So several miles down the Maine Turnpike, we exited and headed east. Eventually we found ourselves standing on the edge of the wild Atlantic on a suitably stormy day.

There was only one other person walking on the beach in the rain, and we asked her to take our picture.

Now, friends, if you ever ask me to take your picture, rest assured that I know you want it as a memento of that particular time and place, so I will always try to include a good portion of the background scenery in the frame.

couple

We will always remember this moment, you remember, at uhhh… you know… the place…

This is the what we got.

Yep, there we are, right… uh… Well, you have to imagine this part, but the Atlantic was behind us, see, and the waves were rolling dramatically up the shore.

It was, ooooh, breathtaking.

Our trip to the Atlantic suitably semi-memorialized, we headed back to the Maine Turnpike and wended our way south to Boston.

No, wait, not to Boston yet. First we had to stop for a final preconference lunch in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

I did not know this fact before our visit, but New Hampshire — which I thought was landlocked — has a small window on the ocean thanks to a narrow neck of land that squeezes between Maine and Massachusetts. There in 1630, English settlers landing on the north bank of the Piscataqua River found the riverbank covered with wild strawberries and gave their colony the rather precious name of “Strawbery Banke”. Fortunately the name was changed a few years later to the much more business-like “Portsmouth” (after the English city). Trade prospered until the 19th century, when the city fell on hard times. It is to the city’s credit that in the mid-1960s, when it would have been easy to knock down some old buildings, the decision was made to preserve the downtown. Thanks to that foresight, tourists now flock to the narrow cobblestone streets filled with beautiful 18th- and 19th-century buildings.

Portsmouth Brewery

The golden tankard says “beer” in every language on Earth

Of course those narrow streets make parking a bit of an issue, but we eventually found a spot.

Strolling along, we could easily see the Portsmouth Brewery from two blocks away — the huge golden tankard overflowing with foaming beer is a great signpost; it looked so good, we would have stopped there for lunch even if we weren’t already stopping there for lunch.

Signs directed us downstairs to the “Jimmy LaPanza Lounge”, which was already filled with beer bloggers — the bus from Portland had arrived minutes before us. The lounge, complete with a pair of tacky black velvet nudes overlooking the bar, has an ironic hipsterish feeling, like Tom Wolfe in his white suit describing a visit to a down-on-its-luck Las Vegas lounge bar in 1965.

port5

Two black velvet nudes overlook the hipsters gathered at the Jimmy LaPanza Lounge

Ironic or not, in short order I was trying the various beers on tap as the final touches were being made to a buffet lunch. I was especially taken with a strawberry-rhubarb Berliner Weiss — the rhubarb accentuated the natural sourness of the beer, the sweet strawberry gave it a wonderful balance. The “Gingah Ninja”, a ginger-infused creation, was also striking — it had been made by one of the brewers for his wedding, with a recipe that called for shredded ginger root to be added at the end of the boil.

There were also a number of Smuttynose Brewery beers on tap. We don’t often get Old Brown Dog or Robust Porter in Ontario, but when we do, they pretty well fly off the shelves.

Mash/lauter tun

Mash/lauter tun, without the spent grain chute attached

It turns out that Portsmouth Brewery and Smuttynose were related. Back in the day, you couldn’t own both a brewery and a brewpub, so the two operations were just friends, if you know what I mean. (Wink wink nudge nudge, say no more…) Now, the two breweries are a bit more open about their relationship.

Then the buffet was unveiled, and it was nothing but “OM NOM NOM” for a few minutes. And more beer. Let’s not forget the beer.

Once our tummies were full, it was time for a tour of the brewing facilities. Of course, like everything in downtown Portsmouth, the brewery, which includes a two-level restaurant and kitchen, is housed in a very old and narrow building.

kettle

Kettle, one floor below mash tun.

This means the brewhouse and fermentors have been shoe-horned into a very tight space on several levels.

Milled grain has to be augured up half a level to the the 9 hL mash/lauter tun.

(To remove spent grain, a metal chute is attached to the manway, and the grain is raked out and down the chute into containers one floor below, which are then picked up by an elk farmer.)

The wort is then pumped down to the kettle, half a level lower, for a 90-minute boil. During the boil, a fan helps remove steam from the kettle.

FVs

Not much room to move in Fermentor Valley.

Before the fan was added, there wasn’t enough draught up the chimney, so the back door had to be open so the kettle chimney would draw properly.

Apparently on cold January days, with the door wide open to the elements, it was necessary to watch the kettle boil while wearing a parka.

From the kettle, the wort is dropped down to the fermentors waiting in the basement.

Space in the fermentor farm is unbelievably tight. There are five fermentors there, two of them double batch, the other three even larger. For the life of me, I don’t know how they got the FVs into that space, let alone how they get cleaned.

cooler

Cooler: How someone gets in here to change a line is a mystery. Maybe they employ orphans.

The cooler for the finished beer holds twelve large Grundy tanks that act as kegs. It is, without a doubt, the most crowded cooler I have ever seen. I have no idea how they change a line or move a tank in or out, but the person who does it could probably teach Houdini a thing or two.

Back in the Jimmy LaPanza Lounge, it was time to wrap things up. However, the Portsmouth Brewery people had a special treat. A former brewmaster used to make a Russian Imperial Stout that patrons still ask for. Unfortunately the old brewmaster took the recipe with him when he left.

Royal Impy Stout

Royal Impy Stout. Rich, smooth, sweet, strong, bitter. Ask for it by name.

However, the present brewmaster had just come up with a new recipe, and the result, “Royal Impy Stout”, had been bottled but not yet released. The brewery generously popped the top on a few bottles. Mmmm. A rich sweet, strong bitter chocolate taste with big smooth body. A perfect way to end the meal.

The label is a curious thing, featuring a vintage photograph of what looks to be a vaudeville act called the “Royal Russian Midgets”. Luckily I was able to get one to add to my collection.

Elaine and I would have liked to have spent more time exploring Portsmouth’s charming downtown, but Mickey’s little hand was pointed at the “1”, so it was time to get on the road to Boston. Yes, the beer bloggers’ conference was about to start.

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