With this little brewpub just a block or so off the water, you'd have to be a damned fool to wait on line overnight outside its doors on the first week of March. The New England beer community is full of damned fools, but they know a great beer when they taste it and have no problem bundling up for a taste or a bottle of Kate The Great Russian Imperial Stout on Kate The Great Day. Portsmouth Brewery's not bad the rest of the year either. Far smaller than the neighboring Redhook Brewery's beer Disneyland and less time-consuming than sister brewery Smuttynose's facility tour, Portsmouth Brewery was the state's first brewpub when it opened in 1991 and retains that small start-up feel. While its beers on tap usually aren't as strong as the 12% ABV Kate The Great, favorites such as its 5% ABV Black Cat Stout and Wit work just fine with the $1 tacos, $2 grilled hot dogs or beer-steamed tamales in the downstairs lounge.
The Ship Inn
New Jersey doesn't have a whole lot of brewpubs (or breweries), and the ones it has are either chains or holdovers from the initial craft beer boom of the mid- to late 1990s. Those in the latter category tend to be among the best in the state, if not the most adventurous, simply because they've been honing their brews for nearly two decades. The Ship Inn in Jersey's tony, moneyed Far Hills region was New Jersey's first brewpub when it opened in 1995 and has been brewing and pouring its English-style Porter, Extra Special Bitter and IPA ever since. Its porters do much of the heavy lifting, with Chocolate, Honey Blackout and the potent Randy's Panhead variations darkening most Ship Pints. The Victorian exterior, nautical-themed interior and Anglophile menu of Stilton potato skins, fish and chips, shepherd's pie and sirloin with Yorkshire pudding overload the senses a bit, but the back deck overlooking Harehokake Creek is a fine place for unwinding with a pint of ESB.
Chama River Brewing
Were Breaking Bad a more spot-on depiction of Albuquerque, Walter White's former boss would have run a brewpub instead of a fast food chicken franchise. Like White, ABQ brewpubs don't do half measures, as evidenced by the copper-clad, steak-serving surroundings of Chama River's brewing facilities. Lobster-basil mashed potatoes, truffled blue cheese fries, green chile and ale fondue, red chile braised duck legs and a 12-ounce ribeye are all privileged departures from standard pub fare, but not unsuited to the items on tap. Chama River's 3 Dog Night Baltic Style Porter, Sleeping Dog Oatmeal Stout and its Herbal Joe's Columbarillo IPA all won gold at the Great American Beer Festival. In the brewpub world, that's worth a steak dinner.
Southern Tier Brewing
It's tough to go wrong in a state with more than 100 breweries and dozens of brewpubs, but Southern Tier stacks the deck by pouring its 8.6% ABV Pumpking Imperial Pumpkin Ale, 9.5% ABV Unearthly Imperial IPA, 9% Iniquity Imperial Black Ale and 9.5% Creme Brulee Imperial Milk Stout every day at its Empty Pint brewpub. While Southern Tier's brews are fine at the end of a brewery tour or with a hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwich, they're all typically heavy hitters that should be approached with caution. This is a brewery that considers its 8.2% ABV 2XIPA and 7.5% ABV 2XStout "standard" and has dubbed its 5.8% ABV 422 pale ale a "session ale." Have the cabs waiting after that session.
This is a tough call in a state where you can throw a dart at a map of Asheville, Greensboro or Raleigh-Durham and find a great brewpub within a block of anywhere you land. All of those towns make strong arguments and are a big reason why New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues are opening up East Coast operations in this state, but few have brewpubs that get the pub part of that concept as well as Foothills does. Its tap list is anchored by an incredibly hoppy Hoppymum IPA that is pungent as a double IPA twice its size, a light and refreshing Carolina Strawberry cream ale and a slate of seasonals including Sexual Chocolate, a 9.75% ABV, cocoa-infused imperial stout with notes of espresso, molasses, toffee and dark fruit. They're all great partners for house-fried potato chips and dip, ale-battered fried mushroom, pickles and fish, beer brats or a Hills Pie Pizza topped with andouille sausage, peperoni, mushrooms, bell peppers, provolone and mozzarella. Whether you're dropping in for a flight of brews or are a mug-club member, Foothills' big-tent menus don't disappoint.