Liars Bench Beer Co. old-school brewing at its finest
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — The honest truth about brand-new Liars Bench Beer Co. is that it’s one of the few places in America you can enjoy deliciously genteel and old-fashioned English-style India pale ale.
We savored by happenstance a sip of the soft, full-flavored but delicately balanced IPA right out of the conditioning tank last weekend. The public enjoyed it for the first time yesterday in the brewery tap room.
“It’s definitely not an American IPA,” said beer maker Dane Nielsen, 29, who opened the brewery Memorial Day weekend with his former UNH roommate Dagan Migirditch. “Everything about it is as traditional as possible.”
We were turned on to Liars Bench on a recent Friday night by Matt Louis, the celebrated chef-owner (and veteran of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry) behind popular Portsmouth eateries Moxy and Franklin Oyster House. Migirditch was Franklin’s GM until this week.
The next day at the brewery, I lamented to Nielsen and Migirditch the fact that traditional English IPAs — English malts and hops, mid-range alcohol and bitterness, tea-like delicacy on the palate — have all but disappeared from the United States.
Nielsen raced back into the brewhouse and emerged with samples of Fug Life IPA, made with English Maris Otter malts; the earthy accent of England signature Fuggles hops; and a gentlemanly, by today’s standards, 45 bitter units and 5.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Real India pale ale, in other words. The kind British traders shipped to India in the 19th century, stronger and more highly hopped than ordinary pale ale to survive the voyage.
It’s a shockingly different experience compared to brash domestic IPA and its countless derivatives — extra, double, imperial, etc. — meant to hammer people over the head with citrus-forward American-grown hops and, usually, loads of alcohol, too. They’re IPAs in name only.
“I approach beer simply but precisely,” said Nielsen, who most recently brewed at San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewing Co. “I’m looking for specific characteristics in each beer, but in general want beers you can sit around and enjoy five if you want, beers in the lower ABV range.”
He displays deft traditional touch, too, in his John Grady Koelsch, with the flaky-biscuit pilsner malt of the golden-ale style made famous in Cologne, gently accented only with German Hersbrucker hops. Nielsen flexes his creative muscles with Hai Ikki, a sake-inspired rice saison that showcases light body and the fruity by-products of a traditional French farmhouse yeast.
The flavors may be global, but the Liars Bench motif is deeply rooted in rural American tradition — one meant to inspire convivial conversation and even a few beer-fueled tall tales.
“Liars Bench is an old Americana term,” said Migirditch, citing the plank-and-tree-stump seating areas found along the Appalachian Trail. “It’s a sort of a gathering place where people tell stories for the purpose of entertainment. That to us is the essence of the bar.”
Added Nielsen: “It’s a care-free atmosphere and judgment-free zone where people can embellish stories and hopefully enjoy some great beer, too.”
Liars Bench Beer Co., 459 Islington St. No. 4, Portsmouth, N.H., www.liarsbenchbeer.com.