A spirited holiday

A new crop of Seacoast brewers and distillers have opened just in time to make winter a little warmer.

We’re going to go out on a limb here and predict that at nearly every Yankee Swap, there’s at least one bottle of booze. It’s easy. It’s under the price limit. You don’t have to wrap it. A crop of new Seacoast brewers and distillers are making beers, ciders, and spirits that will make you the hero of every Yankee Swap this season.

Embrace the crowler

If it’s cool packaging you’re after, Garrison City Beerworks in downtown Dover is promoting itself as the first brewery in New Hampshire to sell its beer in “crowlers” – a hybrid of a can and a growler. In addition to playing off the popularity of canned beers, the 32-ounce vessels block out light, extending the shelf life. There’s also the added bonus of eliminating the need for a deposit — a plus when gifting beer.

The microbrewery opened at 455 Central Ave. on Dec. 13 in the former Déjà vu consignment shop. The beers are created by head brewer Gabe Rogers, who owns Yeastern Homebrew Supply, located next door. Rogers met Mike Nadeau, his partner in the brewery, when Nadeau took an interest in home brewing. “I would come in (to Yeastern) and he kind of took me under his wing,” Nadeau said.

Rogers describes the beer selection as “hop-forward.” The brewery launched with four beers on tap: Galaxy Pale Ale and Citra Amarillo, two dry-hopped pale ales; Crowbar, a robust porter; and 4 Bale Fire, an American IPA. The brewery features a bar and tables for tastings, with glass doors leading into the brewery itself so you can watch while you sip.

Cold and crisp


Hard cider. No hangover. It’s a benefit so grand it could probably be North Country Hard Cider’s tagline.

To be clear, founder Silas Gordon said, cider isn’t actually an end to hangovers. But, with no added sulfites, artificial sweeteners, or flavorings, he said, his cider drinks cleaner than mass-produced alternatives, and the result is a milder hangover.

In fact, that’s how he got started making the cider in the first place. “I don’t do well with sulfites. Whenever I drink something with sulfites in it, I always get headaches,” Gordon said.

With the help of his brother Ivan and long-time best friend Ron Dixon, Gordon set about making something “that we liked and that actually tasted like apples.”

They started with one gallon, then five, then eventually 55 gallons, all while slowly taking over Dixon’s garage and basement.

They avoid using sulfites through a process called “cold crashing.” Typically, when cider is fermenting, additives are used to stop the fermentation process before the yeast can eat through the sugar. Cold crashing uses temperature to stop the process.

When they were basement brewing, the group cooled the cider like true Yankees — by opening a window. This fall, the Gordon brothers and Dixon converted a space in the Lower Mill in Rollinsford into a full-fledged cider brewery and tasting room, complete with a glycol thermostat that allows them to keep their windows closed.

Because North Country Hard Cider uses a variety of apples — both cider and more traditional apples for eating — no two batches are exactly the same. The apples are mainly from Cooper Farm in West Paris, Maine, and Applecrest Farm in Hampton Falls.

They sell 32-ounce and 64-ounce growlers, along with four-packs of bottles. Be sure to hang out at the handcrafted western cedar bar. The Gordon brothers are carpenters by trade and worked on nearly every element used in the business, from the restored vintage cider press to the tables and chairs in the tasting room.

North Country Hard Cider is located in the Lower Mill of Salmon Falls Mills at 3 Front St. in Rollinsford. The unit is #160, but look for a green door on the side of the mill near the river.

A white (Christmas) rum

When Matt Witham talks about distilling, his knowledge is almost encyclopedic. He rattles off facts about distilling, the history of gin (the crack-cocaine of London in the 1700s) and the various uses for black-strap molasses (paving road, among others) without pausing.

But, until his neighbor, John Pantelakos, asked him to help put together a still, he never worked in the distillery business or even at a brewery. Taken by his hard work ethic and thirst for knowledge, Pantelakos asked him to be his distiller at Tall Ship Distillery, a newly-opened rum distillery in Dover.When Matt Witham talks about distilling, his knowledge is almost encyclopedic. He rattles off facts about distilling, the history of gin (“the crack-cocaine” of London in the 1700s) and the various uses for black-strap molasses (paving road, among others) without pausing.

“I get to tell everybody I have the coolest job in town,” Witham said.

Pantelakos’ own entry into the booze business was fairly sudden. After years of operating a pavement sealing business, he was ready for a change of pace. While on a Caribbean cruise, he met a rum distiller and decided to go home and research the laws to see if he could do it.

Success for me would be for people to ask for it by name. 

His days are still long — his wife once had to show up to tell him to come home — but he doesn’t stop smiling while talking about what he does. It’s not about money; he said, it’s about creating a product he can be proud of, and hopefully a future for his 5-year-old grandson Aiden.

“Success for me would be for people to ask for it by name,” Pantelakos said.

Currently, Tall Ship has one product, a white rum. It’s distilled using a copper still welded by Pantelakos — a symbol of how he has created his business. Tall Ship hopes to bottle a spiced rum using a recipe they created with orange, cinnamon, and cloves, among other ingredients. They also plan to add a second still and eventually create lines of whiskey, vodka, and gin.

Tall Ship Distillery sells its rum at its distillery at 32 Crosby Road, Unit 5. It is also available at various New Hampshire State Liquor Stores and at the bar at 7th Settlement Brewery in Dover.