Since opening in November of 2012, Portsmouth-based Earth Eagle Brewings has developed a style just as unique as the city in which they reside.
I recently sat down with co-owners Butch Heilshorn and Alex McDonald (along with a pour of Lemon Ed, a pale gruit) to talk inspiration, brewing philosophy and what makes their beer interesting.
While their most popular seller is unsurprisingly, an IPA, EEB is no stranger to cooking up unusual styles. In their three years in business, they’ve rotated around 300 different beers through their taps.
“That’s what I think people enjoy about coming in here,” said McDonald. “Things change so fast, that if we put a tap list up on Facebook or our website, there’s a good chance that when someone comes in, there’s one beer that isn’t going to be there, or there’s a new beer in it’s place.”
EEB typically has three taps of more known, traditional styles and three additional taps of gruits or more experimental beers. For those who are unaware, gruit is a style of brew that uses an herbal mixture as a flavoring or bittering agent in place of hops. Traditionally, gruits were common pre-16th century, but have slowly come back onto the scene since the microbrew resurgence that began in the 1990s.
“That’s something we’ve enjoyed a lot,” said McDonald. “Recreating these historical beers.”
When I visited EEB, their gruits included ingredients such as mugwort, dandelion root, wood betony, California poppy, lungwort, yarrow, lemon verbena and juniper berries. Earth Eagle has so many gruits on tap and in rotation, that Heilshorn believes they are the only brewery in the world with so many gruits on at one time.
Aside from gruits, Earth Eagle has also experimented with meat beer. Their craziest ingredient? Moose head.
“Meat beer was a thing back in the 1500s,” explained McDonald. “People created beef stouts, primarily for infirmed individuals who couldn’t really eat meat, so they drank it.” Aside from moose, they’ve developed brews from bones, marrow and heads of bear, chicken, beef and boar.
“I think there’s a balance of art and science brewers must have, and I think I’m heavier on the art and intuitive part,” says Heilshorn, when asked about EEB’s brewing philosophy.
“I’m definitely more on the science side of things,” adds McDonald. “I research a style of beer, and try to find more current beer that fits within that style.”
Sitting in EEB’s brew pub on a Thursday afternoon, it’s clear they have something good happening. Their unique set-up is full of individuals coming in for lunch, milling around and trying new taps.
When asked about the future of brewing and upcoming tap trends, Heilshorn and McDonald had an interesting take.
“We’re less interested in what style trends are, and more interested in keeping ourselves amused and interested,” said Heilshorn. “Because, if we stay interested and excited, I think our clientele will feel that way.”
“We’re not just a one-trick pony,” adds McDonald. “We just want to keep Portsmouth real.”
Photography by Marc Checket