New Hampshire’s Original Craft Brewery Celebrates 30 Years

The Portsmouth Brewery credits its longevity to a community-minded approach and an ability to innovate

[Normally we jettison all press releases for being irrelevant, unreadable, or ads in disguise. Frequently they meet all three of these criteria. We are pleased to publish this—an exception on all counts. Longtime readers will know that the Portsmouth Brewery played a critical role in supporting this newspaper for many years. We send our heartfelt congratulations and sincere thanks to Peter, Joanne, Maxine, and the entire staff of the Brewery, current and former, on this auspicious occasion. — The Ed.]

Portsmouth Brewery co-owners Peter Egelston and Joanne Francis, along with Head Brewer Maxine Munsey. Photo by Scott Kaplan.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire—The Portsmouth Brewery, New Hampshire’s first licensed craft brewery, is raising a pint to its 30th anniversary. The brewpub created the foundation for an industry that exploded during the last decade. The Portsmouth Brewery continues to develop some of the most interesting craft beers in the region and is a top rated destination on the Seacoast for both locals and tourists. Co-founder Peter Egelston looks back to 1991 and says at the time, Portsmouth was a gritty seaside town with lots of potential: “My sister, Janet, and I started looking for a second location shortly after we opened the Northampton Brewery in Massachusetts in 1987. After two years of frustration, we stumbled across Portsmouth and knew immediately that it was where we were meant to be all along. We hired a local architect and contractor for the challenging task of designing and building a restaurant and brewery in the historic downtown space we’d purchased. Because brewing beer on premise was something most people had never heard of at the time, we put our brewhouse in the dining room behind glass, visible to our guests.”

Egelston credits a desire to remain true to their principles as a factor in the Brewery’s success: “We are first and foremost a public house, in the truest sense of the word—a place of public gathering for people of all ages and persuasions. We have always strived to set deep roots in our community, to source quality ingredients, to make as much as we can by hand, to use sustainable practices and to encourage our brewers to be creative and original.”

Egelston says he is proud that the Brewery’s small brewhouse has launched the careers of many brewers. Head Brewer Maxine Munsey says “It’s an exciting place to be; to evolve and adapt while maintaining the familiarity that people have grown to love and expect. That’s true in the brewhouse, the kitchen and in the front of the house.”

Egelston’s partner, Joanne Francis, helped provide the creative design sensibility that has become iconic. “We serve all types”—the motto she coined before the Brewery even opened its doors, continues to guide the company. Thirty years ago Francis would hunt for antique photos and prints that provided a vintage feel for the Brewery’s branding, in addition to working with talented local artists like Dan Gair and Dan Blakeslee. Says Francis, “Working for a brewery/restaurant was an opportunity to have extra fun. We were all young and full of beans and definitely pushed the envelope—but it worked! Our style has always been offbeat yet accessible, which speaks to our personalities and our desire to create a friendly experience, where it’s not just the great beer, food, and atmosphere, but a place to make lifelong connections, too.”

The Portsmouth Brewery also pushed the envelope on its menu from the get-go: offering vegetarian items, which was a breakout concept for a brewpub at the time.

Folks that were 21 years old when the Brewery opened are now in their 50s and they still gather at the bar, sometimes with their own adult children, and feel the camaraderie they experienced when it was the only craft brewery in the state. Seacoast restaurateur Michael Landgarten says the fact that beer was being brewed in the restaurant was very new for the area: “Glass enclosed tanks! The art was outrageous and fabulous. The room was alive. The beer—a revelation. The menu was fun and had healthy and vegetarian options. They set a new standard in town for what could be. Along the way they became an institution, a cornerstone, due in large part to the courage, imagination and values of the owners Peter and Joanne. Community leaders in every sense. I got to know them when we began Taste of the Nation together in the mid 90’s. Restaurateurs fighting hunger locally together. We had raucous, purposeful meetings at the Brewery. There was no more fitting place. But my fondest memory is playing in bands in the downstairs bar. I had a cover band and a serious Elvis impersonator named George wearing a rhinestone studded white body suit would jump on stage and belt out Viva Las Vegas to a howling crowd. It was non-stop fun down there. Thank you Peter and Joanne and congratulations on 30 wonderful years. The Portsmouth Brewery has been a gift to us all.”

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