Before it became a New England tourism phenomenon, driving around the countryside ‘peeping’ at things might have been considered disturbing if not criminal. Greeted by some locals with mock shrieks of horror when they notice the first leaf turn a slight hue of auburn, orange, or yellow, "leaf peeping" is big business from Western Massachusetts to the Maine coast. If you decide to join the peeping throngs, you may need a few pints to fortify yourself along the way.
Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse, The Norwich Inn, Norwich, Vermont
A throwback to the days when innkeepers were responsible for supplying their guests with quality meals and fortifying victuals, the beautiful 27-room Victorian manse is not your typical small town hotel. The inn has long been the labor of the love of owners Sally and Tim Wilson. For fifteen years, they have painstakingly restored and cared for this architectural gem. The once-lost flourishes have been recovered, and every inch has been scraped and repainted. The Wilson’s even replaced the inn’s signature towers, which were unbelievably removed by prior owners.
If you love history, thoughtfully prepared cuisine, classic, flavorful beers, or any combination thereof, the Norwich Inn is simply not to be missed. In 1993, the Wilson’s revived another old-inn keeping tradition by brewing and serving beer for their guests. The brewery produces a line of English-style ales under the Jasper Murdock brand, in a nod to the man who built the original Norwich Inn. The beers ferment and condition in the brewhouse before being pumped underground to the Alehouse pub across the way.
Among inn regulars, there remains some concern about the future and quality of brewing operations after the announcement of its recent sale. The new owners plan to maintain the brewing operations and Tim has agreed to stay on for a few months to ease the transition. While I’ll miss Tim and Sally, I hope to enjoy their legacy in the form of many easy drinking, session ales in the future.
Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery North Woodstock, New Hampshire
Along the leaf peeping trail in northern New Hampshire is another 100-year-old inn with its own brewery. Woodstock’s inn takes its names from the Lincoln Railroad Station, which stands behind the inn. From its earliest days in the 1800s, the station welcomed tourists headed for local luxury resorts and later on ski vacations to the nearby slopes. When the owners heard their customers start asking for Sam Adams and various imported brands instead of Budweiser, they asked bartender Butch Chase if he would be willing to run a new brewpub annex to the inn. While he admits he was "thrown to the wolves a little bit" due to his complete lack of brewing experience, Chase took up the challenge and continues to oversee the brewing operations here.
While many visitors flock to the popular upstairs lounge, many miss the inn’s true hidden gem downstairs. With its low ceiling, stained woods, and peanut shell encrusted floors, the lower bar area is a warm, welcoming, and refreshingly tranquil place to enjoy a pint. The bar flanks the brewhouse, which runs the length of the room and is open to public view through a glass partition. Due to the space’s compact nature, the lower bar area feels a little bit like one of those display rooms you sometimes see recreated in history museums. Take the patrons out and put in old west cowboys and the scene could be an exhibit, and I love that. Far from your average dry-walled pub, the Woodstock’s back bar manages to affect a backwoods, rustic feel without tripping over into kitschy.
Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Company, North Conway, New Hampshire
Located in the outdoor wonderland of the White Mountains, Moat Mountain is surrounded by attractive foliage during the fall season. From the first moment you open the doors at the brewpub, the wonderful smell of barbecue gently floats through the air. The atmosphere fits its natural surroundings, with the bar and dining rooms mainly populated by skiers and vacationers enjoying a casual evening out. With worn floors, a rugged slab bar, and several small dining rooms, Moat Mountain is a very comfortable place for a meal and some drinks.
Friendly brewer Wil Gilson has been here from the very beginning, helping to renovate the old building. In contrast to many other New England brewers, Gilson brings a decided German touch to Moat Mountain’s beer menu. Applying his German major from college, Gilson attended the prestigious Weihenstephan brewing school before taking his first professional brewing job at the Squatters Pub Brewery in Utah. His brewing also remains very traditional in its approach to the production of lager beer. When you combine its friendly atmosphere, plenty of barbecued foods, a passion for quality lagers, and foliage you can see from the pub’s own windows, Moat Mountain is a grand seasonal destination.