The Summer road trip is an American tradition: load the car with a case of jerky, six pairs of socks, and however many loved ones you still have room for, and hit the road (along with a hundred thousand other meat-addled iron-jockeys). As we discovered today, though, the secret to a high-speed, low-odor road trip is threefold:
- Swap the jerky for dried pineapple;
- Also bring six pairs of underpants;
- Leave at 7:30 on Sunday morning.
It turns out you don’t need to wave your passport at each sign welcoming you to a new state, which is just as well when you blow past Connecticut at 75mph and it winds up plastered to the windshield of the motor home behind you, eventually swiped onto the shoulder by six-foot-long windshield wipers. This road trip, thankfully, shouldn’t take us across the heavily-defended border with our neighbor to the north (where I understand it’s winter right now and the beer swirls counter-clockwise out of the tap handles), so I don’t expect any further problems with border control.
After more than two hundred minutes of mind-numbing Interstate (and a ten-minute detour through Northampton, where blue laws evidently prevent ice cream sales before noon on the Lord’s Day), we arrived not at beautiful downtown Keene, home to Keene State College and a cleaner class of facially-pierced college student, but at the Elm City Brewing Company, where we were offered a variety of beers and meats, but still no ice cream.
Ariel tells me the inside of the restaurant was attractive and, inexplicably, carpeted, which sounds to me like either a great way to hide spills or a great way to culture mold, but I only experienced the outdoor patio, which was furnished with homey patio furniture (and some pretty swanky swinging booths). We also appreciated the array of board game cards on the table (Trivial Pursuit; Fact or Crap [the answer was “Crap”]).
Lunch was beer, four kinds, with salad kickers. The maple-balsamic vinaigrette was sweet-and-sour and thick enough to coat the leafy-green dressing vehicle (spinach and arugula, quite fresh). Ariel’s salad was walnuts and chicken, mine was coffee-rubbed steak and cocoa-dusted almonds. Each was studded with cubes of funky-sharp Vermont cheddar. Winners on both sides, although the steak was a bit over-done (but not for Ariel, for whom charcoal could still use a few more minutes on the fire).
The Kolsch was sweet malt and grain on the nose, with fruity esters coming in behind. The flavors repeated on the tongue, with a big grainy hit followed by some esters and just enough bitter hops to balance. A nice, easy-drinking brew for a hot day.
The Hefeweizen smelled of bread and banana, without any of the spicy clove aromas hefes usually feature. The body was thin, and the sweet malt and banana esters dominated the flavor. Another easy drinker, although I would have liked a little more spice from the yeast. This one might get tiring on the palate after a few.
The Lunch Pale was the winner among the bunch, with more sweet malt joining with citrusy hops on the nose, followed by the taste of bread and plenty of fruity esters, and just a hint of diacetyl. The brew was well-balanced, with the hop aroma complemented with a strong hit of bitterness. I ordered, and quickly drank, a pint of this beer.
Elm City’s Munich Dunkel was a pleasant brew, but we agreed that we probably wouldn’t want a whole pint of it. The aroma matched the taste: chocolate and vanilla, heavy malt sweetness without being cloying, and light enough that fans of sweeter beers might want to give this a try.
None of Elm City’s brews was exceptional, although all were serviceable, and certainly better than some brewpubs we’ve tried. The food was fresher and the service more pleasant than most, and the quality of the dogs on the patio can’t be beat. It’s certainly worth a visit if you’re passing through southern New Hampshire and have run out of dried pineapple (or underpants).