They say that nature makes wine, but only man can make beer. Now, I’m a big fan of beer, but not such a fan of man, and I’d like to say that I’m a fan of nature, but let’s be honest, sometimes nature does perplexing things, like leaving great piles of rocks where there ought to be a perfectly pleasant place to take a walk and, for example, have a beer or three.
New England is one of those places where man and nature collude to both provide vast quantities of beer–New Hampshire sells more packaged beer per capita than anyplace else in the US, very likely due largely to its Live Free of Tax or Die philosophy–and also vast quantities of rocks in the way of a perfectly good walk. Even on a perfectly pleasant day, you can be walking along the road when suddenly a great tor appears in your path, preventing you not only from enjoying the beer that you’re sure is just up the road, but also from enjoying a pleasant conversation, when all the air you can manage to suck down your gullet goes to powering you over the jagged piles of blister-forming granite.
At the end of every grueling rockbow, though, there ought to be a fountain of beer, and just 20 minutes down the road from Southern New England’s most-climbed peak (by people just trying to find a beer, maybe) is Brattleboro, Vermont, home to 1.5 breweries per capita.
McNeill’s Brewery of Elliot Street in Brattleboro is an unassuming pub two doors down from the bus station, which ought to tell you something about the clientele. Granted, we arrived at 7:30 on a Monday evening, but we walked in on some kind of art slam-slash-conspiracy theory-off, hosted by Pete, the friendliest dive-bar publican ever to pull a cellar-temperature pint from a cask engine in Southeastern Vermont, and presided over by the most terrifying taps this side of Hemingway’s wet bar.
It’s maddening to be forced to describe something as “eclectic,” so I’ll say that McNeill’s takes its interior design cues from diverse and occult sources, the tables under the gaze of brightly-colored Supers-men and Pops-eye, the bar under the unsettling gaze of the afore-alluded-to mountain lion (or perhaps golden puma, if such a thing exists), and the food-prep area startlingly close to a package of fireworks labeled “Genghis Khan.”
McNeill’s, in the great tradition of bars and brewpubs everywhere, also provides an assortment of boardgames (Simpsons Cluedo, which may have been smuggled across the border from Vichy Canada, if such a thing exists) and a scrapbook–laugh-out-loud funny, if Ariel’s reaction is any indicator–highlighting the many embarrassing foibles of Brattleboro’s local newspaper, which is apparently a confidence-building exercise for the brain damage wing of the local trauma center.
Pete was nice enough to pour us a number of unauthorized (and un-remunerated) samples, presumably because he knew how important a positive review from our blog would be in attracting cheap and easily-pleased drunks from across southern New England (or possibly the north-Mid Atlantic; I’m never sure about that).
McNeill’s Dead Horse IPA was a one-trick pony as poured from our cask. Despite the cellar-or-warmer temperature, it offered little beyond warm malt and faint hops on the nose, and almost nothing but a pleasing mouthfeel and plenty of bittering hops on the tongue.
The Kolsch was on the heavier side for the style, with sweet malt dominating, but without any of the crisp grains we often find in the style. The brew was somewhat under-hopped, but with a pleasant-enough drinkability and enough esters to be interesting.
The ESB was a good choice today, with some fruity hops and toasty malts on the nose, and more of the same on the tongue along with some estery yeast and plenty of bittering and flavor hops.
McNeill’s Summer is maybe an English IPA, estery and hoppy in the nose, the malt balanced with plenty of bittering and flavor hops, but light enough to quench the thirst on a summer day.
We didn’t eat at McNeill’s, having been warned off by a number of truly terrifying reviews, but as it turns out, it might be an okay place to have a snack. The menu board offers a number of bar snacks, and we did see a crock pot which was presumably holding either soup or possibly bottles of formula, either of which would probably be just fine after a few pints at the bar.
McNeill’s is a fine place to have a pint any night of the week–extrapolating from it being a fine place to have a pint on a Monday night–but you might want to think twice if you walk directly there from one of nature’s infuriatingly-there rock-piles, since cellar-temperature is remarkably similar to room-temperature, and it’s likely that a pint o’ peanuts is functionally bereft of the vast array of vitamins and/or minerals that you have sweated out in order to make the Granite State more Granite-y.