Portsmouth has long been known for its young, hip atmosphere and nightlife, so it takes creativity to stand out. Two new establishments are creating a buzz with beer: Earth Eagle Brewings, a nanobrewery with a tasting room that hung out its shingle in November on High Street; and Portsmouth Book and Bar, a used bookstore with a restaurant and bar, which opened on Pleasant Street in December.
While combining a bookstore and bar may be novel for Portsmouth, it’s nothing new for John Petrovato and his business partners, Jon Strymish and David Lovelace. The trio opened Montagne Book Mill 15 years ago in western Massachusetts, and it is still running. Petrovato also owns Raven’s Used Books in Cambridge and Boston, which he says had its best year ever in 2012. Still, the bookstore business is difficult. “I probably wouldn’t have come to Portsmouth and just opened a bookstore because rents are very high here and the bookstore market is a little bit smaller than it used to be,” Petrovato says. “Having the other revenue streams helps us be able to do this.”
Portsmouth Book and Bar, which employs 12 people, stocks more than 15,000 used books that sell for 50 to 80 percent off the cover price. While perusing books, patrons can also enjoy a meal and select from eight bottled beers and a dozen wines. Petrovato says it will take years to recoup the upfront investment, but initial book sales are better than expected. The store sold more than 4,000 books in December, according to its Facebook page on Jan. 4.
New Hampshire has more than its fair share of brewpubs and breweries, and while microbrews have been de rigueur, nanobrews have become the latest trend. Earth Eagle Brewings turned a hobby into a business, offering a tasting room that’s become standing room only. “We were trying to figure out how could we get into the game for the smallest amount of money. That’s where the tasting room idea came up,” says Butch Heilshorn, who co-owns the brewery with Alexander McDonald, co-owner of A & G Homebrew Supply in Portsmouth, where Earth Eagle Brewings is located.
The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday. Heilshorn and McDonald aim to have six beers on tap, and Heilshorn says the 20-person capacity room is often full. The nanobrewery has one 31-gallon barrel for brewing. The beer costs $1 for a 4-ounce taste, the size allowed by law, but they are working on legislative efforts to increase that.
Customers can buy the take-home version in either 32- or 64-oz. growlers (jugs). Heilshorn says the pair had been home brewing for a few years. One thing that makes their beer unique is that some varieties are brewed with herbs called gruits, instead of hops, the traditional ingredient. “It’s almost like people don’t think it’s beer without hops in it, but for centuries no beer had hops,” he says. To learn more, visit eartheaglebrewings.blogspot.com or Portsmouth Book and Bar on Facebook.