If you drive along Route 4 in Epsom, you may notice a varnished wooden sign with a pine tree logo beckoning you to Blasty Bough Brewing Company. Turn past that sign and travel a mile or so down the road, and you’ll find a rustic red barn with a porch and greenhouse, surrounded by trees, fields and plants.
While it feels a world away from the bustle of Route 4, the brewery that opened in 2018 is home to a beer named after the iconic route. For the latest installment of NHPR’s summer series exploring Route 4, NHPR’s All Things Considered Host Peter Biello and intern Alli Fam did their due diligence by seeking out a taste and a tour from owner Dave Stewart.
Stewart is 59 years old and has owned the land where the brewery now sits for decades. For years, he used the land for farming, but he was losing money — so he decided to switch his focus from food to beer.
It was a natural shift: Stewart’s been home brewing since the eighties and takes joy in the process.
“It’s kind of one of those things that lights up a bunch of places in your brain,” he says. “I was a biology undergraduate, so the science of it appealed to me. There's a culinary aspect to it, which is fun, figuring out what things might go together. There’s a community aspect to it, and a tavern is a natural center for community.”
These days, Stewart grows most of the ingredients for his beer on his farm — even the hops, some of which grow wild in New Hampshire. He says you can find wild hops in New Hampshire, if you know where to look.
“They love to climb up the wires that are supporting telephone poles,” he says. “There was one on Route 106. So yeah, you just find them.”
And once Stewart finds them, he transplants them here. Some Fuggle hops curl around the beams of Stewart's porch. Not far from where those hops climb, in a room behind the bar, they are added to the beer.
If you’re quiet you can actually hear the “blurp, blurp, blurp” of yeast turning sugars into alcohol and emitting carbon dioxide through an airlock. That yeast also comes from this farm, too. In fact, the only ingredient that doesn’t come from here is the barley.
But Stewart says he’s going to change that.
“All four things will be from here,” he says. “And the tagline is going to be more Epsom-y than ever.”
That fourth thing — in addition to the yeast, barley and hops — is water, which is pumped from underground.
So why make a beer named after Route 4? For one, it’s a highway Stewart knows well. He grew up in Durham and traveled it often, and he can easily recall the landmarks along the way: “You’d hit the Lee traffic circle first, you’d cruise along, and then you’d end up going by Johnsons, see a couple of lakes, and end up at the Trojan Horse.”
At the bar, we’re given a sample of the Rhute Fo-ah — its spelling is a nod to the rhubarb in the beer, which grows wild along the highway and at the farm. We can’t come up with a description that will do it justice, so we turn to Ed Burton, who’s also drinking the same thing.
“I’m drinkin’ the Rhute Fo-ah, which is a rhubarb beer,” Burton explains. “[It’s] got a cascade hop, Chinook. You can taste an orange peel type flavor. Got a little resonance backbone to it.”
Though Burton lives in Massachusetts, he passes through the area so often for business that he’s become a Blasty Bough regular. Another regular from somewhere more local is BJ Entwistle, from Canterbury. She’s a big fan of the musical guests that occasionally visit the gathering space upstairs above the bar.
“They started with just musical things originally,” Entwistle says, holding a brown paper bag with beer she just bought for the weekend. “So I came for some of those, and those are wonderful, small venue, acoustics, no amplification, great community. And the beer came second.”
Stewart, the owner, says he gets a lot of travelers thanks to his location and alluring signage. The brewery is down the road from a collection of trendy cabins called Getaway, which attracts a lot of folks from the greater Boston area.
“It’s pretty easy to tell they’re not from here. Very well dressed or they’re young professionals. So folks will say, oh are you staying at the getaway… yeah yeah we’re from Somerville, up here for a couple of days, and from there, discussions will ensue.”
We can see this dynamic playing out between customers at the bar. Ed, the contractor, chats with a guy named Dan, an electrician from Baltimore. Ed’s daughter sits nearby, and at her feet is her service dog, a Great Dane named George. Across the room is a couple who’s vacationing in town from Haverhill, Mass. Everyone’s talking, drinking and enjoying the evening.
At Blasty Bough, community means whoever comes in — both locals and folks from away.