BrewReview: Moat Mountain Brewing Company
By Brandon Lawrence
BeerSeeker on the job: Brandon
We started this BeerSighted enterprise back in February, obviously not knowing about the challenges ahead that would affect the entire world.
We’ve said from the beginning that our mission is to be a “first impression” for craft beer fans who are seeking out new breweries to try. And quite frankly our timing couldn’t have been worse, as breweries and small businesses everywhere were forced to shut down to keep everyone safe.
So we pivoted our focus to doing online interviews with industry professionals until things began to settle, and the first brewery that was willing to jump on a Zoom call with us was Moat Mountain. We had such a great chat with owner Stephen Johnson that we vowed we’d be up for an in-person visit as soon as possible to round out the experience and drink some beer.
A few weekends ago I was headed up to North Conway for a fall outing and figured it was the perfect time to stop in at Moat Mountain.
The brewery and smokehouse (which opened in 2000) has spent 20 years contributing to the lore of a beautiful and fascinating New England town that also includes amazing mountains (for hiking in the summer and fall and skiing in the winter), the Conway Scenic Railroad and the New England Ski Museum, just to name a few of the attractions. Which in part explains Moat’s immense popularity among both locals and tourists (I drove around the parking lot four times before a spot opened up).
My girlfriend and I stayed for a while, had dinner and eventually met up with Stephen, once he was available, and his wife Hannah, who has helped immensely in keeping us connected with Moat Mountain over the last few months.
This visit was a long time coming for us, so let’s dive in!
Moat Mountain is situated right off Route 16/White Mountain Highway, so it’s a can’t-miss location. The large, yellow building looks more like an oversized house and is one of the most historic buildings in North Conway. This is where the brewpub is located, although in 2013 Moat Mountain opened a second location nearby as a cannery.
The inside can be almost maze-like, as one room flows into another and then another. There’s a large horseshoe bar in the room right next to the entrance (where they sell to-go cans and tons of merch). And because it’s also a popular restaurant, there are several rooms dedicated to guest dining, where the staff has done a great job maintaining safe social distancing practices even when faced with at-capacity crowds.
Moat also set up a large tent to the side of the building for customers when outdoor seating was first allowed by the state of New Hampshire.
There’s so much about Moat Mountain’s setup that fits its style perfectly. Many breweries these days take advantage of warehouses, mills and larger, more modern spaces to house their equipment and largely industrial-themed taprooms. Not Moat Mountain.
Moat has been in the craft-beer game for two decades - well before the craft boom turned into what it is today. So it’s fitting that this building is cozy, appears smaller and is on the older side; it’s a setup that reminds you of quaint restaurants you’d visit with your family back in the day. It’s ideal for a beautiful, historic New Hampshire town.
Before I can even get to the beer, I have to mention the food. Since it’s a smokehouse, I ordered the brisket with garlic mashed potatoes and coleslaw. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one of the best meals I’ve had. While still trying to save room for the beer, I also had some brussel sprouts and a taste of my girlfriend’s burger. It was all incredible.
Okay, now let’s switch it up:
Stephen told us originally that Moat Mountain’s focus was to bring what he said was an underrepresented beer category - central European and Bavarian styles - to the forefront in the states.
Since we at BeerSighted have been able to partner with Moat Mountain on a few other projects, we’ve been fortunate enough to try a wide variety of their brews prior to this visit. So my focus on this trip was to go for ones I had never had before, which was still a surprising number of them on the menu - a testament to the brewing staff for having both quality AND quantity.
By the end of the night, after having a few drinks with Stephen and Hannah and realizing I wanted to try a couple more on the menu without dedicating my entire Sunday to recovery, I ended up with some small sample glasses of experimental porters and stouts. I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
Between the four of us at BeerSighted, we’ve had more than our fair share of Moat Mountain brews, and will continue to stock our fridges with their cans any chance we get.
The picks below are my own and are strictly from this visit. But I urge everyone, if possible, to get their hands on Moat Mountain’s 20th Anniversary Double IPA. It’s without question my favorite of their beers, and was a limited release over the summer when Moat Mountain celebrated its second decade of business.
Also: their Czech Pilsner, Miss V’s Blueberry Ale, Scottie’s IPA and Clockwork Mandarina New England-style Pale Ale are must-tries. Here we go!
Bone Shaker Brown Ale (English Brown) 5.4% ABV
Pours dark brown
Bavarian Pilsner malt
Usually when you go for an English brown ale, you know you’re getting a malty bitterness and a nutty taste. This one was a little different.
Brewed with chocolate malt flaked barley and caramel malt as well, this brown ale started with the nutty taste but really boasted that sweetness from those particular malts and finished with a bit of a hoppy bite to it - a pleasant surprise. It was extremely smooth and light (to the point I got a second round).
I like malty beers, although hoppy is typically my preferred flavor profile. That’s probably why I gravitated toward this brown ale a second time since it gave me some complexity in the up-front sweet notes while still providing the bite I like.
Normally I wouldn’t go back for multiple rounds of a brown ale so I could avoid feeling overwhelmingly full, but this is a beer I could envision drinking all day and not having any issues.
Flavah of the Day (East Coast IPA) 7% ABV
Pours a nice golden color
Ripe fruit flavors
No lingering hop bitterness
I had to snag a four-pack of this to go, because I’m an IPA guy and I really enjoyed how easy this one went down (while trying to be careful, because 7% ABV can sneak up on you really quick).
Flavah of the Day uses a rotating hop each batch, is double dry-hopped and uses a Bavarian Pilsner malt base with flaked oat and malted wheat.
What stood out to me the most with this IPA is how it satisfied the nice hoppy bite I like so much but didn’t leave me with any sort of lengthy, burning aftertaste. It’s the kind of beer you can sip on in the summer and feel refreshed, and in the winter to stay warm.
Moat Mountain makes a few different iterations of IPAs, and while I’m a big fan of Scottie’s IPA, this is my favorite they make.
I think any IPA fan will love it because it doesn’t go too far in any direction (fruity, hazy, piney, etc.). And because they utilize a rotating hop for this brew, the flavahhh may vary each time (in a good way).
Moat Mountain has been a staple in the Mount Washington Valley for 20 years, and for good reason. Location, versatility, great beer, great food, a great staff, and ultimately great leadership have all combined to form one of the biggest attractions in a regular hotbed for tourism and locals alike.
Not many privately owned businesses were able to come out the other side of the pandemic shutdown, but Moat Mountain shifted focus and has emerged just as popular as ever. Two whole decades in the business, and the future for Moat Mountain has never looked better!
We can’t possibly thank Steve, Hannah, Jimmy and the rest of the staff enough for their incredible hospitality. They’re industry All-Stars. We will be back, we will continue to show our support and we always look forward to the next opportunity to collaborate.
For more information on Moat Mountain Brewing Company, check them out online by visiting the website, and find them on social media @moatmtnbrewco. Cheers, BeerSeekers!