Our Gourmet: Small bites at NH's biggest breweryAugust 29. 2017 11:23PM
The BiergartenAt the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, 221 Daniel Webster Highway, Merrimack; 595-1282; www.budweisertours.com/locations/merrimack-new-hampshire.html
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Best to call ahead during the week to check evening status).
Cuisine: Bar food, sandwiches and light fare.
Pricing: Everything $11 and under.
Scores for the Biergarten
As craft brewers have gained enormous popularity over the last couple of decades, Anheuser-Busch and its corporate parents have done everything a major multinational corporation can do to capture a share of the burgeoning market.
A-B now owns or produces a number of craft-beer labels in addition to its mass-market brews. Goose Island, Blue Point and Wicked Weed are all under the umbrella of the world’s largest brewer.
So it really was no surprise that A-B would also want to get in on the brewpub explosion that has brought great institutions like the Portsmouth Brewery, Woodstock Inn and many more into the New Hampshire dining scene.
Last year, the Biergarten opened at Anheuser-Busch’s Merrimack Brewery. Where you once had to take a brewery tour to get a beer in the plant’s hospitality room, patrons could now skip the tour and, for a price, enjoy beer on tap (craft or otherwise) and a limited food menu within a stone’s throw of the brewery’s famous Clydesdale Hamlet.
The Biergarten has indoor and outdoor seating. The indoor space is a big open room with the bar against the long wall opposite the entrance, windows and most of the tables at one end, and a huge stone fireplace with a few easy chairs around it at the other. A vaulted wood ceiling and exposed rafters lend a bit of Bavarian charm to take the industrial edge off the space. Outdoors, there are picnic tables as well as seating around a gas fire pit. The surroundings again feel a bit German, distracting the attention from the hum of the giant brewery across the lawn.
We visited the Biergarten twice recently. On our first trip, we opted to sit outside, since the air conditioning inside was apparently set on “arctic.” Armed with that experience, we came dressed in layers and ate inside on our second trip.
On our first visit, on a Tuesday night around 8 p.m., we were told that because it was a slow night, the kitchen’s ovens had been shut down, so only cold appetizers and sandwiches were available. We were hungry, so rather than leaving, we decided to make the best of it, order some food, and make plans to come back earlier another night.
The appetizers were pretty much as advertised. We ordered the Spinach & Artichoke Dip ($8), which comprised a huge pile of whole-grain tortilla chips and a small bowl of dip, which had plenty of greens in a sour cream base. The New Hampshire Board, served on a board shaped like the state of New Hampshire, featured slices of “gourmet salami” in three levels of spiciness, along with a comparable number of slices of fairly mild New England cheddar and a supply of crackers. Oddly, this is the most expensive dish on the menu at $11.
Our sandwiches were most notable for their size. They were large wraps, solidly packed with their respective fillings. I ordered the “Not Far from the Cape” ($8.50), a wrap filled with a very tasty cranberry chicken salad, while Mrs. Gourmet picked the Granite State Turkey Wrap ($8.50). After our appetizers, we were both satisfied with half of our sandwiches; we brought the other halves home for lunch the next day. Sadly, I was unable to get out of work in time to make our second trip to the Biergarten, but Mrs. G — not one who likes to eat out alone — was able to entice our son, The Bottomless Pit, and his roommate to join her. (It wasn’t really a hard sell; saying the word “brewery” did the trick.)
This time, the full menu was available, and they found a few items that they really liked. Among the appetizers, they all agreed that the Pretzel Mountain ($8) was their favorite. Chunks of soft pretzel topped with bacon and cheese made an impressive and tasty combo. There was some disagreement, though, on whether the Chili Nachos ($9) were better than the cheese and salami board from the first visit. Their complaint about the nachos was that the cheese and jalapeño peppers were only on the top of the pile, though the chili itself was well distributed. The boys were very happy with their next courses. One had the Burrito Me ($8.50), a chicken burrito with lettuce, corn, black beans, peppers and cheese. A Chipotle fan, he raved about the flavors of the Biergarten’s version, and was pleased with the fact that it came with a foil wrapper that kept everything together while he ate. The other had the Meatball Sliders ($8), a trio of mini meatball sandwiches with marinara and mozzarella. He loved the meatballs, but he said the buns, which he described as potato rolls with a hint of mustard and salt, made the dish.
Mrs. G. was less enthusiastic about her entree, A Little Sweetness ($9), consisting of two large sweet Italian sausages boiled in beer wort, served with a wheat berry salad and stone-ground mustard. “Mild” was the key word here. The sausages were mild but good (the mustard livened things up), but the salad, which also included green onions, raisins and red peppers, was mild to the point of being bland.
They shared a couple of desserts, in the interest of thoroughness, but they said the Amber Bock Brownie ($6) and the Pure Goodness cookie a la mode ($5) were nothing to write home about. “You don’t go to a brewery for dessert,” they said.
The Biergarten often has live entertainment, as well as a monthly “Yappy Hour” when patrons can bring their dogs.
If you’re looking for a full restaurant experience, the Biergarten is probably not the place for you. And while there are many brewpubs in the state with better atmosphere, food and beer, if you’re in the Merrimack area looking for a spot to go with friends for a couple of beers and some inexpensive appetizers, lunch or a light dinner, the Biergarten could fill the bill.