Compared to its counterparts in Vermont and Maine, rural New Hampshire isn’t exactly known for being a culinary or craft beverage destination.
Hidden in Vermont’s rolling hillside are renowned breweries like Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist and Lawson’s, while Maine has Allagash, Foundation and Bissell Brothers, to name a few. Of course, New Hampshire has Smuttynose and a few other worthwhile breweries, but you won’t find many beer connoisseurs skipping Vermont, Maine or even Massachusetts to head to the Granite State for a beer tour.
The Mount Washington Valley’s Ledge Brewing Company might help change that.
“We have a small brewhouse, which allows us to try different techniques,” said Ian Ferguson, one of Ledge Brewing Company’s two owners. “This allows us to have that attention to detail that larger breweries can’t.”
When owners Ferguson and Silas Miller along with head brewer Cody Floyd decided to throw their hats into the ring with the opening of Ledge in October, they were joining a beer scene that seemed to be growing slowly. Prior to Ledge, Fryeburg’s Saco River Brewing Company was the most recent addition to the two breweries that already existed — Tuckerman Brewing Company and Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery.
And while Saco River Brewing seemed to pave the way in the region for hazy New England-style IPAs and double IPAs that have gained popularity in recent years, Ledge’s first release — the As You Wish NEIPA — is telling of what’s to come.
“I want to have many cards in my deck when it comes to beer styles,” said Floyd. “I want to brew beers that the valley hasn’t seen — my take on German- and Belgian-style beers, corn lagers, East Coast to West Coast IPAs, and everything in between. But I also want it to be a space for the community.”
Floyd, who got his start brewing for Moat in 2011 before moving on to brew at Smuttynose for nearly five years, always has been passionate about the creativity involved in brewing, and always dreamed of the day he’d be able to run his own brewery.
But when his heart failed in 2017 and he had to leave his job as packaging manager and brewer for Foundation Brewing Company in Portland, his future seemed unclear.
“I had to move away from brewing and work other jobs for a while,” recounted Floyd. “But (starting a brewery) had always been my dream, and I don’t think I ever lost sight of that. I knew that was where my heart was.”
Now, with his health seemingly stable, he’s been able to test his skills with beers like the Vaquera Mexican Lager, Sad Songs Only Saison, Pleasure Cruise India Pale Lager, and even an oatmeal stout infused with a Frontside Coffee Roasters cold brew.
Visitors entering Ledge, which is located on Route 16 just north of North Conway, are greeted by a 6-by-10-foot canvas print of Miller dropping a 25-foot frozen waterfall in Tuckerman Ravine during an early season tour in 2018. The train museum-turned brewery has a warehouse feel with a granite and concrete bar and high-top table, and a few socially distanced low-top tables.
Next to the bar is a wood stove (both owners also run the White Mountain Stove Shop), which is perfectly fitting for what they hope to be the valley’s skier bar.
Plans also are moving forward to build a bouldering gym, organized by the Mount Washington Valley Climber’s Cooperative, in the same building as the brewery — although it will have a separate entrance.
Ferguson, Miller and Floyd’s combined passion for craft beers and skiing and riding is seemingly unrivaled in the valley. While Floyd is willing to have an hourlong discussion about the proper brewing technique that sets a New England IPA apart from other, similar IPAs (likely followed by conversation about the amount of air he got hucking a drop at Wildcat), Ferguson will talk about his glory days of skiing waist-deep powder during his four years living in Bellingham, Washington, and skiing Mount Baker. And then there’s of course Miller, who has pulled off what seems to be the only backflip in Tuckerman Ravine in recorded history.
But aside from the conversations you might hear around the bar, the brewery’s location can’t be beat. In fact, the Maple Villa Glade, located on Bartlett Mountain and revived by Granite Backcountry Alliance in 2018, shares an overflow parking lot with the brewery. And coming from the south, it’s impossible to get to Attitash, Wildcat, Bretton Woods, Black Mountain or even Jackson’s Cross Country Ski Touring Center without driving directly past it.
Skiing aside, the three hope for the brewery to stand out as a destination for high-quality beer styles not commonly found at the other area breweries. But for this to happen, the brewery and beverage scene must grow as a whole. And with the anticipated opening of nearby Cathedral Ledge Distillery in North Conway and the Alpine Garden Winery and Cidery in Bartlett, the outdoor-focused valley might be entering the craft beverage limelight.
“We’re proud to be a part of the valley’s brewing tradition that started with Tuckerman Brewing in 1998,” said Ferguson. “Our hope is to not only continue that tradition, but also add to it.”