To be blunt, I never had a very fond admiration for Redhook. I remember first tasting their ESB in college and thinking it was quite bitter. Ironically, an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) isn’t actually supposed to be all that bitter. A good one is well balanced. Granted, my palate back in college was not as experienced as it is now, but I wasn’t a complete novice at the time. Whether I’d still find their ESB too bitter these days, I’ll never know. Because I never had it again, and didn’t plan to.
Over the years a couple different Redhook brews made their way into my hands at restaurants or at a beer fest; LongHammer IPA and Copperhook, for example. They made sufficient accompaniments to my meals if only for the simple facts that they were inoffensive and wet. On their own, they didn’t make a big impression on me, and I remember a corn flavor in Copperhook that I didn’t love.
My friend who lives in southern NH will debate with me about this brewery. He swears that super-fresh Redhook beer is good. I assume at least one or two of the Redhook beers I’ve had over the years were fresh. After all, the brewery isn’t far away from anywhere in New England. But I’m willing to forget the past and start “fresh”. It can’t get any fresher than what I’ll find at the brewery, so here’s my chance.
Located in Portsmouth NH, Redhook is tucked away among business parks and apartment housing. There is plenty of lush lawn surrounding the brewery, and a large outdoor patio hosted a wedding reception during our visit.
The building itself resembles a modern-day ski lodge. I like it. Lots of wood beams give a rustic feel along with modern steel touches. And it looks new.
You immediately walk into a restaurant/pub atmosphere. A handful of tables had diners, while all seats in the bar area were occupied.
Tours seem popular on Saturdays, as they run every hour on the hour between 12PM – 6PM. They cost just $1.
Our tour group, of roughly twelve people, was taken upstairs to a designated tour area that overlooked the production floor. A young high school science teacher who gives tours on weekends was our guide. He ran through the brewing process, pointing at the respective kettle or area in the facility relevant to milling, boiling, mashing, bottling, etc. He was keen on mentioning more than twice that Redhook does not pasteurize their beer. Otherwise, if you’ve heard the general brewing process before, you’ve heard this one.
I will say, though, it was amazing to see that Redhook has managed to fit such an abundance of equipment into a fairly large facility. The tour area is a wide open space, but the area we gazed down upon seemed so efficiently planned to accommodate the maximum possible amount of equipment, that I wonder how workers don't trip on hoses or bump their head on beams.
After approximately twenty minutes, we were shuffled over to a small bar to taste a few beers.
Our first tasting greeted me with an old acquaintance, if not foe. The ESB. After a few gulps I admitted it wasn’t bad. Some hop assertiveness was present, but it was balanced with an earthy malt flavor. No unruly bitterness found. I was pleasantly surprised but it didn’t exactly make me a new convert to their flagship brew.
Next was the LongHammer IPA. This one paired decently with a pub dinner I had a while back. But a recent tasting of it at the American Craft Beer Festival had me wondering if I confused it with another beer. This tasting wasn’t terrible. In fact some floral, grassy hops made this pleasant enough. To me, LongHammer is a utility IPA. Maybe a step above Harpoon. It’s hard to be a stellar IPA in the craft beer world as the best IPAs are tremendous and in a class of their own. People are picky about their IPAs, and will easily kick aside any that are not worthy of a spot in their go-to rotation. Me included. This tasting won’t trigger me to run out and buy a 12-pack of LongHammer, but I won’t turn down a bottle if the right situation presents itself.
Moving along, the tasting pours became more generous. We got a significant helping of the Late Harvest Ale. This was a favorite. Yes, my wife and I are suckers for fall seasonal beers, but this one had an enjoyable hop spiciness alongside a gritty caramel malt profile. It was the best Redhook I had tasted.
Lastly, we tasted a beer who’s name I sadly forget. Sad, because I enjoyed it. It was essentially a porter and I remember enjoying a second helping of it. Keep in mind this is another style of beer in which I’m easy to please. I recall a nice smokey note and an almost meaty malt backbone.
After approximately 50 minutes, the tour and tasting ends. At this point, you can easily go to the bar and order a full serving of whichever beer you enjoyed most at the tasting. Or, spend feverishly in their gift shop that’s full of the usual swag and useless trinkets.
Although Redhook has a full restaurant, and a nice facility, a destination brewery it is not. However, I do recommend a stop by Redhook if you’re in the area. It makes a great stop in combination with another on the same day (hint: the Portsmouth Brewery).
Before I forget, Redhook’s sporty new bottle design deserves some attention. They almost look like plastic soda bottles, but I think they actually look pretty cool. Two thumbs up on package design.
1 Redhook Way
Pease International Tradeport
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Public Brewery Tours:
Mon: 3:00, 4:00, 5:00pm
Tue:12:00, 1:00, 2:00pm
Wed & Thu: 1:00, 3:00, 5:00pm
Fri & Sat: 12:00-6:00pm, every hour on the hour
Sun: 1:00pm – 5:00pm on the hour