If your travels take you down Interstate 95 and past the traffic circle in Portsmouth, consider making a detour 2 miles off the highway to check out one of the best beer tours in New England at the Redhook Ale Brewery. I joined more than a dozen members of the Seacoast Beer Club to tour the massive facility and to sample some of the liquid pleasures produced by Redhook and its affiliated breweries.
Tours of the brewery are a bargain at just five dollars and they are typically offered every hour on the hour during the daytime throughout the week. Some of our group checked out the gift shop that carried both Redhook and Kona brand gear; both beers are brewed at the Portsmouth location. The rest of the group went to the Cataqua Public House next door to try out a couple of pints before the tour. The bar offers the full line-up of Redhook beers but also has limited edition test batches that are brewed upstairs and can only be found there. When the brewers make a new test batch they send three to five kegs downstairs and try to get feedback from the patrons. When the test kegs are gone they are gone for good, sometimes never to return again, some to go on and to be put into regular production.
As our tour began we were led past a wall of tap handles, one for every beer created at the facility including many of the test batches that have gone on to make it into regular production. Our tour guide was Jake who had been at the facility for several years and was patient with all the questions from the mix of beer club members and regular tourists.
After traveling upstairs and down a couple of hallways we were taken into the tasting room where windows opened into the primary brewing facility and a neighboring test brew room. Jake passed around the primary ingredients for beer making and let people smell and taste them as he talked about the brewing process.
Next we headed down a long hallway to the bottling and storage facility where we were told that the brewery could handle up to fifty million bottles a month, but typically they don’t exceed thirty million bottles a month (which sounds like my rule for drinking on the weekends).
After the bottling line we went back to the tasting room where we sampled four beers: Redhook Wise Cracker, Redhook ESB, Kona Castaway IPA, Blackhook Porter. The ESB, or extra special bitter, is Redhook’s signature beer and is similar to a traditional British pub ale with a slight after taste but otherwise smooth flavor. I’m a big Kona fan and the Castaway IPA had that rich flavor Kona is known for plus a couple of hints of island spices which I really enjoyed. The tasting glasses were a couple of ounces each, but in most cases the pitchers made at least two laps around the group so there was plenty of tasting to be had. At the end of the tour we turned in our tasting glasses to Jake who gave us full-size pint glasses with the Redhook logo to take home. After a couple of parting questions we bid Jake farewell and headed back to the public house downstairs to enjoy a bite to eat and several more pints of beer.
For five dollars and at about an hour in length you really can’t go wrong with the Redhook tour so make sure to check out this brewery next time you are in the Portsmouth area. Special thanks to the members of the Seacoast Beer Club for inviting me along for the brewery tour as well.