portsmouth getaway

In celebration of our 7 year anniversary (7 years!) Ben and I went on an overnight getaway to Portsmouth NH. Luckily the weather held out, and was surprisingly warm for a mid-November day Our main goal was to check out the Red Hook Brewery and go on a tour of their facility. Luckily our hotel had a shuttle, so we could get driven around in style (or at least for free in a minibus!), and not have to worry about driving after an afternoon of beer tasting.

We got to Red Hook for the 4 pm tour. On the weekends they run every hour, on the hour. We waited in the gift shop which was full of Red Hook swag, and coolers full of six packs. The gift shop is right off of their onsite restaurant / bar. The tour was full, a few over their 40 person maximum according to our tour guide Jake so I’m glad we got there when we did.

We were led upstairs to see the experimental testing lab, cooking vats, and storage containers. I have to admit that I didn’t retain a lot of the facts and beer making information that Jake tried to impart. A few of the fun fact that did stick with me is that beer made without hops is called gruit, and that over the summer Red Hook made a beer called Black Lobstah, which had lobsters boiled in each batch (and left the brewery with lots of lobsters to eat!). I would have to say if you want to find out the whole story, you will have to go on the tour yourself, and pay better attention than I did!

After the production floor we were supposed to see the bottling facility, but it was being repaired. I have to admit both Ben and I were pretty bummed not to get to see it. Having been on one or two other brewery tours in my life, this was one step in the manufacturing process that I hadn’t gotten to see. I suppose it means that we will have to go back at some point.

We did get to do a beer tasting, which partially distracted us from not seeing the bottling. We got to sample 4 different beers. Red Hook is part of the Craft Beer Alliance, which also includes a few other breweried. We got to try 3 Red Hook beers and one beer from their partners Kona. Kona is a Hawaiian craft brewer, and we tried their “summer beer” which has hints of passion fruit. I’m a big fan of fruity beers, so I really liked this one. Kona isn’t a brand that I have seen sold in Boston, but I think that if I saw it out I would try it again.

We also tried Red Hook’s Audible, which is a light beer that they call their “crushable” craft beer. It is somewhere in between a light big name beer, like Bud Light, and a more refined taste of a craft brew. I had never tried a Red Hook beer before, and wasn’t sure if even this would be too hoppy and bitter for me. It ended up being really good, and is definitely something I would have again.

The last two beers, the Winter Ale and the Long Hammer IPA were way too hoppy and dark for me. I’ve never been a big fan of IPA’s. Ben really enjoyed these two though, so if you like beers on the darker end of the spectrum they would be worth a try!

After the tour Ben and I had a little time to kill before the shuttle picked up again, so we each tried another beer in the bar. I had been hoping that they would have one of the experimental beers that were listed upstairs outside the lab. I was interested in the one that was listed as a fall beer with apples, oatmeal and cinnamon flavors. But they only make one or two kegs of each of the experimental recipies, and it had already sold out, so I settled for another Audible. Ben had the Red Hook Pumpkin, which I think he found a little bit darker than he would have preferred for a pumpkin beer. While we were sitting there we noticed that they had a separate tap labeled with chalk. We asked the bartender what was special about that tap, and he explained that is was their Long Hammer IPA manual pump. It takes a little bit more work to pour, because the beer isn’t carbonated, which he said is more of a traditional European way to serve beer. He gave us each a sample, and I was surprised because I actually really enjoyed it! It seemed like the bitterness that I usually find with an IPA was missing without the carbonation to punctuate it.

During the tour, our guide Jake had mentioned another local Portsmouth brewery, Earth Eagle Brewing, that makes very unique beers. He had said they make a few different gruits, which were the hop-less beers, and that last winter they had brewed a beer with a pigs head in it! Ben and I figured that we had to give some of these a try, so we had the shuttle drop us off at Earth Eagle. It is not a place that we would have stumbled upon otherwise as it is tucked around the side of a building on what seemed like a fairly residential street. The bar is a small room, but was full with about 10 people. They don’t serve full pints, but they serve 4 oz samplers, which are either $1 or $2 for what they call “big beers” or beers over 7% ABV. They had 7 beers on the menu that night, three gruits and four ales. Ben and I figured since we were doing little samplers we would have to give each beer a try! I really liked my gruit, which was a bit fruity and sweet, but Ben had one that was a little on the sour side. The bartender explained to us that gruits do not have to be sour, but that they will take on sour notes more easily. I wasn’t a huge fan of the sour flavor, but it was certainly interesting, definitely unlike any beer I have ever tried! Ben liked the ales, and I ended up getting a growler to bring home for Thanksgiving. I wanted to bring home the gruit I had tried, but the bartender explained that it wouldn’t last as well as the ale over the two weeks. Sadly there were no beers with pigs heads brewed in them yet this year, although the bartender did say it was popular. I guess people enjoyed the hints on bacon flavor that it gave the beer.

After all of our beer tasting it was time to get some food, so we went to the Portsmouth Gas Light for dinner. They were having a restaurant week deal with 3 courses for $30, and if there is one thing Ben and I are good at it’s making good use of a restaurant week deal! I had a winter salad with butternut squash, goat cheese, and spinach, a tuscan chicken with potatoes. Ben had clam chowder, and lobster risotto. Everything was delicious, but I especially liked my salad and Ben’s risotto. There was a good amount of lobster, and the risotto was so creamy! After all of that we shared a piece of chocolate cake and creme brulee. We were sufficiently stuffed and very happy to head back to the hotel after such a great day of food and drink!

It was nice to take a little trip, especially as neither of us had spent any time in Portsmouth. We certainly got quite the lesson on beers and I think that we will have to go back again to walk around the downtown area a little more and do some shopping. I think we would also want to go back to Earth Eagle and see if there are any new beers we can add to our repertoire!

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