Enjoy beer and a tour at the Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth NH

On a wintery afternoon, we escaped the chill and snow to learn about tasting and making beer at the Red Hook Brewery and Cataqua Pub in Portsmouth, NH.  Guests at my Inn wonder what fun activities can be found when the historic houses and museums are closed for the season.  A brewery tour is just the answer. 

We will be touring other local breweries and blogging about them over the next few weeks of January, so stay tuned.  Note: a special event, the Polar Grill Fest, will be at the Red Hook on Saturday, January 26th, 2013 from noon to five.

Founded in 1981 in Seattle, the Red Hook brewers strive for a pure product using the simplest and cleanest ingredients and processes available.  The Portsmouth facility is well designed for an industrial view of the brewing process.  For just a dollar, you will have a tour of the upper levels of the brewery overlooking the enormous vats and barrels.  The fermentation tanks hold 600 hectoliters or 1200 kegs of beer each.

Starting in the tasting room, we see a diagram of the the brewing process with each step identified.    Natural fermentation provides the carbonation and no pasteurization is used as boiling kills the hops aroma.  The ales ferment for a minimum of 7 days, the lagers a minimum of 14 days.  Once the beers have cooled, they remain so by being stored in the largest cold storage facility in New England until shipping in specially refrigerated trucks.  Any beers unsold after 30 days are destroyed to retain the quality reputation of the Red Hook name.

In addition to viewing the vats, you pass by the sensory lab, the beer chemestry lab and microbiology lab used to cultivate yeast.  the largest glycol tank in the area controls the temperatures in the brewing process to within one tenth of a degree.

The last area to view is the bottling line.  It is an amazing maze of conveyor belts, capping machines, labelers and palletizers all very quiet on the day that I visited.  So if you want to see the vast machine in operation, plan your tour for Monday through Friday.

At the end of the tour, our group returns to the tasting area where our guide tells us more about the history of beer.  We learn about International Bitter Units or IBU’s that are the standard for expressing the relative bitterness of each beer.  We get a chance to see and smell the different malts, toasted and roasted, that start the brewing process.  Then we pass around two varieties of hops which determine the level of IBU’s.

We start with a mild, light brew called Extra Special Bitter which carries an IBU rating of 28 units. Our next two samples are more bitter at 44 to 46 IBU’s.  The Winterhook is brewed with spices of the season including cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.  The last is the Long Hammer IPA or India Pale Ale so named for its history of being stored on the “pale” or shadowed side of the British sailing vessels headed to India.

When we’ve had our tasting and asked a zillion questions, our tour ends and we head for the Cataqua Pub for a late lunch.  The pub has a menu of american favorites, many featuring Red Hook beers in the ingredients.  A variety of foods for gluten sensitive diners is also available and a special gluten-free brew as well.  We think you will enjoy the whole afternoon. And when you are done, the drive back to the Martin Hill Inn is a short one.

The Red Hook Brewery is located on the Pease Tradeport, off of the Spaulding Turnpike, Exit
#1.  Tours are scheduled 7 days a week.  Afternoon tours vary Monday through Thursday.  Tours on Friday and Saturday are hourly starting at noon.  Tours on Sunday start at 1:00 pm.  Times subject to change.  ID required.