Consider the oyster, or the erster, if you will. A bivalve mollusc reminiscent of nothing more than an ancient, gnarled stone, a better fit on the otter’s belly than on your dinner table. And yet we eat him in vast quantities, slurped with Tabasco (better: Cholula) or cocktail sauce, or with mounds of horseradish piled on top.
Arriving into a new city, as we did, during a violent thunderstorm which, as it turns out, had sent it back to the days of Strawbery Banke and climbing stairs with heavy suitcases, one is happy to be alive, filled with joie de vivre, which I think is French for “mouthful of Açai-berry liqueur,” and ready for a new challenge.
What I’m driving at is that, somehow, sixty years of life between us, we had managed to avoid the Raw Bar, and decided that we ought to help Portsmouth eat its perishables before they spoiled. And here we are, alive and unpoisoned (although I have developed a strange, possibly worm-related facial tic), more than twenty-four hours later. What better way to celebrate life, and surviving delicious bourgeois seafood indulgence, than to visit a brewery? (No better way; that’s the answer.)
Red Hook of Portsmouth is located in the International Tradeport, which I gather is what they call airports that are really a single runway surrounded by a mediocre office park full of people inexplicably jogging at noontime.
Our tour was led by Byron, the most enthusiastic tour guide we’ve ever encountered at a brewery. Either he hadn’t started hitting the sauce yet (ours being the first tour of the day–his “Monday morning,” as he called it, although it was clearly, by our clocks, Wednesday afternoon), or he simply needed it to function, his water bottle filled with a mysterious dark liquid. Whatever the case, his run-through of the brewery’s operation, with the exception of the possibly-apocryphal Lore of the IPA–was nonpareil, which I gather is French for “without shampoo,” which is an apt description for his beard.
The Wit was crisp and clean, with the typical heavy-on-the-coriander spicing. It didn’t have much of the usual Belgian-inspired funk, which Ariel appreciated, although I found it a bit plain for the style, which isn’t one of my usual favorites anyway.
Red Hook’s ESB is one we’ve had before, with pleasant-enough aromas of toasty malt and English esters, balanced with plenty of hop bitterness and a bare hint of diacetyl (maybe). This is an all-day drinker, for sure, and was even better at the source.
The stand-out, mainly on its freshness, was the Long Hammer IPA, which might be the gold standard of juicy hop aromas, with plenty of assertive bitterness to back it up. It finished crisp and with a long-lasting fruitiness.
Ariel had a pint of Pilsner at the bar while we waited, which had some great malt and grain aromas, with plenty of pilsner graininess on the tongue and just enough hops to keep it from being cloying.
I tried a pint of what I think was Widmer Brothers’ Citra Blonde on cask–and I think it must have been dry-hopped with about a half-ton of citra hops, because one whiff had me daring to eat a peach (and a grapefruit). A really outstanding brew, if you can get it (which you probably can’t, unless you’re at the brewery in the next day or so).
We didn’t have dinner, but we did have a plate of pulled-pork nachos that could have likely fed a household of authentic Mexicans (who I can only assume would have no idea what “nachos” are). A bit pricey at $14, but probably worth a try if you need a snack to sober you up for the drive back into town (Byron’s other suggestion: remove your tour sticker; “every cop in a 40-mile radius” knows what it looks like and what you’ve been up to).
Red Hook–despite its deal-with-the-devil in St. Louis–is an outstanding brewery tour. Byron knows absolutely everything about their brewing process and couldn’t be any happier to answer questions (and always at great length). The beers, even if they aren’t outstanding, are better than the average brewpub, not least of all in consistency. Plus, they’ll let you send a postcard to your favorite dog, which has to count for something.