Portsmouth
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Redhook Ale Brewery is (at least as of recently) Budweiser’s answer to the craft brew craze.

When their own attempts to woo craft beer drinkers failed miserably (anybody remember Black Crown? North Pacific Style Lager? No?), they decided to just start taking over already established craft breweries. Craft Brew Alliance began in 2008 when Widmer Brothers and Redhook Ale decided to hang out more, and it was something Budweiser couldn’t ignore. Today, Anheuser-Busch is the largest stakeholder in the Alliance, and don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Kona Brewing Company, but even just knowing the situation taints my tastes.

That being said, the Redhook Ale Brewery in Portsmouth is a lively place to hang out. Housed in an ultra-modern and industrial chic warehouse, it and it’s pub companion, Cataqua, put a lot of effort into atmosphere. They host a slew of parties and promotions, especially in the summer, when revelers can spill out onto the lawn and enjoy live music and other entertainment. They also have a solid menu of good pub food, and they do have rotating guest taps for other local or New England beers.

The view from a barstool at Redhook

Redhook Ale Brewery was founded in 1981 by Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker, who also co-founded Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, in Seattle. It still has a brewery in Woodinville, Washington, in addition to the offshoot in New Hampshire. They still maintain their dedication to green business and brewing practices and sponsor a number of activist-themed events and organizations, keeping their street cred up-to-date.

At the Cataqua Public House, where you can samples suds and get some grub, the taplist is long, and you’re sure to find something for your taste; despite being more than 30% Budweiser, Redhook still makes a good, if generally unspectacular, beer. Unfortunately, the bartenders seem too busy being cool to help you figure out what you want. Beyond giving the name of the beer, none of them seemed to know much else about what they were pouring. Their aloofness adds to the impression that you are sitting at any old sports bar specializing in Bud Lights, Jager shots and anonymous service, which is too bad considering what they have to work with.

It could be the off season. It makes all of us a little bored. Maybe I’ll try again during festival season.

Redhook Brewery and Cataqua Public House

What: Brewpub featuring pretty much all their beers, plus some good local brews on rotating taps.

Where: 1 Redhook Way, Portsmouth, out next to the Pease International Tradeport. Monday-Thursday 11:30-10, Friday-Saturday 11:30-11, Sunday 12-8.

After leaving Earth Eagle, we skated our way a few blocks down and through the small but bustling (even on a blizzardy, icy night) downtown to find our second stop: Portsmouth Brewery. A mere 30 minutes of what was apparently freezing rain turned downtown Portsmouth into an ice rink with 30 MPH winds. So basically, you pointed yourself in the right direction, got a bit of a running start, and slid your way to wherever you were going with the wind (hopefully) at your back.

To be honest, I’m not sure what there is to say about Portsmouth Brewing that hasn’t already been said by wordsmiths more clever than I. The beer is reliably good, the food is reliably tasty, the crowd is reliably crowded, and atmosphere is reliably historical and full of exposed brick, and the bartenders are reliably proud of every drink they serve. This bar epitomizes the ever-fading working port of northern New England and yet embraces the changing times on the Seacoast. It remains a place we visit every time we find ourselves in Portsmouth, and for good reason: it’s a good (reliable?) place to see and be seen. Hipsters and the unemployed-and-over-educated mingle freely with the fishermen and boat builders, and no one seems burdened by what could have been. It’s just the place to go.

Because nothings says "Awesome Beer" like some crazy European Queen Lady

They serve vittles until 11 on weeknights and 12:30 on weekends, so it’s a handy place to head to when you’re downtown in early-late-night if you’re hungry. They have a good variety of brews, from a standard pale ale to a hearty stout to a more exotic sour beer. If you have any questions, the bartenders know their beers inside and out, so don’t hesitate to ask. Portsmouth also has a green reputation: much like Earth Eagle, the spent malt and grain from the brewing process is turned into livestock feed or dog treats, and, like most microbreweries the country over, they try to use local ingredients as much as possible. AND, this time around, we did get into a rousing discussion with the bartenders about the *worst* Olympic event ever. The end result: ping-pong should only be a sport if performed while ice dancing. Seems legit.

Portsmouth Brewery

What: An all-around good and dependable local brewery that has everything any beer lover could ever ask for.

Where: Right in downtown Portsmouth. 56 Market Street, which pretty much anchors the whole city. Monday-Sunday, 11:30 pm-12:35 am.

So, for my birthday/Valentine’s Day/President’s Day Weekend, we are on a mission: we want to visit EVERY visitable microbrewery in the state of New Hampshire. It looks like there are 20 or so scattered throughout the state. This isn’t counting the several breweries that we can’t go visit, places like Prodigal Brewing, which bottles its brews only and isn’t open to the public.

We have lists from Brew News, New Hampshire Magazine, and the tourism board of New Hampshire. None of them are comprehensive, and new breweries seem to pop up at least once a week. We visited a good handful of places we’d heard of only through other breweries (it’s good to know there is some camaraderie between the brewers and that they all promote one another!).

I’m also amazed at the difference in microbrewery culture between New Hampshire and states like Maine and Wyoming. Here in Maine or in my old home state of Wyoming, breweries pop up in pubs or at least large bars. They offer good grub in addition to good suds or they are, at least, willing to help you order food from a place next door. In New Hampshire, whether for local law compliance or personal preference or what (I don’t know), a lot of breweries tend to be situated in what look like overgrown storage units or warehouse garages. They offer tastes or half pours and, beyond that, beers-to-go in growlers, bottles, or kegs. The set-ups are always incredible and in open view of the tasting area, and when they are open, they are always packed with locals enjoying different flavors. So whatever the reason or whatever the business model, it seems to work for New Hampshire micros.

So the next 20 or so entries will chronicle our journey through this gorgeous state as we attempt to have a drink at each brewery and find of weirdest brews NH has to offer. Stay tuned!