An hour north of Boston on the New Hampshire seacoast lies the quaint city of Portsmouth, established in 1623.Situated near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, the downtown area offers picturesque waterfront views and throughout winding streets and brick sidewalks exists a mecca of fantastic local shops, restaurants, bars and more. I've traveled up here often to visit college friends, my Alma matter (University of New Hampshire) campus is located 15 minutes west in the tiny town of Durham, so I've got a definite connection to the area, as do some of my Boston blogger girlfriends. We decided a day trip was in order and with others in tow who had never been (!!) we headed up last Saturday where our adventures commenced with lunch at Red Hook Brewery. I had not been to the brewery since the summer of graduating (2006) and spent lots of time here in college (my 21st birthday dinner, among other blurry occasions!) Red Hook is the quintessential craft beer of the region, not to mention the breweries Cataqua Public House serves up some seriously tasty pub style food. The ten of us gals shared a plethora of appetizers starting with a Basket of Sweet Potato Fries ($7) and a Baked Jumbo Pretzel ($4) with homemade honey mustard dressing. A definite favorite were the Fried Artichoke Hearts ($8) dusted in seasoned flour and deep fried, served with a caper aioli. The Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($10) and the Hook Pilsner Infused Hummus ($7) are both delicious with grilled pita points, carrots and celery.We also noshed on oven baked Potato Skins ($9) loaded with Monterey Jack cheese and crumbled bacon, and Grilled Buffalo Chicken Strips ($10). All of it was even better than I remembered, from the superb food, to the clean tastefully decorated space, to the buttery brown couches, I was definitely re-living some great memories and had a blast making new ones.
The majority of us ordered our beer in the form of a Sampler Tray ($7); this is a fun and inexpensive way to enjoy the range of styles offered. A generous pour of ESB, Pilsner, IPA, Copperhook, Blackhook and Winterhook come on the sampler's circular platter with the color underneath corresponding to the menu description. We embarked on a brewery tour after lunch, I had somehow never been on one despite all my visits here. After all these years, it was finally meant to be! Tours cost $1 and run at various times on the hour, lead by a spirited guide, followed up with pitchers for sampling a number of varieties. My college girlfriends and I were always big fans of the Blonde Ale, a refreshing and thirst quenching blend of lightly roasted barley and a touch of wheat. The Longhammer IPA (India Pale Ale) is bold and meduim bodied, with a distinct bitterness as a result of adding hops both in the beginning and end of the fermentation process. Strong aromas and flavors of pine and citrus are prevalent. The Winterhook is a festive dark brew with rich malts and spicy hops. Roasted chocolate notes impart smoothness and finesse. This beer has been released for 27 seasons, the recipe changing slightly each year. I also really enjoy their ESB (Extra Special Bitter) a traditional British style amber beer that has been brewed since 1987. It balances sweet caramel malts with spicy and citrusy hops. I purchased two six packs (IPA and ESB) at the gift shop - I forgot how much I miss drinking this beer! Red Hook is not widely available in Boston, so I'm thrilled to have a small supply on hand. The Portsmouth blogger tour didn't end here, an afternoon shopping and wandering downtown was followed up by a fantastic meal at Black Trumpet Bistro, stay tuned for my review!