Monday, January 17, 2011

Redhook's Stationary Brewery Tour

At the end of our holiday vacation out west, KJ and I traveled to Snohomish, Washington to spend New Year's Eve with her brother's family, and to fly home from Seattle on the red-eye the following night.

Well aware of our passion for craft beer, my brother-in-law decided he needed to take us to the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville. So, he recruited his new personal designated driver—his 16-year old son—and younger teenage daughter, and we headed to the brewery on New Year's Day.

My first impression of the place was that it looks pretty much identical to Redhook's Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which, admittedly, I haven't visited in over ten years. This isn't necessarily a problem, but it does give it a bit of a corporate feel.

We sat in the brew pub and ordered beers and appetizers while we waited for the tour to start. I drank a Big Ballard Imperial IPA, so named as a tribute to Redhook's flagship brew from the '80s, Ballard Bitter. At 8.6% ABV, Big Ballard is surprisingly very easy going down for an Imperial IPA. Not that it's difficult for me to drink beers of this style, but this one is actually pretty smooth, although it does have an assertive hop aroma.

The Big Ballard may have been a questionable decision, considering I was going on a tour that would undoubtedly include tastings of several less robust brews, but it was the one on the menu I most wanted to try, and I wasn't disappointed. The brewery tour was another story.

The "tour" only cost a dollar per person—although this included the two teenagers with us, who obviously couldn't drink—but it was really nothing more than a tasting. Our sophomoric, Phish-head guide informed us about the brewery and its beers, in between pouring us fairly generous samples. Don't get me wrong, here. He was pleasant, charismatic and fairly knowledgeable, but his drinking philosophy was not what I expected from a craft brewery tour guide.

At one point, he asked us if we knew what ESB stands for, to which several tour-goers correctly responded, "extra special bitter." His reply was to point out that it also stands for "extreme shower beer." Now, I'm not going to try to convince you that I've never drank in the shower, but there was something about this frat boy attitude that seemed odd from a person the brewery was presenting to the public as their representative.

I also didn't admire how proud he was of the fact that Redhook has reached the point of production where it's no longer considered a microbrewery, although he was quick to refute the misconception that Redhook is owned by Anheuser Busch (they own only a 1/3 stake). Not that I would begrudge a once small brewer's ability to grow their business, but it's evident from the mediocrity of most of Redhook's products that this means they've pretty much gone the way of Samuel Adams.

But, most importantly, I simply expected that a brewery tour would, in fact, involve...well, touring the brewery. Not as far as Redhook is concerned. As I already inferred, their tour consisted of hanging out in one room, sampling beers and being directed to turn around and look at the brewing vessels through the window behind us. The closest we came to actually touring the brewery was when we walked out the back door of the tasting room and onto a landing which overlooked the fermentation tanks.

As I pretty much already said, the beers that were poured during the tasting were nothing to write home about. Their ESB is, and has always been, solid. In fact, years ago it was one of what I'll call my "crossover" beers. That is, a beer I would usually have on hand at parties, that I felt was appropriate to serve to craft and non-craft beer drinkers alike. I still feel this way about ESB, although nowadays there are so many other options out there that I haven't purchased it in quite some time.

I definitely also enjoyed Redhook's Long Hammer IPA, but it's really just average for the style. The rest of their lineup, besides Big Ballard IPA—which wasn't served on the tour—are all drinkable beers, but, honestly, no better than average, and that's being a bit generous. This would have been forgivable, though, had they just led me on a simple 30-minute walk through their operation, as every other brewery I've ever been to has done.


  1. Reminds me of the tour I once took at the Nyquil plant in Greensboro, NC. They wouldn't let me see any of the actual production center, and the tour guide kept looking at me funny.

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