On initial March ’02 Portsmouth family trip, stayed at Marriott across from Budweiser-run RED HOOK brewpub to suck down Red Hook ESB Ale, Hefe-Weizen, and Black Hook Porter on tap with dinner for two nights with family. But I’d already quaffed these readily available brews beforehand since original Washington State brewery had great distribution.

 I then had lunch and several terrific brewpub samples at PORTSMOUTH BREWERY before walking to adjacent Smuttynose Brewery for pint of Portsmouth Lager (a difficult find prior). It’d be nearly eight years before I’d return to the Granite State’s most heralded and oldest brewpub.

After opening Northampton Brewery, New England’s second brewpub (preceded only by Boston’s now defunct Commonwealth Brewing Company), siblings Peter and Janet Egelston started PORTSMOUTH BREWERY four years later in 1991. Leaving little to chance, Portsmouth Brewery not only features world class beers from its glass-encased brew tanks, but also a stunning domed skylight midsection, downstairs game room (with large-screen TV), family-styled dining room, private balcony, and charming boutique shop.

A great local meeting space with decent Americana menu, this pub has become a downtown staple, serving its own made-on-premise brews as well as a few selective choices from Smuttynose Brewery, Egelston’s bottling-keg plant down the street outside Portsmouth’s midtown area showcasing some of the East Coast’s finest ‘big beers.’

Revisited Portsmouth Brewery New Year’s Day, 2010, during a huge snowstorm. My wife and I got seated at a stainless steel-tabled booth near central bar and ate mushroom melt with hummus baba ga-noosh. Portsmouth’s varied tap selection this evening included two distinct India Pale Ales, two differing Euro styles, two Smuttynose offerings, one mild stout, and a lusty Barleywine.

First off, sipped part of wife’s sweet honey-spiced yellow-fruited corn-sugared pilsner-malted Dirty Blonde Ale while drinking in gorgeous three-dimensional ceiling-tiled sea shanty mural hanging from side wall.

Hard-wooded bark-dried spice-hopped grapefruit-embittered 5C’s IPA retained tangy lemon-peeled tropicalia above dark floral tones and malt-toasted bottom. More approachable and popular, Bottle Rocket IPA let softer resinous pine-hops share up-front space with grapefruit-peeled orange zest, juniper, and mango illusions.

Full-fruited Belgian farmhouse-styled Saison L’hiver (with its sweet apple-candied caramel-malted frontage and alcohol-saturated bruised banana, cantaloupe, melon, and mango fruiting) outdid European counterpart, Munich Dunkel, a fig-sugared plantain-dried fungi-scented German-styled dark wheat ale lacking sweet mocha malt aggression.

Mild black cherry-soured coffee-burnt chicory-roasted espresso-creamed Black Cat Stout maintained black chocolate center. But the most interesting Portsmouth brew may’ve been its supple Barleywine, a sweet plum-sugared fig-candied banana-bruised rum-spiced butterscotch-dripped dessert treat with luscious purple grape, red cherry, and blackberry undertones.

As for the Smuttynose fare, tapped version of Star Island Single had soft-buttered lemon-candied tartness and dried maize fade while Shoal Pale Ale added boozy IPA strength and deeper wood tones to currant-embittered apricot-tangerine tang.

Check Beer Index for bottled beer reviews.