An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Aug 8, 2014
01:05 PMThe Connecticut Table
Six New Must-Try Connecticut Breweries
A few years ago Connecticut did not really have craft beer trail, it was more of a beer desert broken only by an occasional brewery that would serve as an oasis in an otherwise dry wilderness. But thanks in part to a change in state law in July 2012, which allowed breweries to sell beer directly to consumers instead of exclusively through distributors, Connecticut’s craft beer trail is booming like never before.
Almost every week it seems like a new brewery in the state is opening its doors and tapping its kegs. But it’s not just the quantity of brew houses that makes this an exciting era for Connecticut beer lovers—it’s the quality. I’m writing a book about New England craft beverages for Islandport Press which has taken me to dozens of breweries throughout New England and I can honestly say the beer in our state is as good as anything elsewhere and something beer lovers here can brag about.
Boston Magazine writer Christopher Hughes learned about Connecticut’s’ growing pride in its beer the hard way. In June, he wrote an article called 50 can’t-miss New England breweries to visit over the course of the summer. He didn’t include any in Connecticut. After a slew of angry emails (and likely tasting or re-tasting some of our state’s beers for himself) he happily repented and featured only Connecticut breweries in a new story.
Below is part one of what will be Connecticut Magazine's ongoing series on the exciting world of craft beer within the state. The breweries below have been chosen because they are new, innovative, and because….well, I love them. But I know that I’m only scratching the surface with this entry. In the coming weeks and months I will be exploring the state’s brewing scene in much greater detail (it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it). As I traverse the craft beer trail I’ll be on the constant lookout for breweries old and new, so contact Connecticut Magazine if you have a brewery or beer suggestion. In the meantime enjoy the growler size sampling of new breweries below.
Beer’d, Stonington, (860) 857-1014, beerdbrewing.com
Hours: Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat-Sun., 1-5 p.m.
Beer lovers will want to do themselves a favor and seek out this brewery tucked into a former velvet mill in Stonington. It’s so small that it’s not even considered a microbrewery—instead it’s a nanobrewery—but the carbonated creations of proudly bearded brewer Aaren Simoncini have been making big waves in the state’s burgeoning craft beer industry.
Sampling this beer will likely require a pilgrimage to New London County, as it is hard to find outside the immediate Stonington area and even there it can be difficult. It is served in only five locations outside the brewery and other local bars and restaurants are so desperate to carry Beer’d they’ve began offering to pick up their own kegs. One taste of the Whisker’d Wit will tell you what all the fuss is about—this refreshing witbier is tasty work of liquid art. If you do travel to the brewery, the tasting room is sleek and modern and the samples are free as long as you’re buying a half or full growler to take home. And my guess is after a few samples you’ll want to take home at least a growler or two.
Half Full Brewery, Stamford, 203-658-3631, halffullbrewery.com
Hours: Thurs.-Fri. 4-7 p.m., Sat. 1-5 p.m. Tours: Saturday, 3 p.m.
“You used to be able to put out a mediocre beer and it was fine because there wasn’t a lot of craft beer options," says Conor Horrigan, founder of the decidedly un-mediocre Half Full Brewery, which burst onto the Connecticut beer scene in 2012. At the ripe old age of two, Half Full is one of the elder statesmen of the new wave of craft brewing in the state.
Horrigan, a native of Litchfield, had the idea for the brewery after walking away from an unfulfilling Wall Street job in New York City. The company is dedicated to optimism or what he calls "hoptimism"—all the beers have sunny-sounding names and the actual brewery space is adorned with optimistic Dale Carnegie-style quotes. But what truly gets me looking on the brighter side of life is the taste of the beer itself—rich and full of flavor, but still approachable for craft beer newbies. As Horrigan puts it, there’s enough hops to add flavor to the beers but not make them “so bitter they strip the enamel off your teeth.”
Firefly Hollow Brewing, (860) 845-8977, facebook.com/FireflyBrewing
Hours: Thur.- Fri., 2-8 p.m., Sat., 12-8 p.m., Sun. 12-5 p.m.
Entering this brewery located in a renovated space in the back of the former New Departure factory building in Bristol feels like walking into the set of a sleek Steampunk film. Celtic music plays over the PA system, there’s no TV, and retro lamps (some with beer growlers as lamp shades) illuminate the place with a soft glow. This place is cool, and it only gets better once you try the beer. Opened in October 2013 this brewery was financed with the help of a $40,000 Kickstarter campaign, and in less than a year in business it has already garnered a loyal following. Chief brewer and founder Dana Bourque’s most popular creation is Toadstool Stout—a must-drink for Guinness lovers—but all of his concoctions are winners and well worth a try.
Shebeen Brewing, Wolcott, (203) 514-2336, shebeenbrewing.com
Hours: Thurs.-Fri., 5-9 p.m., Sat., 12-7 p.m., Sun., 12-5 p.m.
Located not too far from Firefly Hollow Brewing this brewery (which takes its name from the Gaelic word for speakeasy) is located in an unlikely small space beside a kitchen showroom. Inside, head brewer and co-owner Rich Visco is engaging in some unusual brewing. The brewery’s signature offering is the Cannoli Beer, an Italian pastry-flavored concoction served with shaved chocolate and a Margarita-style sugar rim on the glass. Other rotating beers include Cucumber-Wasabi and Bacon Kona Stout (yes, it’s made with real bacon). Though these beers sound gimmicky, they’re not. The unusual ingredients are not forced or overdone; even the cannoli flavors of the Cannoli Beer are subtle and amazingly not too sweet. However, less-adventurous beer drinkers need not worry, Visco is also skilled at creating more traditional IPAs and stouts.
OEC Brewing, Oxford, (203) 295-2831, oecbrewing.com
Hours: Sat. 12-7 p.m.
Another brewery that marches to the beat of its own drummer (yeast strain) is this apothecary-themed brewing upstart that opened its doors in June. OEC stands for Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores, Latin for "Order of the Eccentric Boilers" (or brewers). The name is a tongue-and-cheek ode to the secret societies of the past, but secret-handshakes or participation in hooded ceremonies is not needed to join the fun—all one needs is a love of eccentric, innovative beer. The brewery is dedicated to recreating German and other European styles of beer from the days before modern brewing styles were developed roughly over the last 150 years or so. The un-pasteurized, un-filtered results are complex intriguing and delicious and include a variety of sour beers, an intense unforgettable style of brew.
Two Roads, Stratford, (203) 335-2010, tworoadsbrewing.com
Tours: Fri. 6:30 p.m., Sat. every hour on the hour between 1 and 5 p.m., and Sun. 1, 3, and 5 p.m.
This colossus of craft brewing produces so many barrels of beer a year it is technically too big to qualify as a microbrewery. But it’s not too big to overlook the craft of brewing. Since it opened its doors in 2013, Two Roads has became one of the most well-known and easy-to-find Connecticut beer brands. The multilevel brewery space is a popular hangout and an impressive piece of repurposed architecture (like many breweries, it calls an old industrial building home). A large variety of beer styles are offered, many featuring intense flavors that hop-heads love like the Road 2 Ruin Double IPA, brewed with four different types of hops—as the brewery website warns it’s “not-for-the-timid.”
Six New Must-Try Connecticut Breweries