It’s American Craft Beer Week!
When did beer become such a THING? Craft breweries seem to be opening at the rate of one a week around here. Some are purely tasting rooms with retail sales, some are bar hybrids, and a few have food going on (or at least a truck or two in the parking lot). The entire e-list team lent a hand with this one, and we tasted our way up and down the Shoreline. Beer tour for Father’s Day, perhaps? Here’s what we liked best.
Beer’d Brewing Company, Stonington
Nestled into the Velvet Mill in Stonington, the tiny Beer’d Brewing Company waits. There’s a lot packed into the small, one room space, which features both the entire production floor as well as taproom. The brewing system resides almost out of sight in the back, while the tasting bar, front and center, reminds you why you’ve come here: to drink some handcrafted beer.
The size of the brewhouse at Beer’d allows for constant experimentation; the list of available beer is ever changing. There is no discernible “flagship” beer: fan-favorites exist, but there is no guarantee that what is on tap one week may be available the next week (or even day!). Beer’d doesn’t package their beer, and it is only available on draft in the tasting bar, or in a select few CT restaurants. Nor do they offer food for sale, so bring something to munch on! Or, on some Sundays, a table from the Broad Street Kitchen & Coffee may be set up in the tasting room, offering snacks for sale. Pints at Beer’d start at $5, Howler fills at $5, and Growler fills range from $11 to $17. Jonathan Edwards wine is also available for $8 a glass.
New England Brewing Company
New England Brewing Company has an industrious vibe to it, from the moment you slip into the parking lot. Forklifts load palettes of cans into outbound trucks, and through the big roll-up brewery doors you can see workers winding around rows of hulking fermenters. But come 5:30, the tasting room is full of folks stopping by for growler fills on their way home from work.
You can’t order pints or flights at New England, but you can get up to four free tastings per day. Their focus seems to be on beer production rather than operating as a drinking establishment, and New England’s tasting room is a lively place to hang out and taste the wares before taking a few growlers home—limit two per style, four per person. There isn’t any seating in the tasting room, but there’s plenty of places to lean—a big copper-topped bar, barrels-turned-to-tables, and a long wood table overhung with Edison bulbs inside 32-ounce growlers.
The Brewery’s two famous IPAs, Sea Hag and the G-Bot Double, were on tap when I visited, along with a deliciously bright French Saison and numerous “Fat 10ers,” which ranged from dry-hopped Pilsners to Pale Ales to Coffee IPAs. It’s a great place to restock your beer supply (growlers only, cans are available in liquor stores and bars state-wide), and a fun launchpad into date night.
Outer Light Brewing, Groton
Tucked into a strip-mall on Bridge Street, in Groton Outer Light Brewing features a bustling taproom. A mere hour after opening on a Wednesday night every table, seat, and much of the available standing room was occupied. While there is no food served on the premises, folks had brought their own snacks or picnic dinners. And if you’ve failed to plan ahead, a binder located next to the door features delivery menus.
Despite the crowd, I found a beer in my hand and a corner in which to perch only a few minutes after entering. Outer Light offers three year round brews: Lonesome Boatman Ale, Libation Propaganda Coffee Stout (brewed with locally roasted coffee from Ashlawn Farm Coffee, in Old Saybrook), and the ever popular SUBduction IPA, an homage to Groton. All of these beers can be found on draft all over Connecticut…but the tasting room also offers seasonal brews, which are available in scarcer quantities, and not as widely distributed. Almost an entire wall of the tasting room is devoted to windows, allowing customers to marvel at shiny stainless and muted oak barrels of Outer Light’s production space.
Pints start at $6, or if you want to try an assortment, flights of 4 begin at $8. Or, if fermented barley isn’t your style, Outer Light also pours red and white table wine from Jonathan Edwards for $8 a glass. Beer-to-go is available in 32oz Howlers (prices ranging from $6 to $18 for a re-fill) and 64oz Growlers ($10 – $30).
DuVig Brewing Company, Branford
DuVig Brewing Company prides itself on making good, simple beer true to style, something they do very well. DuVig specializes in well-balanced session beers, which hover around five percent alcohol by volume, thereby allowing you to have more than one in a “session” and not keel over.
It’s a relatively small operation—DuVig has a 6 barrel system (equal to about 1,500 pints) they fire up twice a week—but a brewery doesn’t have to be huge in order to be great. This one has a down-home family vibe, and when you pair DuVig’s inviting atmosphere with high quality, highly drinkable beers, you’ve got a winning watering hole.
A Cream Ale, Brown Ale, Pale Ale, and Czech Pilsner were on tap when I visited, and since it was Friday, Moxie, a deliciously caramel-tinged Red Ale, was also available. This beer is a collaboration between Madison restaurant Moxie and DuVig, and it’s offered regularly as the “Mother Plunker” at Moxie and at at the brewery on Fridays. My favorite of the beers was the delicious Cream Ale, and their chocolate-y Brown Ale may be one of the best Browns I’ve ever had.
DuVig’s beers can be found across the state at plenty of restaurants and bars, and I’m in luck—the brewery is collaborating with Thimble Island in canning their scrumptious Cream Ale this spring. Keep an eye out for it at your neighborhood liquor store.
Thimble Island Brewing Company
I visited Thimble Island Brewing Company on National Beer Day, a recently enacted mini-holiday celebrating the repeal of Prohibition. Just as crowds gathered around American breweries on April 7, 1933, there was a sizable crew of people gathered at Thimble Island in Branford to commemorate 80-plus years of legal beer drinking. The brewery was also holding a festive paint night that evening, and everything from mocha chocolate chip cannolis to burgers and locally sourced fish and chips was available from two food trucks camped in the parking lot.
Thimble Island’s flagship beer is their American Ale, an amber/red ale offering a light and refreshing mix of hops and malt. The brewery does a super job crafting solid, American-style beer all around—I tried their IPA, well-balanced and not overwhelmingly hoppy, as well as their Session IPA, very dry and hop-forward. My friend loved the Dark Pumpkin Porter, a New England seasonal that doesn’t err towards ultra-sweet.
Thimble Island is named after the cluster of islands off Branford’s coast, and the space has a distinctly nautical feel—the bar has a beautiful shell detail at its corner and is inlaid with thick rope; the tap handles are oar-shaped. Thimble’s Uncharted Series, special brews available at various times throughout the year, include the summery Windjammer Wheat Ale, Mutually Assured Destruction Russian Imperial Stout, and the Ghost Island Double IPA, and unique cask beers such as the Vanilla Coffee Stout and an extra-hopped Session IPA brewed with peaches are tapped regularly.
Upcoming paint nights in May and June feature “Kiss the Girl,” “Herb Garden,” and “Sand Art Terrarium” themes, and trivia is held regularly on Fridays. Beer talks and tastings are held three times a day on weekends, and there are whispers of a biweekly summer IPA series launching this summer, as well as a beer garden and new bar offering stand-up and sit-down seating. Pick up Thimble Islands beer virtually anywhere around the state—visit their website for a comprehensive list of locations.
Cottrell Brewing Company, Pawcatuck
Off the beaten path of Pawcatuck, CT sits Cottrell Brewing Company, one of the oldest breweries in CT. As you enter the industrial space, you immediately begin to feel like a part of the brewing process: the brewhouse towers over the tasting bar, and pallets stacked high with kegs and beer loom behind you, waiting to be shipped out to destinations all over the east coast. The tasting bar itself takes up only a fraction of Cottrell: a larger, second room features the monolithic fermenters, and an ancient, bottling line that would be at home in a WWII-era factory montage.
Cottrell brews four beers for year-round distribution: their flagship Old Yankee Amber Ale, a traditional IPA called Mystic Bridge, Stonington Glory, a summery pilsner, and the rich Perry’s Revenge, a scotch ale. All four of these beers are available on draft or in bottles. The tasting at Cottrell is complimentary, and patrons sample the year-round offerings, as well as a weekly guest beer and a one-off, experimental brew-of-the-week. The guest beer comes from one of the many breweries that Cottrell contract brews for: another brewery’s recipe, produced in large quantity for distribution at Cottrell.
In addition to selling howler and growler fills (starting at $4 and $7, respectively), Cottrell sells cases and six packs, as well as hand-bottled, 22oz “bombers” of their barrel-aged brews.
Overshores Brewing Company
“Beer is to Belgium as wine is to France,” according to The Economist, and at Overshores Brewing Company in East Haven, it’s all Belgian beer, all the time. Though Belgian beers come in several sub-styles, they’re known for being light on the hops and big on flavor, which can range from clove to banana to barnyard to sour.
Overshores is unique in that they operate as both Belgian brewery and Belgian beer bar—along with their house-brewed beers, they serve up several other Belgians, including beer nerd favorite Delirium Tremens straight from Brewery Huyghe in Belgium to 668 Neighbor of the Beast from New England Brewery in nearby Woodbridge.
Stepping into Overshores is a bit like stepping into the belly of a ship. The cozy bar is dim, there’s a piano and some kind of electric organ in the corner, and bottles line the walls on a high shelf over a display of local art. House beers range from rich, dark, and potent to light, funky, and refreshing. My favorite is the Belle Fermiere Saison, a floral, tangy farmhouse ale. You’ll find locally crafted soap made with Overshores’ Tripel Brun in the bathrooms, and you can buy some to take home from the bartender.
The brewery is open for carry out 10am to 4pm daily, and the taproom is open Thursday through Sunday with two tour opportunities available. Check out their Pints and Poses yoga class on Saturday, May 21 from 11:30am to 12:30pm—class cost is $25 and includes a post class flight or pint.
Steady Habit, Haddam
In Connecticut, the term “local brewery” can be changed to “hyper-local brewery” – it seems like almost every little town has its own brewmaster creating delicious and unique variations on beer. John Peterson of Steady Habit Brewing Company is that guy in the small hamlet of Haddam. John has been passionate about brewing beer for decades and pulled the trigger two years ago when he opened Steady Habit on Bridge Street, right down the road from the East Haddam Swing Bridge. His steady (pun intended) following was already forming in the parking lot when I arrived at 2pm on a Friday afternoon. These were seasoned folks who knew “the drill” – bring your own bottles or growlers, wait for them to be filled and gab about the brew while sampling what’s new and fresh off the tap. I spoke with John (he mans the tap himself) while trying a few samples of what was available that day. First, Gooners Grog Dark English Mild Ale – like a Guiness on a diet: smooth, smoky & barely bitter; then Spring Turps Red Ale – hoppy, bright & slightly malty; and finally, Equinox their famed Double IPA – certainly hoppy, round body, balanced & quite satisfying. Like most hyper-local breweries, they are a small outfit; hours are almost always weekend only and supply runs short of demand – so get there early and enjoy!
Hours: Friday 2 – 7pm, Saturday 12 – 5pm
Black Hog Brewing Company, Oxford
What’s better than a brewery on a rainy Saturday? It wasn’t easy to find a table at Black Hog because plenty of people were on the same page. I went with a crew of friends a day after Black Hog earned gold at the World Beer Cup for their Granola Brown Ale.
Saturday is food truck day at Black Hog, and Chief Brody’s Banh Mi was stationed in the parking lot, serving up killer sandwiches, soba noodles, and Vietnamese meatballs (Brody’s brines their pork in Black Hog’s Ginga’ Ninja). Inside, lots of really good beers were on tap—the S.W.A.G. Summer Wheat Ale with Grapefruit Peel & Sage, Vush Pig Project Kumquat Slingshot: Tart Blonde Ale with Kumquats, and the aforementioned Ginga’ Ninja Red IPA with Fresh Ginger, to name just a few.
Black Hog also has a brewery-only line, the Disco Pig Series, available in 500ml bottles behind the bar and often on tap. Pouring last weekend was the sixth in the Disco Pig series, Cyser Söze, a delicious beer-cider hybrid with a bit of funk to it, crafted in collaboration with Wallingford’s New England Cider Company.
Black Hog’s other draws include customized chunky Jenga, a free Pac-Man/Galaga video game machine, and a warm and inviting family vibe (meaning watch out for children underfoot!). Wine is available for non-beerheads. Upcoming events a beer dinner at Anthony Jack’s in Southington on Thursday, May 19; visit the brewery for beers, growler fills, and can pick-up Wednesday through Friday in the afternoon and evening.
Stony Creek Brewery
Wait. Where are we? Williamsburg? Nope, it’s just the super exciting Stony Creek Brewery. Craft beer enthusiasts and newbies alike will love the tastings here in the modern taproom or spacious deck overlooking the Branford River. Sample a flight of fresh brewed IPA (we liked The Little Cranky and NOT just for its name) and amber Lager. It’s the sort of fresh, modern bar you won’t want to leave and owner Ed Crowley and family make it easy to hang around, luring you with brewery tours and a game pit. Take some brew home in an 8 oz “Crowler”, filled sealed and labeled right before your eyes. Or grab the traditional 64 oz “Growler ($12). As for noshing, for now it’s just pretzels at the bar, but don’t miss the food truck in the parking lot. Depending on the day, you can feast on Caseus’ grilled cheese, Zuppardi’s classic New Haven style pizza, Shoreline Prime and more. Check the schedule for details.
We missed a few (a bit of carb overload over here at the-e-list) and there’s even more beer coming soon: 30 Mile Brewing Company is opening in Old Saybrook this month (late May 2016) and Fox Farm Brewery later this year in Salem.