by Valerie Schroth
Jan 10, 2013
11:00 AMTable Hopping
The Microbrewery Boom in Connecticut
There’s a rash of new micro (and nano) breweries in the state— some open, some about to open, others are in the planning stages. Even to someone like me, who’s been covering the beer business full-time since 1994, the plethora of new breweries is surprising. What’s going on? What have these people been drinking?
The answer to that is simple: They’ve been drinking their own beers. The new brewers are almost all homebrewers in love with their own product. Their family and friends, of course, all tell them it’s the best they’ve ever had. The next logical step? Dump the boring 9-to-5 job and start a brewery!
Really? Is there public demand for more Connecticut-brewed beers? Sufficient interest from wholesalers and retailers? Have any of these hopeful brewers put their fingers into the wind before spitting?
The sad truth is that most of them will fail before the year is out. Don’t get me wrong: I love well-made beers and want all these breweries to succeed, but my notebooks are full of breweries that came and went in the time it takes the foam to recede on a freshly poured pint, to say nothing of the dozens of wannabes who never made it out of the gate.
Longtime observer of the beer business Jack Kenny, who writes a column for the Connecticut Beverage Journal, says, “Beer lovers cry out for more brews, brewpubs, breweries and beer bars, but the pragmatist understands the retail marketplace, the sweat that makes a brewery work, and the demographics.”
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the new and projected players in Connecticut:
Beaver Beer — Contract
Bill O’Brien, Rob Anson and Baxter Urist formed Beaver Beer as a “contract brewery”— which means they brew their recipes at another brewery until they may decide to build a brewery in-state. The beer labels for their amber lager (Brewnette), pale ale (Blonde) and India pale ale (Big Red) exhibit a design element that’s a tad tongue-in-cheek coupled with the brewery name—or sexist—depending on how you look at it.
Back East Brewing — Bloomfield
Cousins Tony Karlowicz and Edward Fabrycki have released seven beer styles, mostly in half-gallon glass “growlers” and on draft, although beers in the Imperial Series, such as the 10.5-percent-alcohol-by-volume Imperial Stout, come in 750-ml. bottles.
The Cambridge House Beer Co. & Brewery — Contract
Steve Boucino is back in the beer biz, this time with partner Kyle Best. From 2005 to 2009, Boucino was the founding partner of The Cambridge House Brewpub in Granby. He sold that business and has returned as a contract brewer with plans to release 13 beers, all competition medal winners from his years at the brewpub. The first beers in the Medal Series are Big Hoppy (a double IPA), Kolsch and Three Steve Stout.
Charter Oak Brewing — Contract
P. Scott Vallely has 30 years of homebrewing experience, and a business background as the owner of Paper.com. After selling that business, he began brewing in earnest and has released 1687 Brown Ale and Royal Charter Pale Ale, an American West Coast-style pale ale.
Half Full Brewery — Stamford
Conor Horrigan and his partners brew Bright Ale, a light-bodied pale ale/blonde ale hybrid. Pumpkin Ale and Rye IPA were available in the fall, and additional year-round and seasonal beers are planned.
Relic Brewing – Plainville
Owner/brewer Mark Sigmon opened the state’s first nano-brewery (small production capabilities). Beers have included Rye Lager, Old Ale, English Dark Mild, 1800 Porter and Pre-Prohibition American Lager, plus many beers only available at the brewery.
Stony Creek Beer — Stony Creek (Branford)
Manuel Rodriguez and Peggy Crowley brew two versions of an American-style India Pale Ale (IPA) with the clever names (203) IPA and (860) IPA—named after the state’s area codes.
Two Roads Brewing — Stratford
This is a large-production brewery that will brew its own line of beers as well as beers for contract brewers. The owners—Brad Hittle, Clem Pellani, Peter Doering and Phil Markowski—have long and deep backgrounds in the beer biz, and head brewer Markowski (founding brewer at New England Brewing in Norwalk in ’89) is one of the best in the business. Year-round beers include Ol’ Factory Pils (a pilsner lager), Road To Ruin (a double IPA) and Workers Comp Saison (a Belgian/French “farmhouse-style” ale).
On the horizon are Broadbrook Brewing (East Windsor), Dawley Brewing (Newington), Firefly Hollow Brewing (Bristol), Lost Elm Brewing (Stafford Springs), No Worries Brewing (New Haven), Overshores Brewing (Killingworth or Old Saybrook), The Beer’d Brewing Co. (Stonington), Thimble Island Brewery (Branford), Weed Brewing (Bloomfield) and Wild Birch Beer (Bridgeport).
The beery future? I asked Greg Zannella, general sales manager for Northeast Beverage of Connecticut, distributors of many craft and imported beers. “Connecticut needs a culture that wants to drink local,” Zannella says. “But that hasn’t worked here—Connecticut’s still searching for its identity as it pertains to beer. There are great craft beers already in Connecticut and many more coming, giving the consumer the biggest opportunity ever to drink local. Are we ready for it?”The Microbrewery Boom in Connecticut