Every food-and-drink establishment has been forced to adapt these last few months. Upscale restaurants simplified menus and shifted resources to the takeout side, and places with no outdoor seating made patios appear out of thin air. But some haven’t had to adapt as much. While we’d never anoint anyone as “lucky” or “built for this” during times like these, the new Dockside Brewery in Milford is well equipped to both survive and thrive in a rapidly changing industry.
Situated on the banks of the Housatonic River in the village of Devon near the Stratford town line, Dockside opened for business on April 3. Co-owner Bob Chicoine says a lot of time, money and effort was spent over the winter on getting the interior ready for a planned March opening. When the pandemic hit, all the focus went outside.
Things that were supposed to be on the back burner until after Memorial Day became the priority. And social distancing was practically built into the blueprint. “We have basically five levels of space outdoors where you can really separate,” Chicoine says. “That’s one of the big benefits we have.” And Dockside has been reaping that benefit ever since outdoor dining resumed in the state on May 20; customers have been flocking to Connecticut’s newest destination brewery.
Intended to be a taproom indoors and biergarten outdoors, canning beer and takeout food were not part of the original plans. When on-premises dining and drinking was temporarily banned in March, Chicoine felt Dockside had the management and staff to make it work on short notice. Having a head brewmaster, Andy Schwartz, with a quarter-century of experience didn’t hurt either. “Andy’s beer was ready to go for the open,” Chicoine says. “OK, let’s can some beer, open the kitchen and see how it goes.”
Dockside initially had one crowler machine meant to seal a couple dozen 32-ounce cans a day for people to purchase beer to go. “We broke it out of the package. After the first day we did about 300 cans,” Chicoine says. “The thing looked like it was 200 years old.” So they ordered another one and kept on canning.
Schwartz, who spent over five years as the brewmaster at Stony Creek Brewery in Branford, will celebrate 25 years of brewing this July. In this industry, resting on your laurels is frowned upon and evolution is mandatory. Schwartz says the approach of a brewer is similar to that of a chef. Neither will keep making the same thing over and over again, and you find recipe inspiration where you can and try to make it your own.
He’s constantly developing new brews, but also taking some of his old recipes and bringing them back to life and revitalizing them with better brewing techniques and ingredients. “With enough experience, cooking or brewing, you start to learn your ingredients really well, and your techniques,” Schwartz says. “You know that if you take this combination of these ingredients and cook or brew them any number of ways, you’re pretty confident it’s going to come out the way you envisioned.”
The amenities at Dockside include an indoor gaming area in addition to the taproom, and the outdoor biergarten features expansive water views, a beach game area and ﬁre pits. And the food menu is monstrous, especially for a brewery. You’ll find soups, salads, wings, burgers, pizza, a lobster roll, tacos — you name it, it’s probably on there. Currently there are nine Dockside beers on tap, with offerings that pay tribute to Milford (Milford Ryezing, a dry-hopped hazy blonde ale), Schwartz’s former stomping grounds (Califragilistic, a West Coast IPA) and those who enjoy wordplay (Dockside of the Moon, an American-style stout).
Guest taps are primarily Connecticut beers, with a secondary focus on New England and the Northeast. But Schwartz stresses that quality outranks locality. “Just because something is maybe popular or hyped doesn’t mean we’re going to necessarily sell it,” Schwartz says. “We’re going to make sure we are serving the most quality beers in the state and the region.”
That being said, you might be surprised if you pay a visit to the Dockside website. “It’s just beer” greets you in a large font, all caps, on the homepage. “We’re gonna have fun and not take life all that seriously,” Schwartz says. “While at the same time, taking life really seriously.”
40 Bridgeport Ave., Milford
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.