The path to becoming a brewmaster often begins in one’s garage. Vehicles sit in the driveway, exposed to the elements and harsh Connecticut winters to make room for brew kettles and buckets, spigots and siphons. That’s how Brian Ayers started out. He was a personal trainer and gym owner who entered his Blurred Lines Brewing creations into beer competitions on the weekends.
A few years ago he landed an internship at Black Hog Brewing in Oxford before moving on to Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield to package and cellar beer while learning the business. When the powerhouse Eli’s Restaurant Group was converting the old Adams Paper Mill in Manchester into Elicit Brewing Company and looking for a brewmaster, Ayers sent in his résumé.
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After a few phone conversations with Ellis Reilly, Eli’s director of business development, Ayers was brought in for an interview. “I don’t want to be presumptive,” he remembers asking, “but would you guys like me to bring beer?” Whatever was in that briefcase of brews put Ayers over the top.
What Ayers has that most rookie brewmasters could only dream of is the financial backing and infrastructure of a restaurant group with six locations and a quarter-century of experience. He says the Eli’s people are “restaurant guys” and he has creative autonomy when it comes to beer recipes. “I literally went from brewing five-gallon batches up to brewing 250-gallon batches,” Ayers says. “A lot of that learning curve is enjoyable for me.”
But Eli’s first foray into brewing, and out of New Haven County, is about so much more than beer. Elicit is an adult playground. In addition to the brewery and beer hall, there is a craft cocktail bar upstairs, raw bar on the weekends, a 40-item menu, lounge area and arcade — and yes, the bubble hockey game is Whalers vs. Bruins. “We’ll add the back patio in the spring,” Reilly says. “We’ve got another room upstairs we haven’t even opened yet just because we didn’t have time to get to it. We’ll just continue to add more elements.”
It would be difficult not to be impressed just wandering through the space. Old-timey beer-ad murals are painted on brick walls, handmade Chesterfield sofas from London are scattered throughout the lounge, and extravagant chandeliers by French-Canadian designer Welcome Bienvenue hang above rich wooden picnic tables in the beer hall.
Since opening in mid-November, the main draw, like with most things new, has been curiosity. People want to see a completed renovation and try Elicit’s beer. Ayers’ theory is to have something for everybody — his four categories being hoppy, dark, seasonal and fruited/sour — and the debut lineup at Elicit, which I enjoyed a flight of, consisted of a double IPA, stout, pineapple hefeweizen and passion fruit sour. All four are approachable and mellow with good flavor, a seemingly low-risk, safe play in the early going.
But there won’t be a flagship brew. Ayers says the styles will constantly rotate as he keeps experimenting with recipes on his five-gallon home kit.
That’s where the other 50 taplines come in handy. “If we need a flagship IPA, we can just order up anybody else’s in Connecticut, or in the country, and then have that beer on all the time for the people that want a steady beer,” Ayers says. “But what I’ve seen in the market nowadays, people are way more interested in trying something new every time they come in.” At Elicit Brewing Company, that won’t be hard to do.
Elicit Brewing Company
165 Adams St., Manchester
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 4 p.m.-1 a.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-midnight