Destination breweries are growing in popularity for beer aficionados and casual beer drinkers alike. From playful interior design to tasting decks with a view, breweries large and small are letting their personality show through. And in Connecticut, our compact size makes it easy to explore one or more of these hot spots in a single trip. We spoke with Will Siss, Connecticut Beer author and self-described “beer snob” to get to the bottom of Connecticut’s growing appeal.
Since so many of Connecticut’s craft breweries are start ups, the need for affordable space often puts them in non-descript industrial parks, which can lack a certain curb appeal. But once inside, you’ll find inviting spaces that reflect the personality and the passion of the owners.
Connecticut also has an advantage that many other states don’t: unique, historical, one-of-a-kind spaces. “In Connecticut, there are a lot of old mill towns, with big old buildings and factories that make great brewery spaces when converted,” says Siss. Stubborn Beauty in Middletown is in a remodeled bicycle factory, for example.
And where once the industry was challenged by negative perceptions, more and more towns are receptive to the idea of a brewery in their midst. According to Siss, “municipalities are certainly more open to it, where in years past they may have been suspicious, when they see how popular and respected these businesses are, they are becoming a lot more welcoming.”
Small Batch Smarts
There are also many smaller brewery operations in Connecticut that offer tastings, tours and other reasons to visit — on a little more intimate level. Relic Brewing Company is a small batch operation, or nano-brewery, in Plainville.
In fact, the batches are so small, every week there’s something different, which Siss says can be great if you’re always looking to try something new. But not so great if you fall in love with something “that’s gone the next week.” Luckily, you’re not far from J Timothy’s Taverne, which features a selection of local craft beers and a full dining menu as well.
“The guys that came of age when home brewing really took off as sort of a rebellious hobby are the ones that are making it work today,” says Siss. “For them, it’s not just a business, it’s a passion.”
Other smaller shops with dedicated followings include:
- Thimble Island Brewing, Branford
Ales, stouts and more, offering tours, free tastings and growlers.
- Shebeen Brewing, Wolcott
Specializing in unique and unusual flavors and ingredients.
- Cotrell Bewing Company, Pawcatuck
Family-owned brewery making hand-crafted beers for more than 19 years.
- Outer Light Brewing Company, Groton
A child-friendly tap room offers pints, tastings, and growler fills to go.
- Half Full Brewery, Stamford
Tasting room offers occasional “rare beer” nights.
- Overshores Brewing Company, East Haven
Connecticut’s first and only dedicated Belgian-style brewery.
- New England Brewing Company, Woodbridge
Offers limited edition beers such as the “white whale” Fuzzy Baby Ducks.
Many of these breweries are found along the Connecticut Beer Trail. But Siss says there’s more to explore practically every day. “You can even do a mini tour in some towns like Branford, where you can taste at DuVig Brewing Company, Thimble Island and Stony Creek in one trip.”
Or stop into Bridgeport’s innovative Brewport for food, pizza and a wide selection of in-house crafted brews and other favorites from Connecticut and beyond.
So how does Connecticut’s craft brew industry stand up against places like Boston and Brooklyn? Siss says for one thing, it’s a different attitude here; that Connecticut’s craft breweries offer a quality product, great personality and a sense of connection.
“These days a lot of casual beer drinkers are looking for an experience. They can go anywhere to get a beer. They want to feel like they’re part of something, a community. And the community here is so open and inclusive. You don’t have to know a lot to go to these tasting rooms, the people there treat everyone the same.”
Some people remember beers like good dates. “They connect a beer with a song that was playing, a moment in time that was special to them. These breweries offer the emotional connection that people are looking for — but it’s the community that keeps them coming back.”
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