Being from the West Coast my only exposure to Connecticut and its destinations has been through friends who either have visited or are from there. The conversation typically goes something like this.
Me: So what should I see when we’re in Connecticut?
Them: Um. Well, there’s … um … stuff
Me: Stuff? Where?
Them: Um. I forget I think.
And so it was with that hearty invitation that I headed across the border and into CT. I mistook one brewery for another, and we sat in wicked commuter traffic going to Willimantic, which meant waving to New Haven from the standstill freeway knowing I would have to be driving back to it the next day. Genius, I am.
After a few hours we arrived in Willimantic, dropped our stuff, and made a beeline for Willimantic Brewing Company, a brewpub Reddit had recommended a few months earlier. It seemed like a good stop to head to right after NYC to wash a bit of the big city out of our pores with some small town life. The theme of the town, and the pub, is frogs – they adorn bridges in town and make up a big chunk of the main sign for the pub as well.
We grabbed stools at the pub around 9 or so, and sat down with taster sheets ready to fill them with five beers of our choosing. The co-pilot sat with a sheet filled with saisons and wheat beers, and was able to get all but one of her choices. I filled mine with the “core” 5 beers on the tap list, and only one was still available. I found out that at the end of each month, and we were there the 29th, the taps are taken over by the limited offerings that were brewed throughout the month. Each beer has a release date on the menu, but you might be able to go score a second date with your favorite brew at the end of each month if you’re lucky. So I enlisted a bit of help from one of the servers and filled in a list with mostly local beer, and one brew from out of state. Some of the breweries I had never heard of, and some the locals had never heard of, but most of the beer was good.
The in-house wheat beer had a little funk going on, and I inherited that from the co-pilot. I wasn’t able to place it from only a sip or two, but it might have just been a bit funky – that occupied the bottom of my list. The top spot was saved for the in-house IPA, there were two on tap but the bog-standard every day Late Night IPA was the one I dug most – A number of the recipes make use of older styles of malt and hops, and the Challenger hops in this brew made for a refreshing East Coast style IPA that fit the bill for the evening.
The bar itself is pretty awesome as well – a converted mail room that used to serve the town years ago, the mail slots still exist in some spots and have been replaced by tap handles in others. When I imagined small town brewpub in my mind, this was exactly what I pictured, and sitting in a CT brewpub chatting with a few locals as they tried their first Stone beer (that was a face worth remembering) was the kind of experience I’m on this trip searching for.
As we left Willimantic for New Haven I was dreading traffic, but we made it without incident and arrived in time to swing by New England Brewing in Woodbridge. Emboldened by my visit to Barrier, I went ahead and walked in to say hello and grab some photos. The brewery is small but industrious, and they had three offerings available to taste for anyone who wandered into the brewery to look around.
If you’re after brewhouse photos head over to Flickr and check out the New England Brewing section – the brewery is pretty awesome and there is Elvis paraphernalia everywhere – apparently because one person thought the owner was into Elvis and it snowballed from there. The beers here were awesome, and even though I had tried Sea Hag IPA the day before in Willimantic, I indulged in another taste. They had canned a ton of Sea Hag earlier in the day and the pallet was resting on the floor, so I wandered over near it to snap some photos and took a sip of my taster. This is a good IPA, solid with a malty body and fresh hop flavor, but a bit too much pine for my taste. The flavors are all pungent and strong on tap, and the freshness is what struck me about all of the New England beers – the entire line-up smacks of strong flavors and fresh notes and while they lack in subtlety they rely on their forward flavors.
Gandhi-bot follows directly in this logic, and while it was my third taste I’ll write about it now if you please. This is a direct outreach from the Sea Hag in powerful flavors, a double IPA that melds strong alcohol and strong hop flavor beautifully into a burnt orange elixir. While the mouthfeel and body are middle of the road, the hop flavor and malt bomb are what you sign up for when you get the waiver for this beer, and it blows it away on both counts. A better-than-solid DIPA that cleans up nicely after its hop explosion and is drinkable enough for a few cans – yes please.
668 is the last offering from NEB that I got my hands on, and while it came form a can rather than the tap it didn’t suffer at all. A strong Belgian-style pale with distinct hop citrus notes and smooth malt body this ale is right up my alley. This is the third of the NEB beers to have a slightly orange tint to the pour, and a good deal of hop on the nose – flavorful and up front the brew hits hard but cleans up nicely and the finish means no rest is needed for another sip.
As a side note, NEB also has some of the best can art I’ve seen including 668’s confused neighbor illustration and Gandhi-bot looking like he’s about to breakdance. Check out some of the can art and enjoy a solid brew, that’s what summer is all about.
Hopefully we’ve given you a few reasons to make your way toward CT this summer, and when you make it there at least you won’t be hurting for a drink.