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Governor: Connecticut becoming known for its beer

malloy beer

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy drinking a Stony Creek (203) Lager after a ceremonial groundbreaking for the brewery in Branford, Conn.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday at a ceremonial ground-breaking at Stony Creek Brewing Company in Branford that Connecticut was becoming known for its beer, and that he sees the craft beer industry in the state continuing to grow.

“When I travel, they know about Thomas Hooker [Brewing Company in Bloomfield], and those guys from Stratford [Two Roads Brewing Company] are becoming better known,” Malloy said after the ceremony.

Drinking a Stony Creek (203) Lager, Malloy said that he is happy about the number of new breweries increasing in the state, with approximately 15 new breweries coming on line during in the past two years.

“We are promoting the Beer Trail,” said Malloy, referring to the line-up of breweries in the state that lawmakers have tried to have officially designated a “trail” like the Connecticut wine trail, complete with signage. “Breweries have qualified for economic development dollars.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (r.) with Stony Creek Brewing Company co-owner Edward Crowley Sr.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (r.) with Stony Creek Brewing Company co-owner Edward Crowley Sr.

Malloy joined local Branford-area politicians to take part in a ceremonial groundbreaking and blessing of the formerly contaminated land where Stony Creek has been building its 30,000 square-foot brewery on the Branford River since May.

“What we are celebrating … is entrepreneurship,” Malloy said at the ceremony. “We should be proud of what [the owners of Stony Creek] have accomplished.”

Stony Creek was founded in 2011 and has so far been producing its beers at Thomas Hooker Brewing. Its representatives say it hopes to be brewing beer at the new site by winter of this year.

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Tasting: Hardywood Park Singel

Hardywood Park Brewing Singel

Hardywood Park Brewing Singel

I have to hand it to my super-secret source here in Connecticut who fences me Hardywood Park Brewing Co. stuff all the way from Richmond, Virginia. This bottle of Singel made my day.

It’s a crisp, estery Belgian ale with a delicateness that makes it very food-friendly. I paired mine with shrimp marinaded in sesame oil, red-wine vinegar and red-pepper flakes, along with corn on the cob and green beans with sauteed onions. The Singel (a lighter take on the dubbel and tripel) blended nicely with the shrimp and cut through the sharpness of the red pepper flakes.

I’ve been a fan of this award-winning brewery for years now, and thanks to my super-secret beer mule, I’m a lucky guy. Hardywood Park’s Gingerbread Stout, is an amazing beer, and now I read that they have cream ale in cans, which sounds like an awesome summer addition to the beer fridge.

If you can get Hardywood Park Brewing, I urge you to. And feel free to shuttle some up my way if you have room in your trunk.

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Class is in session at Ski Sundown and elsewhere

Ski Sundown June 21

Beer festivals are more than just open-air excuses to revel: they’re also giant classrooms.

“What’s that, professor?” you ask. “Classrooms? But I thought that when the bottle pops open my brain turns off.”

On the contrary, misguided pupil. With schools closing for the summer, the education is only beginning. Beer festivals in the region are perfect for learning more about new beers on the market, new breweries, beer styles and the brewing process.

You don’t need to necessarily take notes, although I do. All I recommend is that you ask the right questions and use the one sense not associated with beer tasting: hearing.

Ski Sundown Connecticut Brewers Guild Brewfest
To gain knowledge about our great state’s breweries, there’s nothing like doing some liquid research all in one place. At Ski Sundown’s event, you can learn about established and newer breweries alike. At most festivals, you can talk to a brewery’s representatives. At this one, at least, you can talk to the brewers and owners themselves.

Like a specific beer? Ask the brewer how they achieved it. Was it the hops? The yeast? What effect does the rye have?

The festival, held at a beautiful ski resort, is named for the organization of state brewers, headed by Curt Cameron, who also runs Thomas Hoooker Brewing Company in Bloomfield. Connecticut breweries that make up the 35 overall breweries on hand will include big Two Roads Brewing of Stratford and little DuVig Brewing of Branford.

Ever wanted to sample something from a brewery that doesn’t (yet) bottle or can? Check out beers from Firefly Brewing of Bristol or Stubborn Beauty of Middletown. Curious about what makes a Belgian beer “Belgian”? Try some Overshores Brewing of East Haven. Can’t make it all the way to Willimantic Brewing? Do your research more locally at the festival.

Now, for a little self-promotion: I’ll be leading small tasting classes at the festival once an hour at my own booth. I’ll talk about ways to get the most from a beer tasting, and serve up Connecticut beers. I’ll talk about the history of their respective styles and pass along some info on the beers themselves.

The rain-or-shine event includes live music from Flyin’ Blind and food from The Meat House of Avon, available for purchase.

Time: 4-8 p.m., this Saturday, June 21
Location: Ski Sundown, 126 Ratlum Road, New Hartford
Tuition: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
More info: www.skisundown.com

The Half Full Hop Skip & a Run
If you want to focus your research on a single brewery, and get some physical education in while you’re at it, sign up for the “Hop Skip & a Run” 5K and Festival. Continue reading

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Pouring your own

BPA homebrew

I’ve been an on-and-off-again homebrewer for about four years, and there’s a reason I go off again. I’m not very good at following directions, and I’m easily frazzled when something goes wrong, especially when dealing with things that are boiling. So I’ve made a few stove-top creations with mixed results, including a nut brown ale that yielded bottles that exploded upon opening.

When I get a chance, I jump on-board and assist a real homebrewer, and this recently happened when I worked with Tom. Tom and I are in the same homebrew club, but that’s like saying the batboy is a member of an MLB team. Tom’s the real brewer, and it was with his equipment and recipe that we made a Belgian pale ale (pictured). I bottled my share of the brew day, and now, nearly two months later, it’s ready to drink.

I’m really happy with it. It starts out very sparkling, but smooths out quickly. It’s got a solid malt backbone and enough hops to give it a summer bite. We over-hopped it late, which gives it a slight citrus tang. The saison yeast comes through by giving it a freshly-baked bread quality.

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to pour my own beer. I might just be on again.

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Journeyman John

To get a taste of John Watson's dedication to authentic brewing, you've got to see his cobweb collection.

To get a taste of John Watson’s dedication to authentic brewing, you’ve got to see his cobweb collection.

In the back corner of a cluttered garage in Southbury, Conn., a reggae record spins on a dusty turntable, providing the soundtrack for fermentation.

The man who dropped the needle on the record is John Watson, slowly sipping a sample of his sour cherry lambic. To his left sits his simple brewing system, based around two converted Sierra Nevada kegs. To his right is a chest refrigerator dedicated to packaged hops.

It’s in this laboratory that Watson has created dozens of award-winning beers. But beer judges aren’t the only ones paying attention to Watson’s work.

The owner of his own plumbing and heating business is now also the head brewer for Pies & Pints restaurants, which recently added a downtown Waterbury location to pair with its Southbury spot.

“Beer has been my life’s passion,” says Watson, who at over six-feet tall is built like an ex-linebacker. “I want to be able to stretch myself in terms of what I can do with beer. Now I can turn other people on to what beer should be.” Continue reading

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Jesse Camille’s CT Craft Brew Fest: A Pleasant Mudpie

Twenty years in craft-beer years is a lot. For anything to last since 1994 in this little world means it’s got to be special. Such is the case with Jesse Camille’s Connecticut Craft Brew Fest in Naugatuck, Conn.

The “little fest that could” still does. Tucked into a grassy corner outside of Jesse Camille’s restaurant, the modest, four-tent area was plenty of room for the hundreds of beer geeks who wandered purposely in search of the perfect quench on Saturday, May 17. The annual event not only helps kick off the festival season, but raises money for the Camille B. Perugini Charitable Trust Scholarship Fund.

The Connecticut Craft Brew Fest isn’t very large, but it has enough offerings to keep the scavenger for new beers satisfied. In the muddy field, on a bright, post-shower day, I ended up drinking samples of nine beers, and gorging on a pulled-pork sandwich.

Here’s my sampling breakdown, in order:

Rogue Beard Beer (Oregon) – This quirky curiosity is known as the beard beer because Rogue created the yeast from samplings found in a brewer’s beard. Turns out that the yeast helps create a bright, citrusy blonde ale. Continue reading

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Sip well… Road Jam

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Imagine showing up to a pool party in May, where the host has tossed a few buckets-full of chlorine and scooped the leaves out with a rake. There are still twigs in the water, and even though you can see the bottom of the deep end, there are swirls of dirt hesitating before they settle.

This is how I experienced Road Jam by Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Conn. This rapsberry ale, made with lemongrass, is forcing summer early for me. It’s dry, with a touch of the advertised raspberry. It’s got a beautiful pink hue. It’ll be a go-to this summer; I just didn’t enjoy it the first-time out.

Tart, without much malt balance, Road Jam will be great with loaded burgers or with vanilla ice cream. I just can’t appreciate it now, and I am at peace with that.

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New guy at the old corner

Corner Tavern front
When you buy an old bar, you get more than the architecture, plumbing, walls and roof.

You also buy a canvas. It’s not blank: there’s faded paint and a tear or two. There are hard-to-read signatures, and stains the shape of pint glass bottoms.

In the fall of 2013, Ryan Whipple bought a 103-year-old establishment at 178 N. Main St., Naugatuck, which means he bought a large building with a sprawling tin ceiling and lots of dark wood in a residential neighborhood off of Route 8. It’s his very own weathered canvas.

Luckily for us, Whipple, 35, has an appreciation for history and a knack for getting new and exciting beers into your glass.

“It has a look of a bar looks like it could be in Boston or New York,” Whipple said over some beers recently. “And with the craft element that is pretty stagnant for this area.”

Ryan Whipple

Ryan Whipple

Changing corners
His bar is now called The Corner Tavern, but it started life as Behlman’s in 1911. In its corner of the borough’s Union City section, it has survived Prohibition, served customers who worked at the nearby mills, and withstood the punishing Flood of 1955.

In 1972, a German-American with no restaurant experience named John Woermer bought the establishment and renamed it The Old Corner Café. He ran it for almost 40 years, establishing it as a family-friendly restaurant and bar, and cementing the tradition of holding grand St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. After a few years in the hands of Naugatuck businessman Eugene Ferreira, the bar became Whipple’s last September, and opened its doors two months later.

The new version is a mix of old world and new. The walls and ceiling are still in great shape with fresh coats of paint. And it was a relief to see that Whipple had not replaced the urinals, each of which could pass for a small apartment. Additions include three giant flat screens, with another on the way.

“I think it’s a mix of original and modern technology, without the technology taking over too much,” he said. “This history of the place is one of the reasons I wanted to buy it.”

The bar life
Whipple said he’s comfortable going into bar ownership because he’s seen the restaurant industry from many angles, since he was a child. His mother owned RJ’s, a pizza restaurant on New Haven Road (he was the “R” in the name). He bussed tables later on, and made his way to bars as soon as he legally could.

It was as a DJ and host of karaoke nights in roughly 50 bars in the Waterbury area that allowed him to start scrutinizing the restaurant industry. “I’ve seen it done well and done poorly,” Whipple said.

“Owners have to work, not just expect their employees to just work,” he said. “When he’s not there the monkeys play.”

Whipple and co-owner Tara Mitro share responsibilities for jobs that they’ve learned over their years in the business, from replacing toilet paper to balancing the books. “You have to run your business like you don’t own it, at the level of service that you would want,” he said.
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Tap dance
The biggest change from The Old Corner is the added emphasis on craft beer. With 27 rotating draft lines, Whipple has a broad palate to work with. Two lines are reserved for hard ciders (Angry Orchard and McKenzie’s are favorites), and there’s always a Budweiser and Coors Light line. But other than that, the draft list is all over the place.

Whipple tries to balance out the styles. He pays tribute to the bar’s German history by offering hefeweizens, doppelbocks and lagers. He’ll also carry a very bitter double-IPA (India pale ale) and a rich stout. On a recent trip, I had a porter from Back East Brewing of Bloomfield and a (late in the season) “holiday ale” from Two Roads Brewing of Stratford.

“It’s not just slinging beers, it’s about education,” he said. “What I do with a customer is, I ask: ‘What do you like?’ I rattle off beer characteristics and I grab sample glasses. They choose one, I bring them a pint.”

Whipple’s “gateway beer” (which brought him into the arms of better beer) was Sam Adams’ Cherry Wheat.

“After a high school a friend of mine went to Fairfield University, where we played beer pong. I could not stomach anything from the keg. I showed up every weekend with a 12-pack of cherry wheat. That’s when Pete’s Wicked Strawberry Blond. They were easy-drinking, fruity, no bitterness.”

The tendency might have started earlier, however. “I remember sitting on great grandmother’s lap when I was five, drinking a Budweiser and thinking it was terrible,” he said.

Corner Tavern tap list

Corner Tavern tap list

Full circle?
Now he has a son of his own, Brayden, who’s five. As Whipple told me that his son loves to wash glasses behind the bar, I was struck with déjà vu: John Woermer told me in 2009 about how his son at six also loved to wash glasses behind the bar.

And as Whipple pointed out a quote from orator Patrick Henry, painted over The Corner Tavern’s entrance, I was reminded that Woermer kept the same one on a plaque: “The Tavern is the Cradle of American Liberty.”
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If a big building with some beautiful ceilings and urinals is to be more than just a building, it’s got to come from the heart of the owner. Whipple seems determined to show that his heart, as well as his head and wallet, are in the right place.

“Anything I’ve ever done in life, I’ve always tried to do it the best I can, whether it was school or mowing lawn,” Whipple said, preparing to take drink orders. “I had really good role models. Strict, stern. What more kids need today.”

This column was originally published in another form in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American on March 12, 2014.

RELATED POST: Down on the corner

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Pies & Pints could become Waterbury brewpub by September

Pies & Pints owner Theo Anastasiadis, left, and head brewer John Watson at the new Pies & Pints in Waterbury.

Pies & Pints owner Theo Anastasiadis, left, and head brewer John Watson at the new Pies & Pints in Waterbury.

Pies & Pints, known for its diverse beer list and Greek-inspired cuisine in Middlebury, Conn., has expanded into Waterbury, and could become the state’s latest brewpub by September. It is serving its own beer, an American pale ale called Chill Nuggz. Created by head brewer John Watson, the beer was brewed at Cavalry Brewing in Oxford, according to the brewer.

I grabbed some lunch and drank a few pints with Watson and owner Theo Anastasiadis today, and we talked about their plans for Pies & Pints. Anastasiadis has renovated the restaurant, most recently Dreschers, at 25 Leavenworth St., making it brighter, but keeping much of the look the same. He’s waiting on proper licenses to be able to brew beer on the premises. For more about the opening, read this Republican-American article.

The brewing system at Pies & Pints in Waterbury, which is yet to be set up.

The brewing system at Pies & Pints in Waterbury, which is yet to be set up.

Watson is a long-time homebrewer with credits at other local professional breweries, including the former Hammer & Nail Brewery in Watertown, the former Colorado Brewery and Trading Company in Danbury, and the very-much-existing Willimantic Brewing Company.

“Right now it’s not about how great we look or what nice guys we are,” said Anastasiadis, “it’s about the beer.”

I’m working on a full column, but get on over to Waterbury to check out the beer yourself. They have a nice draft list, which today included Founders Breakfast Stout and Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Fire and Blood.

Pies & Pints of Waterbury, Conn.

Pies & Pints of Waterbury, Conn.

Pies & Pints
25 Leavenworth St.
Waterbury, Conn.
(203) 573-1743