The following column was published in the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American on March 14, 2012.
We’re standing in a 350-square-foot concrete cell and it’s cold, but at least we’re sipping beer. It would seem, looking around the industrial park pod in Plainville, that we are giants (and if you’ve seen me in person, you know that’s a rarity). There are mini-fermenters, a mini-mash tun, and a small stack of bottles.
I’m with Mark Sigman — owner, distribution chief, head brewer and bottle washer — at Relic Brewery, a new member of the growing Connecticut family of breweries.
Not just a brewery, but a nanobrewery. I’ve heard various definitions of them, but generally it’s considered to be a brewery that sells less than seven barrels. A microbrewery sells less than 10,000 barrels.
After stints as a ski bum and computer programming student in Wyoming and Colorado, arguably the most active state for craft beer, the 40-year-old Simsbury native returned to Connecticut in 2006. That’s where he dove headlong into home brewing.
Sigman was buoyed by the encouragement he received for his creations, including an Olde Ale, which would serve as his first commercial beer. During a visit to a visit to a beer festival in Boston, even strangers voiced support for his home brew. Inspired by Hess Brewing in San Diego and in and Lawson’s Brewing in Vermont, Sigman decided that his own nanobrewery would make a viable career choice.
Choosing to create a nanobrewery for Sigman, seemed an odd choice. That’s because his worldview is shaped by, well, the world.
Sigman says he’s visited 75 countries, relying on friends within the airline industry for affordable tickets and traveling on the cheap. With friends and alone, he’s visited 48 states and nearly all the continents. He said he likes to go to the less touristy areas, with a special dedication to ruins. That’s where he got the idea to name his venture Relic Brewing.
Eventually the travels also became about the beer. “I went to Germany for the Oktoberfest, for example,” he says. “I went to Belgium only for the beer. I went all over England.”
It was traveling north up the east coast of Africa that he watched as Ethiopians and Tanzanians made their own beer.
“It was a big party,” he says. “I’d like to make a beer with some of the ingredients” like teff, used in Ethiopian cooking.
Sigman works full-time in his new residence in Farmington, at Acsys Interactive. There, as a computer programmer and manager, he helps businesses advertise on the Web.
His passion for brewing, however, withstood the hard work it took to start up a side business.
“It was overwhelming at first,” he says. “But as I got into it, I found more hidden costs.”
After purchasing in May the relatively affordable space near a florist, Sigman went about the five-month process of changing the laws in the town to even allow for a brewery. Then there were all the state and federal licenses to obtain, followed by an effort to introduce plumbing to the space and upgrade to all electrical system, which powers the whole operation.
Relic’s first commercial beer, Antiquity, was available at Harvest Fine Wine & Spirits in West Hartford until it sold out. It was an “olde ale,” which is a traditionally heavy English style of beer that uses rapid fermentation.
His next beer will be Prologue, a rye lager that should be available soon, he says. The bottle-conditioned beer (meaning that there is still active yeast continuing to turn the sugars into alcohol in the bottle) was dark and malty with hints of smokiness when we tried it in the meat locker. I mean, brewery.
I also had a chance to try a future offering: a mellow IPA called Fortnight. Sigman also has American golden lager on the way, as well as a dark mild ale.
“I want to cross styles,” he says. “Maybe make a dark Kolsch or a Belgian wit that’s a stout.”
Until next time, sip well.
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IF YOU GO
95B Whiting St., Plainville
Open house tastings on Fridays from 5-7 p.m., with at least three beers. This could change. For more information, go to www.relicbeer.com, or like “Relic Brewery” on Facebook.