Thinking outside the carafe

Liz Pliska, with Nelson Veiga (left) and Jamie Webb

Liz Pliska, with Nelson Veiga (left) and Jamie Webb

The last place I’d expect locally crafted beers to gain a huge reception? A Waterbury, Conn., wine bar.

Well, I’d expect it even less at a nursery school, but still…

In yet another sign of Connecticut beer’s increasing popularity, 1249 Wine Bar recently opened its rechristened “CT Taproom,” and is already drawing drinkers to its six locals-only taps and expanding bottle list.

While the primarily Euro-centric restaurant is certainly a wine-drinker destination and has won awards for its wine and martini selection, the stretch into beer territory is a welcome move.

Much of the credit goes to one of the restaurant’s managers, Liz Pliska. The upbeat and personable redhead knows her beer and has made strong contacts with local brewers.

Beer preacher
When I met Pliska, there was music in the air. I’d just pulled into a nondescript strip mall off of West Main Street, and was greeted by the buttery voice of a live crooner singing “The Way You Look Tonight.”

Soon after, I stood in the small, dark restaurant’s smaller, darker first-floor bar. With nowhere to sit, I was afraid we’d have to spend our time shouting, but Pliska had a better plan.

“Follow me upstairs,” she said.

1249 Wine Bar

1249 Wine Bar

Everything changed up there; it was brighter, quieter, and — besides Tommy the bartender — empty. With muted earth tones and indirect colored lighting, it felt more modern and peaceful.

The CT Taproom new features beer from six craft breweries in the state, including newer ones like Charter Oak Brewing from New Canaan, Half Full Brewing of Stamford and Stony Creek of Branford.

“We wanted a place where we could feature Connecticut breweries … because they make great beer,” said Pliska, a Beacon Falls resident who started out as a book keeper and is a licensed minister with the Universal Life Church. “The regulars love it.”

As do craft beer heads. 1249 Wine Bar was a stop on a recent bus tour run by the influential craft beer promoter CT Beer Trail.

“I think the folks at 1249 are off to a good start, and I’m eager to see where they take this concept in the months to come,” wrote Bryon Turner, who runs CTBeerTrail.net. “When we heard about their plan to open a tap room specifically for local beer we thought having them as part of a bus tour was a great idea.”

Logical pairing
As we sipped a Bloomfield-brewed Weed Amber Ale, Pliska explained the restaurant’s plan for alcohol domination.

Since its opening last January, 1249 Wine Bar has benefited from its association with Nelson Veiga. The master sommelier and co-owner of The Good Life – a package store that shares an entranceway with the restaurant – gives classes at his store that he calls “The Good Life University.”

One could enjoy sharing how a Spanish Albarinho wine differs from wines from Portugal’s Douro region over dinner next door.

Pliska knows that the restaurant’s draw is still wine, but finds that it’s easier than it seems when it comes to convincing patrons to try local craft beer.

“I try to get them to think about how food pairs even better with beer, especially casual food,” she said. “Beer has such a broad flavor profile, so it’s not that difficult.”

Curt Cameron, president of Thomas Hooker Brewing in Bloomfield, said that craft beer is sneaking into a lot of restaurants you would not expect.

“I have seen not only wine-centric bars but all types of restaurants adding great beer selections,” he said in an email. “I think they are just responding to the desires of their customers. I have seen not only wine centric bars but all types of restaurants adding great beer selections. I think they are just responding to the desires of their customers.

Turner echoed Cameron. “I have noticed some traditionally non-beer places have started to dip their feet in the craft beer pool, and I think this is long overdue,” he wrote. “Consumers want the opportunity to drink quality beer with their food, and there is a great push now for all things local.”

The CT Taproom is open Thursday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. However, any beer on tap there is available throughout the restaurant, as are the 39 different beers in bottles from 15 Connecticut breweries.

Future plans
Not satisfied with helping to expand the restaurant’s beer menu, Pliska is aiding in expanding other 1249 Wine Bar offerings.

For example, she and executive chef Alex Ruggiero are planning beer and food pairing dinners like one last week that featured shandies (lemonade and beer) by Travellers Brewing.

There will also be Spoken Word Nights in the CT Taproom at 7 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month.

After saying goodbye to Pliska and picking up a Charter Oak six-pack from The Good Life, I heard the crooning voice return, this time as Elvis Presley.

Reflecting upon Pliska’s spreading of the craft beer gospel, I happily walked to my car singing along to “If I Can Dream.”

Until next time, sip well.

You can follow tweets from Beer Snob: @BeerSnobCT.

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IF YOU GO
1249 Wine Bar
1249 W. Main St., Waterbury
(203) 756-1249
www.1249winebar.com

(This column was originally published in a different form in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American on June 26, 2013.)

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