Participants at a recent Girls Pint Out event in Hartford. Photo by Will Siss
Participants at a recent Girls Pint Out event in Hartford. Photo by Will Siss

As a man, I take a lot for granted.

I’ve never been handed a wine list at a beer bar. I’ve never had to endure a warning that the India pale ale I ordered would be too bitter for someone like me. I’ve never been ogled or groped or made to feel like I didn’t belong at a brew fest.

Enough women have suffered these indignities to make the beer community – even the open and groovy craft beer scene – a sometimes unwelcoming one. The charge elicits knee-jerk protest from bearded beer geeks like me: “I treat everyone equally! I’m not prejudiced! Everybody’s welcome under the beer tent!”

I try to check my ego at the door and open my ears to some truth on a Friday night at a Connecticut Girls Pint Out event in Hartford. Girls Pint Out (GPO; girlspintout.org) is a national, nonprofit organization that started in 2010; its mission is to build a strong community for women beer drinkers. In more than 35 states, women get together over beer and usually an activity like brewing or jewelry-making.

One of CT GPO’s leaders, CJ Manuel, serves as my liaison into the GPO world. She organized the free event at Hartford Prints!, a cool little store that specializes in personalized stationery and items like t-shirts and jewelry. The store is closed, and the women and I hang out in the back, in what feels like the living room of a small apartment, with a couch, table for designing crafts and a kitchenette.

For the next few hours I lurk the best I can without consciously making the 15 attendees feel awkward. Everyone brings at least two bottles of beer to share, so a table of local ales like East Windor’s Broad Brook Brewing’s Pink Dragon Wit, several high-end sours and at least one homebrewed stout glimmer invitingly and serve as the focal point for mingling. Continue reading “Out-Siders”

My latest presentation was a SMASH

Will Siss at Pardee-Morris 8.3.15
The talk before the accident. Photo by Tyler Jones (Black Hog Brewing).

The thrill of watching a middle-aged man pace about on a mild August afternoon is usually enough for beer history fans.

However, at my Connecticut Beer reading on Sunday on the lawn of the Pardee-Morris House in New Haven, my half-hour talk was punctuated with a bang. No, an actual, literal bang. As in one car T-boning another. Crunch. Luckily no one was injured (it was more of a slow-motion crash), but it certainly threw off my rhythm. It was at the part of the talk where I finish with a big quote from Jeff Browning of BruRm @ Bar and then ask for questions.

I never got to ask for questions because about 10 of my audience members had sprinted past me to the cars in the street. The rest were on their phones calling 911.

It was a record crowd for me, with about 75 people. Everyone settled in when they saw that the drivers were OK, and were relieved to be able to applaud for me and go sample beers from Black Hog Brewing of Oxford and the soon-to-be-professional (probably) Erector Brewing of New Haven.

Blog-ucation in Asheville

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Clockwise from top: Brian Grossman leads brewers on tour of Sierra Nevada Brewing in North Carolina, Kim Jordan addresses bloggers, the outdoor tasting room of Oscar Blues Brewing in Brevard, Ken Grossman (goateed, on left) addresses bloggers.

Some mock blogging as self-centered and self-serving. It’s true that there are those who turn to blogging as a way to marvel at their own words online or try to attain free dinners or gadgets. The same can be said of beer bloggers, of course. We’re just in it for the brewery access, the rare beers, and free glassware. I would argue that I am in it for many things. After three days in July of intense beering and bloggery, I was reminded that two reasons are camaraderie and education.

The event was the sixth annual Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference (they added “& Writers” this year), which welcomed about 150 “citizen” bloggers and writers, along with others who represent brewing entities. We took part in seminars at an Asheville, North Carolina, hotel — Four Points by Sheraton. We also drank a whole lot of beer, but for the most part in reflective ways. Speakers included Kim Jordan, president of New Belgium Brewing Company (which is set to open a brewery in Asheville next year); a representative of Budweiser (Huh? I’ll explain…); and a variety of bloggers with tips on professionalism and improving style. Road trips included tours of the expansive Sierra Nevada Brewery in nearby Fletcher, and the hulking Oscar Blues Brewery in Brevard.

Continue reading “Blog-ucation in Asheville”

Connecticut Beer: New Book Is Your Ultimate CT Beer Guide; Interview with Will Siss

It’s wonderful and humbling to get attention from fellow bloggers you respect!


Will Siss aka Beer Snob, photo from Paul DiPasquale

If you keep up with Connecticut Beer, then chances are you follow Will Siss in some form or another. Whether it’s his monthly “Beer Snob” column in the RepublicanAmerican, or via his blog beersnobwrites.com, he’s dropping beer knowledge bombs left and right. But, he’s added a new way to share about beer and his uberly descriptive reviews: a brand new book. 

If you don’t own Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing by now, you’ll need to definitely pick up a copy at a local store, Amazon, or at some of the local events that He will be attending. We have a list below that Will shared with us, so read on for that. And, if you really needed a reason besides our love and admiration of this book, let’s drop some bombs of our own.

Connecticut Beer starts off with an impressive history of beer in…

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Off to the races

Jon Clancy Photography
Jon Clancy Photography

If you’re interested in beer (who isn’t?) and running (who is?), then you might want to check out the Craft Brew Races on Saturday, Aug. 1, in New Haven. It will be at Edgewood Park at the corner of West Rock and Whalley avenues. The race starts at noon and the fest runs from 12:30 to 4 p.m.

It’s the second time the 5K road race — followed by a craft beer festival — will occur in The Elm City. Companies such as Samuel Adams, The Traveler Beer Co., and Sketchers sponsor the race/drink series. There are others all around the country, including Austin, Tex.; Boulder, Colo.; and Newport, RI.

“Each Craft Brew Race makes a donation to a local non-profit organization and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance” in New Haven, according to a press release from Gray Matter Marketing, which also sponsors the event.

As for beer, the event features more than 45 breweries, 30 of which hail from Connecticut. Some slated to appear include Two Roads, Beer’d, Kent Falls, Stony Creek, Firefly Hollow, New England Brewing, and brewery-to-be, No Worries.

There will be food trucks, local vendors, and live music to digest as well, with parking at Southern Connecticut State University, lots 8 and 9 on Farnham Avenue.

Courtesy of Gray Matter Marketing
Courtesy of Gray Matter Marketing

Registering for the race and festival onsite costs $65. The festival by itself costs $55 at the gate. However, it’s cheaper to buy before July 31. For more information, go to www.craftbrewraces.com/newhaven/.

Among all to choose from, which CT beer should I bring?

A selection of (mostly) CT beer from Bottle Stop in Torrington, Conn.
A selection of (mostly) CT beer from Bottle Stop in Torrington, Conn.

After 10 hours of driving I just have a couple more to go before I reach Asheville, NC. That’s where the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference is being held this year. And if you think bringing a gift to a friend who has everything is pressure, you can sort of imagine how I felt when I needed to choose a Connecticut beer for our bottle share.

There are plenty of choices, at least compared to how CT beer was just five or six years ago. So many questions: Would they want to try something exotic? Do they want the most bitterest of bitter? Do they want the one with the weirdest ingredients? Bottle or can?

In the end I didn’t overthink it. I went toBottle Stop in Torrington and scanned my choices (see picture). I chose the Ginga’ Ninja by Black Hog of Oxford, and because it’s my favorite, the Porter by Back East.

Looking forward to a fun few days!

Beer Bloggers Conference 2015

Beer Bloggers Conference

Just a day away and I’m packed for the annual Beer Bloggers and Writers conference. This year it’s in Asheville, NC, an amazing city for beer. I’ll be spending three days with like-minded writers and drinkers. I’ve gleaned a bit about them over the year via Twitter, but now I’ll have a chance to learn from them during panels, network with fellow authors. I plan to update my blog to reflect my experiences. Stay tuned.

Rediscovering 1984’s “The Great Beer Trek”

Stephen Morris' "The Great Beer Trek" (photo from Amazon.com)
Stephen Morris’ “The Great Beer Trek” (photo from Amazon.com)

Back in 1984, Stephen Morris wrote a travel book — Amazon (The Stephen Greene Press) — that’s funny and conversational in tone, with just the right amounts of statistics and historical context to feed the mind without weighing it down. The topic? Beer. Or more specifically, as the subtitle denotes, “A Guide to the Highlights and Lowlites of American Beer Drinking.”

He took his journey, roughly from Boston to Yakima, Washington, with his pregnant wife and dog (Guinness) in a Chevy van. It’s a rather regimented journey that takes him throughout New England, down to the “wastelands” (his word) of the Southeast, though the Midwest, down to Southern California and up the coast to the Pacific Northwest. Morris, with whimsical illustrations by Vance Smith, meets brewers, brewery owners, and die-hard drinkers to create a snapshot of the macro- and micro-brewery scene was like in the late 70s to early 80s.

What a world away it seems from today, where you can’t drive a 100 miles before hitting a few breweries along the way. In the world of the original Great Beer Trek (there’s a revised version from 1990 that I have not read), you get the feeling of despair throughout: the best days of America are behind them here, with nothing but rotting or stumbling hulks of breweries to remind us of glory days past. The independent breweries that do exist are under darkening clouds of purchase from breweries like Anheuser-Bucsh, Stroh, Schlitz, and Heileman. The book reminds me of Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon (1982), in that it’s about trying to rediscover an America that seems to be fading into some sort of collective imagination.

Morris peppers his story with little profiles of important figures in American beer history: F.X. Matt II, Rudolph Schaefer Jr., and even revered beer writer Will Anderson. He does his best to get past the supposed grandeur of Big Beer, and is even sympathetic of the large breweries that were taking over the landscape.

While in Wisconsin, Morris chats with Bill Leinenkugel, who invites the author to take part in a taste test. Morris noted Leinenkugel’s “competitive curiosity” about the other beers that Morris had tasted on his journey. He wanted to know how they tasted in comparison to his. “There are too few independent brewers to anyone to wish anyone else ill,” Morris writes. “None of the small brewer’s beers are sold in the other’s market, so there is no real competition. Within a context of mutual support, however, each one wants to be the best. Man has an innate need to strive for excellence, and the need finds its finest opportunity for expression in the field of brewing.”

I came across the book at a tag sale, and it caught my eye because I wished I’d read or even heard about it months ago when I was putting together my own book about Connecticut beer. I would have used some of Morris’ observations about Hull’s Brewing in New Haven, which had just become defunct when he was writing the book. He expresses a sense of responsibility for the demise of the beer that he made jokes about while growing up and drinking it. “No need to search deeply for the cause of Hull’s ignominious demise,” Morris writes. “I murdered Hull. Who scorned the local beer in favor of the more prestigious national brands and imports. Who made jokes about Hull’s ‘Export Piss?’ Who assumed there would always be a local beer associated with old school days?”

I certainly recommend tracking this book down if you’re interested in the history of American beer, or if you just want to be taken for a fun ride in a Chevy van with a dog named Guinness.

Standing still at the brewery

Just hanging out during a Thomas Hooker open house on June 5.
Just hanging out during a Thomas Hooker open house on June 5.

It’s be a fun month of book promotion, and not because I’m filling a swimming pool with cash from all my sales. It’s been fun because I’ve been able to be a solitary figure, oftentimes just silent and unobtrusive, observing people drinking and making merry.

Let me give you an example. It’s a busy Saturday afternoon at Shebeen Brewing in Wolcott. I’m set up in a large room with communal tables, sitting on a high stool behind a table filled with copies of my new book, “Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing” (The History Press). After trading niceties with owner Rich Visco and some staff members, I’m left with my wife to just… hang out. We’d just driven up from New Jersey, so after three hours in the car we’d already conversed all we’d need to for one day. A few nice folks stopped by the chat, but after a while it was just the two of us, sitting behind a big table, watching people drink.

In a way I felt like a judge, and sort of felt like I needed to rate the merriment. For the loud foursome playing Cards Against Humanity, I’d give an 8 out of 10… that one woman’s laugh dialed it down from a solid 9. The hippy couple bonding over samples of what appear to be the pale ale get a 6; they could use a little more animation.

In other scenarios, like at Overshores Brewing in East Haven, I’m off to the side with my little stack of books. During their anniversary party, I was privy to several conversations, including one about a gent who’s keen on starting up his own brewery. This is one I’ve heard before, but it never fails to excite me too. You get caught up in their energy and confidence.

Meet the author... at House of Books in Kent.
Meet the author… at House of Books in Kent.

Books stores and libraries have a different vibe. They’re much quieter of course, and even though the events I’ve taken part in include beer samples, they never get too rowdy. There, I’m the focus, as in “Meet the Author” (or sometimes, Stare Bemusedly at the Author). But I still get to surreptitiously listen in on broken bits of conversation. I think there’s something about being surrounded by books that puts people on their best behavior, and perhaps makes them feel like what they say needs to be “important.” I’d love for there to be more breweries with bookstores in them; reading and drinking are two things I love to pair.

At Thomas Hooker Brewing in Bloomfield I had a chance to observe a group of bearded guys enter into the most animated of conversations. They were part of the Connecticut Facial Hair Alliance, whose motto is, “Life’s too short to spend time shaving.” By quietly standing back and observing, I got to see a rookie bearded guy mistake (getting foam in your mustache) and a sly veteran’s trick (he brought his own straw for samples).

So if you see me at an event and I’m standing behind my pile of books looking out of it, I’m really just taking it all in.

The book tour is on

It’s been a blast so far promoting “Connecticut Beer.” I’ve been to Overshores Brewing in East Haven, Shebeeen Brewing in Wolcott, and Backstage in Torrington. I’ve been to Thread City Hop Fest in Willimantic, and today I’ll be in Goshen at the Celebrate Northwest Connecticut Festival.

This week is busy too: I’ll be at Prospect Public Library with Matt Westfall of New England Brewing Company doing a reading, talk, and tasting.

There’s more to come. Just keep an eye on the Twitter and my events section of the blog.

Sip well!