Cape Ann lands in CT again

CapeAnnBeerWhen I got an email saying that Cape Ann Brewing of Gloucester, Mass., was going to distribute again in Connecticut, I thought exactly what you’re thinking: How do you pronounce the name of that city again? Then I thought: What does it taste like? (The beer, not the city.)

We Connecticut beer lovers are lucky to have so much Massachusetts beer on our shelves. Sure, we don’t have every Mass. beer… If Tree House Brewing were here, we wouldn’t get to go to Monson! But we do have Jack’s Abby, Wachusett, and Big Elm, among others.

Family-owned Cape Ann Brewing, which has been making beer since 2004 on Boston’s North Shore, distributed beer in Connecticut until 2008, then decided to focus on their local market. Now they are back in the Nutmeg state. A representative was kind enough to arrange for some cans for me to sample, and so I did. They foot the bill, but the opinions are mine.

Fisherman’s Pils (5.4% ABV) – I started off with this gem right after mowing the crispy lawn. It went down quickly, and I immediately regretted the chugging about halfway through. That’s simply no way to enjoy a beer. As anticipated, it was crisp and clean, with just enough hop bitterness to reward a slow savor. At 35 IBUs it’s no bland lager. I think I’ll pace myself next time and try this in the shower.

Fisherman’s Brew (5.5% ABV) – This amber lager had the crispness of the pils, but a slightly maltier balance. A beautiful pinkish red, this beer proved to be a hit with a non-beer lover (gasp) with whom a shared it. We paired it with peanuts, hummus, and chips and it seemed to compliment those just fine. Anything more aggressive might have overwhelmed this easy-drinking beer.

Sunrise Saison (4.5% ABV) – This Belgian beauty was, frankly, nicer to look at than drink. Packed with strawberries and rhubarb, the ale seemed to fighting itself. It was in some ways quite sweet, perhaps from the wheat in the grain bill. However, the tart and earthy components brought in by the fruit and plant complicated matters, making it more work than necessary to enjoy.

Fisherman’s IPA (5.5% ABV) – An India pale ale that doesn’t tear your taste buds from the roots, but still incorporates Sorachi Ace hops? This is the one. This English-style IPA has a pleasant bitterness and squeezes plenty of flavor from relatively low ABV. I happened to be trying this when someone passed cannoli around, and it went surprisingly well. Its malt base seemed to come to the surface.

Deadeye Double IPA (9.0% ABV) – This one was a bit of a bitter attack on the senses, with Citra hop invading the throat while delivering an aroma choke hold. Too strong for my taste, but right up others’ alleys, this beast might be the perfect partner to a spicy gumbo.

Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout (7.0% ABV) – A seasonal treat, this stout might be the one to wash back leftover Halloween candy with. This Pumpkin is sweet, but complex, opening up with hints of dark fruits like plum as it warms up. There’s certainly cinnamon here, but the sweetness tastes more like it came from honey.

With Cape Ann on our shelves, we’re that much richer. I happened to get mine at Bottle Stop in Torrington, but I’d recommend you seek out this brewery’s offerings at your own package store.

FURTHER READING: Big Elm Gerry Dog Stout

My library adventures

Siss at library
Wowing them at the East Hampton Public Library

I can’t get over what a wild ride this whole book thing has been, and I’m floored by the places it’s taken me. Since Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing (History Press) came out in April of 2015, I’ve chatted about it on radio shows and a podcast, and taken it with me to brew festivals, restaurant fund raisers, historical societies, and even a yacht club. My most consistent supporters, however, have been the Connecticut libraries, and I wanted to reflect a little on how grateful I am of the men and women who have given me chance to talk about my love of Connecticut brewing history, lead beer tastings, and sell my book.

When you’re giving a talk at a library you’re entering a sacred space, at least from my perspective. Growing up, I stood up a little straighter and tried to sound a little more intelligent when I went to my public library. It was a well-lit oasis for a bibliophile and committed indoorsman like myself. My library was right next to the soccer field where I tried to keep up with the big kids and labored to breathe, so in many ways it was a sanctuary.

I learned as an adult that the public library system is still an asylum. Of course I stop by for books and books on tape CD as a patron, but ever since my first book talk at the Prospect Public Library in May of 2015 I’ve had a new perspective on what a library means to its patrons.

To keep relevant and viable, libraries offer what the internet cannot: human interaction. So they offer author talks, but also cooking demonstrations, storytelling sessions, business adviser meetings. Thanks to the Connecticut Library Consortium, program directors can find actresses, musicians, and time management gurus who do more than just perform. They interact.

So I’ve tried to do just that, and it’s been a blast. The people I’ve met have been a pleasant mix of beer geeks, local history enthusiasts, and mildly curious library groupies. I think my largest gathering was at Avon Free Public Library, where about 60 people gathered and Tina, the adult services manager, had set up a great selection of beer-related books for people to peruse. At the gorgeous Darien Library, I had a chance to speak in a lovely lecture hall with stadium seating. Other times I’ve gathered in a more humble side room and spoken in front of a well-behaved and encouraging crowd of six.

I’ve been challenged and chided, questioned and second guessed, but never disrespected and always inspired to dig deeper into history and up my game as a presenter.

The beer tasting, which comes after the talk (because, really, I’m afraid to have it first), plays a big part of the presentation — where I’m allowed to lead it, that is. Not all libraries have policies that allow for alcohol, so sometimes it’s just me talking with my PowerPoint presentation. I’ve come to enjoy the tasting not just for the Connecticut beer we sample, but for the discussions that come during the sessions. I hear reactions I won’t hear during a roundtable of beer enthusiasts. Of course, I love, “Wow: I don’t even like beer, but I like this! It’s kind of sweet, isn’t it?” But I also appreciate, “Yeah, this is gross…”

I should say that if it were not for Tess at Veracious Brewing, who recommended approaching libraries, and for John at Prospect Public Library who recommended me on a librarian list-serv, I’d never have had these great experiences.

On Tuesday, July 12, I’ll be talking at my 30th Connecticut library – Kent Memorial Library in Suffield,  to be exact. It starts at 7 p.m. Join me, if you can.

Author’s note: I charge libraries a fee for my services, and for their generosity I am also grateful.

Future speaking engagements include:

Aug. 11, 6:30 – New Milford Public Library (860) 355-1191

Aug. 15, 6:30 -Manchester Public Library (860) 647-5235

Aug. 18, 7 – Oliver Wolcott Public Library, Litchfield (860) 567-8030

Sept. 15, 7 – Windsor Public Library (860) 285-1910


Leslie Patiño and the rise of beer fiction


I was reading The Brewer’s JusticeLeslie Patiño’s new novel about the dangers of running a brewery in Mexico, barside one afternoon. A young lady to my left noticed the foaming lager on the cover and announced that, she too, was reading a beer book. Hers was Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. While we were comparing fiction and nonfiction, I thought to myself: beer fiction has a lot of catching up to do.

The Brewer’s Justice, which the author self published as Patiño Publishing, is a fast-moving thriller set in Monterrey, Mexico, where Patiño has visited for decades and lived in for more than three years. I recently had a chance to talk to Monterey, California-based Patiño about her novel, her connections to the beer scene, and publishing.

But first, a little more about her gripping tale. It’s about Brad from Colorado who is trying to make it as a head brewer and owner of the fictional Monterrey Brewing Company in San Pedro with his business partner and local wheeler-dealer Carlos. Along the way Brad runs afoul of a drug cartel, dabbles in love interests, and learns the hard lessons of life in a culture that is not his own.


I met Leslie, oddly enough, drinking a Budweiser. The retired Spanish teacher originally from Austin, Texas, and I were both sampling Buds at the 2015 Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference in Asheville, North Carolina, during a presentation by an Anheuser-Busch brewer. She writes the blog Not My Father’s Beer, and I’m always impressed by her writing skills.

But going from covering the beer industry to writing a novel with craft breweries as its backdrop is no easy feat. Luckily, Patiño had help. Her husband Hugo, a brewer originally from Mexico, gave her plenty of insight.

While in many ways it’s a brisk read, The Brewer’s Justice also holds plenty of commentary about what many Mexicans have to bear in a country with so much cartel influence.  

“I started out writing a novel that shows mainstream Americans how life [in Mexico] has changed remarkably in the last two decades,” Patiño said. “Certainly, bodyguard service has proliferated. Simple things like people now carry their house key and car key separately in case they get carjacked.”

The brewery scene in the upscale Monterrey area, which is breathtaking and surrounded by mountains, is actually more developed than Patiño depicts in her novel, she said, but it’s still very small.

One of the many themes of the novel is that of misperception: Brad shows us that his idea of what police should do and how businesses should be run simply does not mix with the reality of northeastern Mexico.  

She decided to self-publish, which has its freedoms. However, Patiño would certainly entertain the idea of working with a publishing company, especially for the marketing it affords an author.

“I think this was a genre I was comfortable with,” Patiño said. “It took more than a couple of years [to write]. It took a lot of iterations.”

Patiño said she’s proud of her work. “It’s created a more heightened awareness of the reality in Mexico and the everyday things that can happen,” she said.

I hope we see more beer-based fiction, but while we wait for such future works to rival the output of John J. Palmer, Garrett Oliver, and Randy Mosher, please enjoy the work of Leslie Patiño.

Exile on Meat Street

Fleishers_table_fullThere are few collaborations more harmonious than meat and beer. No one appreciates that as thoroughly as a butcher  whose go-to IPA is Sea Hag from New England Brewing Company.

That butcher, Ryan Fibiger, was on-hand last Wednesday night for a beer-pairing dinner at the restaurant he co-owns in Westport, Conn.: Fleishers Craft Kitchen. The four-course extravaganza featured NEBCO and is the first of five pairing dinners Fleishers will host that feature Connecticut breweries.

“My love of good beer came from years of cutting meat until the middle of the night and needing to have something great when that was all done,” Fibiger told me during a break between courses. “I would think, ‘I’m entitled to this beer.’”

I had the opportunity to take part in the tasting on, as it turned out, my birthday. (I accepted the free meal, as did my wife, as a gift). During each course NEBCO met beef and pork in ways I didn’t think possible. While sitting at a long wooden table in a cozy space inches from the kitchen, the 26 guests were treated to running commentary by chef Adam Truelove and NEBCO head brewer Matt Westfall.

The guests enjoy a beer-meaty meal pairing at Fleishers Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn.

Arriving early, I gratefully accepted a cold can of 668, NEBCO’s Belgian-style strong pale ale and munched on some gourmet pork crackling. The popcorn saltiness of the deceptively airy rind played well against the brute force of the 668. With great swiftness the room filled with well-dressed patrons, some of whom appeared to be beer enthusiasts.

Fibiger welcomed us and waitstaff deftly placed stemless wine glasses filled with Sea Hag IPA, the beer that Westfall explained represented about 75 percent of what NEBCO produces from its Woodbridge, Conn. location. While we received our steaming white bowls of chorizo and IPA-steamed mussels with crispy bread, Truelove explained that the fattiness from the sausage and garlic in the broth found unity with the Sea Hag’s resinous impact.

With very little delay Westfall was chatting us up about the near-legendary mystique of the next beer: Fuzzy Baby Ducks. FBD. The Ducks. However you refer to this highly popular double IPA, you learn quickly that its reputation is deserved. Bursting to the rafters with Citra hop, yet balanced with a creamy texture, the beer delivered from the first sniff to the dregs. Truelove came close to matching the intensity with the second course: two spicy pork tacos with pickled onions, grapefruit, and avocado salad. Pulling out the citrus flavor of the beer with actual citrus was a smart move and I found that the beer seemed to bring out the intensity of each of the ingredients instead of overshadowing them.

Brisket with Ghost Pigeon Porter

The dinner took a dark turn as the elusive Ghost Pigeon Porter made its landing. I’m naturally drawn to porters, but this one provides something that English ones — and even some American versions — do not, which is that day-old espresso bitterness. The name comes from an actual pigeon that would fly in for visits at the brewery, but then one day took a few steps and, well, entered the land of ghosts. It was a refreshing change of pace after so much hop flavor, and Truelove coaxed out all of its charms with a chocolate and coffee-rubbed brisket with cauliflower mash.

The final course would need to be bold, I knew. Not only were our taste buds nearly exhausted from overstimulation (I don’t get out much), but the alcohol was taking hold. While John Williams’ theme for Darth Vader didn’t actually play, the score was running through my head as I was handed a glass of NEBCO’s exquisite Imperial Stout Trooper. Viscous and gritty, with dark fruit aggression and cacao bitterness for miles, the beer is rather rarely found outside of the brewery. With great curiosity I enjoyed the accompanying course: braised beef cheeks with celery root, red wine, and carrots. Decadence upon decadence.

The guests enjoy a beer-meaty meal pairing at Fleishers Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn.

Fleishers will be releasing tickets for each of its events at least two weeks prior to each date, and you can only make reservations through this ticketing system. You’ll need to sign up for their newsletter to learn about tickets, and you can do so here. Each dinner is $90.

Here are the dinners with Connecticut breweries, each on Wednesday nights at 6:30: Jan. 27 (Thimble Island Brewing), Feb. 10 (Stubborn Beauty), Feb. 24 (Relic), and March 9 (Black Hog).



Fleishers Craft Kitchen, 580 Riverside Ave., Westport, Conn.

(203) 226-6328

Ireland visit offers beer education

Yes, these pictures make it seems like all I did on my recent 10-day visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland was drink Guinness. And, indeed, I did drink A LOT of Guinness. However, I also explored the craft beer scene, and when I get my notes and photographs together this week, I’ll be putting together a few posts about it.

As a teaser, we’ll meet blogger Irish Beer Snob Wayne Dunne and his wife, Janice (a.k.a., Mrs. Irish Beer Snob), who write and podcast about the country from the east coast. We’ll also meet blogger Simon Broderick, whose Simon Says Beer emits from the central part of the country.

We’ll learn about some great Irish breweries, too, including Galway Bay Brewing, 8 Degrees, Lacada Brewery, McGargle’s, J.W. Sweetman, Brehon Brewhouse, St. Mel’s, and of course, Guinness.

Stay tuned and be patient while I struggle with jetlag and innumerable calories.

Outer Light Brewing pairs with Flay

Outer Light 1
Outer Light Brewing, from left, Matt Ferrucci (founder), Tom Drejer (founder), and Tyler Cox (head brewer). Photo courtesy of Outer Light Brewing

Groton, Conn.-based brewery Outer Light got a taste of the spotlight Tuesday when celebrity chef Bobby Flay paired its beers with his culinary team’s food at a private dinner held at Mohegan Sun’s branch of Flay’s Bar Americain on Tuesday in Uncasville, Conn.

The three-course dinner, according to an Outer Light press release, started off with a beer cocktail featuring Lonesome Boatman Red Ale. The first course of curry mussels and shrimp with wild rice waffles was paired with Fogg Spiced Saison. Outer Light’s Black IPA was paired with a braised pork shoulder with pumpkin grits for the second course. The third course put together the Libation Propaganda Coffee Stout with pecan pie, along with Come Sail Wit Me Belgian Witbier in the ice cream.

Outer Light has been on tap at Bar Americain  for several months, according to brewery co-founder Matt Ferrucci. “Many of [Flay’s] management team have been at the brewery to sample Outer Light’s lineup because they had been hearing positive reviews,” Ferrucci wrote to me in an email. “The connection was equal parts serendipity, and relationship. Our distributor Levine [of Norwich] helped solidify our relationship with the management team but in the end it was the beer that closed the deal.”

Outer Light 2
Bobby Flay. Photo courtesy of Outer Light Brewing

Along with being known as a chef and restaurant owner, Flay has served as host on several television shows, including “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” Management at Bar Americain was not immediately available for comment.

Outer Light started pouring for the public in April. It’s currently distributed on draft in eastern Connecticut and along the shoreline. Representatives said that the brewery hopes to begin distribution in Hartford in December and distribute in bottles early next year.

Va-va-VOOM: Get ready for burlesque in Oakville


From correspondent Lulu Michiell:

A definite do not miss: Hardcore Sweet Cupcakes, the coolest bakery in the New Haven area, and the Desultory Theatre Club will be hosting:

The Hardcore Halloweenie Burlesque & Variety Show! 

Saturday, October 24
at 7 – 10:30 p.m.
20 Main St
Oakville, Connecticut

Featuring the burlesque talents of Dot Mitsvah (CT), the Juiciest Jewess this side of the Wailing Wall; Vanil LaFrappe (CT), who will shake and stir you!; Nikki Tiki (NJ), the Jessica Rabbit of burlesque; and Vivienne LaFlamme (CT) who will make you hot under the collar.

What makes this different from your usual Saturday night is that this burlesque is as frothy and delicious as a white frosted cupcake sprinkled with goodies. Mmm… yum! These ladies are sure to tickle your fancy and delight your sense of titillation. I’m turned on, are you?
Show up early to get your seat and grab something from the food trucks of “SPUDS YOUR WAY” and “The Green Grunion. Find out more on Facebook at
Also featured: Firefly Hollow Brewing.


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; 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.