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!

The novelty of familiarity

back east porter

Many craft beer lovers, myself included, are drawn to the new. I cannot remember the last time I ordered the same thing twice at a bar on the same night, for example. I am constantly trying out the latest collaboration and relishing in some obscure style made by a brewery whose name I can’t even pronounce. So it’s a novelty, in a way, that I have a beer I frankly don’t ever see myself not having in my fridge.

The plainly named Porter from Back East Brewing of Bloomfield, Conn., is nothing flashy. By American standards, it’s probably a little mild. By British standards, it’s maybe a bit too hoppy. But chemically, psychologically, and spiritually, it fits me like a glove. I’m not a shill for Back East — I like their co-owners and enjoy some of their other beers — but really, the Porter is the only one I’m crazy about. Luckily for me, it’s a year-round offering. I could see a brewery putting these out only in the wintertime, and so it’s a delight that I can find those silver cans waiting for me pretty much whenever I’m in the mood for them.

The Porter has hints of burnt coffee and dark chocolate, but those are subtle. There’s a tiny glimmer of bitterness in the finish, but nothing that lingers. I’ve had it with sharp cheese, chocolate cake, gingerbread, hamburgers, and Girl Scout cookies of all kinds.

I just felt it necessary to share with you that while I hunt down whatever’s the flavor of the minute (which usually means some double IPA that’ll leave you swimming in Citra hops), there’s still a go-to beer that in case you’re wondering, you can offer me any time and I’ll grab gratefully.

RELATED POST: Cask warriors: Half Full vs. Back East

Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!

There’s a time in every mild-mannered columnist’s life when the rage must bubble out.

I’m talking about frustration with something insidious, repellant and soul cracking. I’m talking about pumpkin beer.

Why pick on pumpkin beer? It’s the playful symbol of autumnal splendor! The nectar that introduces the casual beer drinker to exotic flavors! People are passionate about their pumpkin beers. They routinely stock up on Southern Tier Brewing Co.’s Pumking, a high-alcohol, rich and mildly spicy ale made with pureed pumpkin. Others celebrate Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale and Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

I posit only this: we should stop buying so much pumpkin beer and encourage brewers to make better seasonal beers instead. I would rather drink a finely crafted porter that incorporates the spices we associate with pumpkin beer than the unappealing messes that most of these vegetable beers have become.

Reason 1: They either taste like a spice cabinet or not much of anything. Pumpkin meat, the gooey orange glop also known as Jack-o-Lantern brains, doesn’t really taste like anything. What we associate with pumpkin flavor is really pumpkin pie, which comes from spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. So when brewers try to translate this into beer, they use some form of pumpkin (sometimes roasted to bring out a little natural flavor) but a bunch of spices to complement the malt and hops. The result is either overly spiced or bland. Continue reading “Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!”

Cask warriors: Half Full vs. Back East

Conor Horrigan of Half Full Brewing and Tony Karlowicz of Back East Brewing
Conor Horrigan of Half Full Brewing and Tony Karlowicz of Back East Brewing

Two more Connecticut breweries squared off tonight at Backstage restaurant in Torrington for Cask Wars.

Half Full Brewing of Stamford brought it strong with its Imperial Cascadian Ale, which it brands as a “double black IPA.” It was fresh and springy, with Citra hops giving a lift to the natural carbonation, which isn’t much.

I’m not really a cask guy, or a “real ale” man. But I keep my mind open.

Back East Brewing of Bloomfield competed valiantly with its big guns; its imperial stout is one of my favorites. This cask version had a hop kick at the end of each sip which kept it balanced. It was certainly less chocolatey in this form.

Both owners were in attendance: Conor Horrigan of Half Full and Tony Karlowicz of Back East. They were both educating the rather large crowd, perhaps 70 people or so.

The weekly competitions have been a success, in my opinion. I hope it opens up a larger crowd for Connecticut beers in the process.

RELATED POST: Taking Risks, Making Beer

Taking Risks, Making Beer

Mike Smith and Tony Karlowicz of Back East Brewing.

(The following column was originally published on July 4, 2012, in the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American.)

By Will Siss

There were these cousins – Ed and Tony – and they hadn’t seen each other in a while, maybe a decade.

“It was a little awkward because we hadn’t seen each other in a long time,” Ed told me. “Then [Tony’s] wife said he wanted to start a brewery and we both just looked up.”

Once Edward Fabrycki Jr. and Tony Karlowicz discovered that they shared the same dream, it was only a matter of how hard they wanted to work to achieve it. As it turned out, they’d have to work extremely hard to make their Back East Brewing Co. a reality. Continue reading “Taking Risks, Making Beer”