Class is in session at Ski Sundown and elsewhere

Ski Sundown June 21

Beer festivals are more than just open-air excuses to revel: they’re also giant classrooms.

“What’s that, professor?” you ask. “Classrooms? But I thought that when the bottle pops open my brain turns off.”

On the contrary, misguided pupil. With schools closing for the summer, the education is only beginning. Beer festivals in the region are perfect for learning more about new beers on the market, new breweries, beer styles and the brewing process.

You don’t need to necessarily take notes, although I do. All I recommend is that you ask the right questions and use the one sense not associated with beer tasting: hearing.

Ski Sundown Connecticut Brewers Guild Brewfest
To gain knowledge about our great state’s breweries, there’s nothing like doing some liquid research all in one place. At Ski Sundown’s event, you can learn about established and newer breweries alike. At most festivals, you can talk to a brewery’s representatives. At this one, at least, you can talk to the brewers and owners themselves.

Like a specific beer? Ask the brewer how they achieved it. Was it the hops? The yeast? What effect does the rye have?

The festival, held at a beautiful ski resort, is named for the organization of state brewers, headed by Curt Cameron, who also runs Thomas Hoooker Brewing Company in Bloomfield. Connecticut breweries that make up the 35 overall breweries on hand will include big Two Roads Brewing of Stratford and little DuVig Brewing of Branford.

Ever wanted to sample something from a brewery that doesn’t (yet) bottle or can? Check out beers from Firefly Brewing of Bristol or Stubborn Beauty of Middletown. Curious about what makes a Belgian beer “Belgian”? Try some Overshores Brewing of East Haven. Can’t make it all the way to Willimantic Brewing? Do your research more locally at the festival.

Now, for a little self-promotion: I’ll be leading small tasting classes at the festival once an hour at my own booth. I’ll talk about ways to get the most from a beer tasting, and serve up Connecticut beers. I’ll talk about the history of their respective styles and pass along some info on the beers themselves.

The rain-or-shine event includes live music from Flyin’ Blind and food from The Meat House of Avon, available for purchase.

Time: 4-8 p.m., this Saturday, June 21
Location: Ski Sundown, 126 Ratlum Road, New Hartford
Tuition: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
More info:

The Half Full Hop Skip & a Run
If you want to focus your research on a single brewery, and get some physical education in while you’re at it, sign up for the “Hop Skip & a Run” 5K and Festival. Continue reading “Class is in session at Ski Sundown and elsewhere”

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. Continue reading “Thinking outside the carafe”

Samplings: Half Full @ Litchfield Saltwater Grille

Conor Horrigan
Conor Horrigan

Hearing a brewery owner talk about his beer is like hearing a director discuss one of his films.

The stories about each decision – the use of Cascade hops or choice to add oak chips – reincarnate the process for the brewer, just as recalling how he got the perfect light at sunset for the goodbye kiss scene does for the director.

Beer dinners can be like a director’s commentary feature of a DVD, and the one last night at Saltwater Grille in Litchfield that featured Stamford-based Half Full Brewery was quite engaging. Continue reading “Samplings: Half Full @ Litchfield Saltwater Grille”

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.

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