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.

Surprisingly decent beer selection at burger chain

burgerfi

Not to shill for a hamburger chain, but I have to give credit where it’s due. I had a quick bite to eat tonight before fruitless rug shopping, and my wife and I ended up at BurgerFi in Avon, Conn. This member of a national chain had “craft beer” listed as one of its attributes, along with burgers, hot dogs, and custard. I was pleasantly surprised to find Long Trail Sick Day IPA, Thomas Hooker Nor’easter, Magic Hat Snow Roller, and Lindeman’s Kriek Lambic.

I went with the Magic Hat because it advertised itself as a “hoppy brown.” I was less-than-impressed with this offering, but it was much better than getting an average, wimpy American big-brand beer. The malt backbone brought out the sweetness in the burger, which was savory and juicy.

The chain has restaurants in Manchester, Conn., as well, in case you’re in the state and want to try them out.

Northeast brewery explorer talks shop

whereandback.blogspot.com
Photos from whereandback.blogspot.com

Ben Keene, a travel writer, wants the world to know: there’s a burgeoning brewery scene in the Northeast U.S. and it’s high time you took advantage of it.

Keene will be promoting his latest book, “The Great Northeast Brewery Tour (Voyageur Press, 2014) on Friday, Jan. 24 at Relic Brewing in Plainville, Conn.

The book signing takes place from 4-7 p.m. at Relic, 95 Whiting St.

Ben Keene
Ben Keene

Keene, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., writes about hiking and camping, and he told me last week that his dabbling in outdoor sports extended into adventuring into the world of breweries.

“I did not [always] have a refined palate or appreciation of beer,” Keene said. “When I moved to New York it was 2000 and kind of the second wave of smaller breweries was just kind of beginning to surge. So bars started popping up and breweries followed. I think the East Coast since 2000 has been evening out the balance with out West.” Continue reading “Northeast brewery explorer talks shop”

I Have Sampled This Life: Drinking Beer for Mark Twain

XY Eli Band at the Mark Twain House fundraiser
XY Eli Band at the Mark Twain House fundraiser

Literature breeds imagination, but so does a good buzz. Bring them all together and you have a hell of a fundraiser for one of New England’s best destinations for lovers of stories: The Mark Twain House.

Friday night I had a chance to drink some wonderful local beers at the museum adjacent to Twain’s house, which was the most comfortable setting for a beer-related event I’ve ever experienced.

It was the sixth annual “Tapping Into Twain” Oktoberfest, and it typically raises about $10,000 for the Hartford, Conn., house where Mark Twain lived from 1874 to 1891. There were about 300 people who, like me, wanted a taste of literature with a beer chaser. Continue reading “I Have Sampled This Life: Drinking Beer for Mark Twain”

Offering Weed

Yeah, that’s some eye-catching headline, isn’t it? That’s the kind of publicity Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. of California is hoping to get with its Weed ales line.

Its marketing: the “Try Legal Weed” slogan, “Mountain High IPA,” etc., is all about the name. Brewers do that kind of stuff (think “Grab a Hooker,” etc.  from Thomas Hooker Brewing).

And, lo and behold, it’s Hooker who is contract brewing Weed Amber Ale, which is available in Connecticut. It’ll be available in New York next.

The Weed Company in Cheshire, Conn., is licensed by Mt. Shasta in the town of Weed, Calif., to produce Abner Weed Amber Ale in Connecticut.

I tried it at Eli Cannon’s in Middletown, Conn. It was pleasantly malty with an unexpected crispness. Pretty solid. It’s also available at Triple Play in Watertown, among other Connecticut pubs.

You can try Abner Weed Amber Ale at the Craft Beer and Chili Challenge, hosted by Connecticut Public Broadcasting, from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 12, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

Feel free to pair it with Coke.

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”