Liquid Gold: A Craft-Brew Flight Along the Connecticut Beer Trail Last Updated 12/20
By Will Siss. Modified by the Connecticut Office of Tourism.
Stop into any of these Connecticut breweries for a chance to witness ingenuity in action and to sample some of the most creative beers being brewed anywhere in the country.
At this time, many breweries are also offering takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery. As always, be sure to check each location before venturing out as hours may change due to COVID-19.
To get the most of any brewery, the best option is to order a flight: a sampling of what is on tap, from the smokiest of stouts to the bitterest of India pale ales. Consider this a virtual flight; adjust your seatbelts and keep the folding tray down where it belongs for sips along the way. And remember, always drink responsibly or make sure you designate a driver.
Branford is home to Stony Creek Brewery, with its lovely river view. Take some time to hang out on one of the broad decks, or play some bocce while you sip a pint of Cranky, the brewery’s potent IPA with a hint of pine. Want to start more slowly? Try the Little Cranky, which brewer Andy Schwartz created to display similar lemony notes but with less alcohol than Cranky. The brewery features several other examples of craftsmanship, including an amber lager, so take a gulp before we go back in the air.
Take off and landing is quick as we arrive just to the west at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, located in a hulking, revitalized manufacturing building with a full bar in its sprawling tasting room (if you arrived here by train, take the free weekend shuttle from the Stratford Metro-North station). Here you can get your fill of flagship beers like Worker’s Comp Saison, a gem from brewer Phil Markowski, who literally wrote the book on farmhouse-style beers. Markowski published Farmhouse Ales in 2004. The brewery also serves Lil’ Heaven, a low-alcohol IPA with a big punch.
Our flight continues to Southport, home of Southport Brewing Company. Here, a sleek dining room beckons us to sample beer in food form — the Stout Onion Soup is always soul satisfying — along with a selection from their home brews. What goes best with onions? Maybe the tart Sour Pear Wheat Ale, the crisp Rye IPA or the creamy Black Rock Stout. And if you find yourself in the air and craving another Southport pint, descend to the brewery’s Milford location.
It’s time to cruise northeast to a gritty Bristol loading dock. There, we find Firefly Hollow Brewing, one of the most inviting nooks to encounter. Firefly Hollow is currently only available for takeout, but looks forward to fully re-opening soon. Designed with industrial simplicity, Firefly’s tasting room offers a variety of communal seating and some of the most varied tap offerings in the state. Try a roasty Toadstool Oat Stout, smooth as a slide down an elephant’s trunk. Or, sample brewer Dana Bourque’s Cone Flakes, a double IPA that muscles out the competition with its emphasis on hop complexity. Does that taste like mango to you? Herbs? Sure!
Now we're off to catch some grub and a beer at Hartford's City Steam Brewery Café, a brewpub with an eclectic list. Brewmaster Ron Page has been making beer since the 1970s and could be serving up his crisp Naughty Nurse Amber Ale, a feathery light Colt 46 Lager, or even a velvety, sweet Unkel Dunkel Lager. Shoot some pool while you’re there, or if you’re in the mood, catch a show at the Brew Ha Ha Comedy Club on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Wheels up and we’re headed southeast to one of the smallest, yet most creative, breweries in the state: Beer’d Brewing in Stonington. Grab yourself a sample of Hobbit Juice: This double IPA features a hop from New Zealand and might instill enough bravado to make you want to go on a quest. In this establishment you’re likely to see the bearded one himself, owner and brewer Aaren Simoncini, explaining his theories on barrel aging or simply hauling a sack of grain.
Before we zip back west, let’s pop by Willimantic Brewing Company, a beautiful brewpub that lives inside an old post office. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of tastelessness stays brewer David Wollner from the swift completion of his appointed beers. Those can include the clean and light Certified Gold, Pushing the Envelope IPA and even the occasional beer made with pepper.
Heading back northwest, we come to a safe landing in Suffield. Here we can duck into Broad Brook Brewing, where we’ll arrive at a modern strip mall but feel like we’ve landed at a rustic sanctuary, complete with a reconstructed tobacco barn over the bar. The trio of homebrewers who went professional with this establishment have not left their experimental days behind them. Experience the malty heft of the Porter’s Porter, the sweetness of hibiscus in the Pink Dragon WIT or the monstrously citrusy Hopstillo IPA.
A tour of the state’s breweries wouldn’t be complete without a layover at Thomas Hooker Brewing in Bloomfield. Here you might encounter a party going on in the tasting room. Join in and grab yourself a sampling of a crisp Hooker Blonde or satisfy your sweet tooth with a Chocolate Truffle Stout.
Get Out On the Trail
There are plenty of other breweries to visit along the Connecticut Beer Trail, so get ready. Your next flight is already boarding.
Will Siss is a writer whose “Beer Snob” column has been running in the Waterbury Republican-American since 2005. He is the author of Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing. Follow his adventures in Connecticut beer at beersnobwrites.com.