In Stratford, Conn., Two Roads Brewing Company opened in December 2012. The four founders include three beer industry veterans bringing their talents back home. When creating the company, an essential part of the plan was to repurpose an abandoned factory building. After a wide search, the founders came across the old U.S. Baird building and knew it was perfect for their brewery.
The Two Roads founders built a craft brewery with contract brewing in mind. "We wanted to open up a facility where we simultaneously launch our own brands and also provide a service for other craft breweries where we brew, keg, can and bottle their beers using equipment that's geared towards making craft-style beers," says master brewer and co-founder Phil Markowski.
Two Roads created a space big enough to grow into, and the business model of contract brewing allowed the company to fill that space from the beginning. With its contracts, Two Roads is ranked 38th in most production among craft breweries in the entire country -- out of more than 6,000. Two Roads is by far the largest brewery in Connecticut in terms of production.
Just like the name suggests, Two Roads is about doing things a little bit differently and taking the road less traveled, Markowski explains. Tours are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for $5 per person.
Lil' Heaven, a session IPA, is Two Roads' most popular beer. "Session" refers to a beer that is lower in alcohol that one can drink multiple servings of, according to Markowski.
Some of the most inventive brewing at Two Roads is actually done in the parking lot, where dairy tanker trucks create sour beers. The Tanker Truck Series uses a method called kettle souring, which would affect the brewery's regular production, so the bacteria is introduced in an alternative spot. Goses are brewed in the trucks with fruit like Italian plums and Persian limes.
Two Roads has had great success with these specialty beers, so the company is constructing a second facility down the road to make barrel-aged and wood-aged beers. "We're bullish on sour beers as the way of the future," Markowski says. The new spot will be called Area Two for its experimental nature and is slated to open by the end of the year. It will brew completely different beers and serve them in a new tap room. Some of the beers will be more accessible, while others will be more esoteric. The company has also planted a hop yard, sour cherry trees and more for the new brews.
The 18-tap tasting room in Stratford, Conn., is open daily with varying hours and visiting food trucks. See the website for daily updates and be aware of potential lines on Saturdays.
Thimble Island Brewing Company is named for the group of small islands in the Long Island Sound off the coast of its home in Branford, Conn.
The company has been brewing since 2010 and has grown to need the 30,050-square-foot facility that it's inhabited for the past two and a half years.
Thimble Island is the largest self-distributing craft brewery in Connecticut, delivering to more than 3,000 locations within the state. "We don't ever want to go with a distribution company," says manager of retail and tourism, Gina Gentile. "We love doing it ourselves. It gives us an awesome relationship with all of our clients. We have a turnaround time of about four hours, as opposed to three days, like many other companies."
Thimble Island prides itself on being the "working man's brewery," having built everything in the brewery in house. The team did all of the construction from the copper piping and the welding to building the steam heating system and the boiler room. The staff even lifted all of the tanks themselves.
Locals hang out in the tasting room and sip on popular brews like the signature American Ale, which is a classic, amber-colored beer.
Flights allow visitors to sample their choice of Thimble Islands' beer offerings, from the Ghost Island Double IPA, a bold, crisp brew that's dry-hopped with Citra, to the Session Forty Five IPA, which is made with mosaic hops.
Guided tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays for $5 per person. Thistle Island's tasting room is open daily with 16 rotating taps.
Stony Creek Brewery is family owned and operated in Branford, Conn. Founded in 2010 by Peggy and Ed Crowley, Sr., and their son Ed Crowley, Jr., Stony Creek first brewed through a contract at another brewery. The family's own facility is three years old.
The Crowleys turned an old, abandoned factory building and vacant lot into a local beer haven with the support of area residents. More than 90% of the contractors who built the brewery are from the town of Branford, from the plumbers to the carpenters to the electricians, so the community really has ownership of the place.
The lower grounds are pebbled with Stony Creek granite, which comes from the local quarry in town, and the fireplace in the taproom is made of it as well. Most of the management members live in Branford, too. "We try to walk the talk when it comes to local," says brewmaster Andy Schwartz. "It's hard to get more local than that."
Schwartz is in charge of creating the company's "aggressively laid back beer," which means he combines bright, assertive West Coast flavors with laid back, balanced East Coast drinkability. "It's the approach to everything we do," Schwartz says. "We stay true to it. We never waiver from it."
Stony Creek's original take on the New England-style IPA, Ruffled Feathers, embodies that attitude perfectly, and the Crankenstein takes it even further. The experimental West Coast meets East Coast beer is released every other month with a little haze and a lush texture. It's bright and offers a blend of juicy flavors. "We're not reinventing the wheel, but we're challenging people to consider something a little different," says Schwartz.
The names of Stony Creek beers keep with its local principles. The beer's mascot is the great blue heron, which is indigenous to the area. The bird is nicknamed "big cranky," which inspired Stony Creek's cranky family of brews. Local artist Lisa Sotero designs all the beautiful bird logos for the brewery. Stony Creek found her on a website for a tattoo competition, and Schwartz fell in love with a fish she drew.
The brewery thrives in the warm weather because of its prime location right on the water and sprawling patio where locals can enjoy their distinctly Stony Creek beers. Families are more than welcome. "We want friends and neighbors to be hanging out here after work or after school," says Schwartz. Plus, tours operate on the weekends.
Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Kent Falls Brewing Company is the first farm brewery in Connecticut, located in the town of Kent. Kent Falls makes beers that embrace the farmhouse ethos with a goal to reconnect brewing and agriculture.
The brewery is on a 50-acre former dairy farm called Camps Road Farm, which now raises chickens and pigs and boasts an acre of hops and an acre and a half of cider apple trees. The apples are produced for a nearby distillery in Port Chester, N.Y.
Kent Falls makes all kinds of beer, from IPAs and lagers to sours, farmhouse beers and brett beers. "The beers that I love are the low-alcohol farmhouse beers that are expressive and aromatic, have complex character even though they're made with really simple ingredients, like you're not adding fruits and spices and other adjuncts like that," says founder Barry Labendz. "It's really about the grains, the hops and the fermentation character."
Tiny House, a recently released, mixed-fermentation ale, is fermented with both yeast and bacteria, uses local grains and is brewed at Kent Falls' Annual Hop Harvest festival. During the late summer festival, people come for a pig roast and to pick hops right off the vines that go into the brewing process for Tiny House. This is why the light, grassy, tea-like beer that develops as it ages only comes out once per year.
Kent Falls manages its own distribution within the state and has distribution partners in New York and Massachusetts, though the beer has been shipped to other states like North Carolina, and even overseas.
Visitors can now drink Kent Falls' brews in the groovy tasting room right in the middle of the farm (open Friday-Saturday).
Farm tours operate on Saturdays at 2 p.m. in the warm months. The experience begins outside the tasting room, passes the brewery and then explores the solar hot water shed, compost piles of spent grain, hop yard and more.
New England Brewing Company has had a few iterations and locations over the years, and the current brand began in 2001, when the South Norwalk, Conn., brewery closed. Then-head brewer Rob Leonard bought the name of the company and moved NEBCo to Woodbridge, Conn., in New Haven County.
Leonard felt that the New Haven market was a better spot for craft brewing, but the early years weren't easy. NEBCo started canning its beers in 2003 because it was the only affordable option, though people thought Leonard was crazy for it at the time. As it turns out, canning is better for the beer, better for the environment, more cost-effective and now many breweries can. It's also better for storing, hiking and many other activities.
Everything changed for NEBCo when craft brewing began to gain momentum in the early 2010s. Leonard attributes the vertical growth of NEBCo to Facebook, which made marketing accessible, and the farm-to-table movement, which got consumers interested in the origin of their food and beverages. His company grew from two employees to 25.
At NEBCo, brewers have complete autonomy in the brewery. "I give my brewers the rope and they climb with it," says Leonard. "They can think freely and experiment."
"I'm most proud of Sea Hag, which was a turning point for me," says Leonard. "I finally decided to put my personality into a beer and name it something a little bit crazy like Sea Hag, which is an inside joke between me and some college buddies. Now it's a major brand in Connecticut; it's on tap everywhere. To see how that beer has evolved in almost 12 years is amazing. It's Connecticut's go-to, favorite IPA."
The most popular beer at NEBCo is Fuzzy Baby Ducks, an IPA made with all Citra hops that's garnered a cult following. "We still get lines around the building," says Leonard. "People wait in line for hours for that and it's so humbling to see. I can't believe they're lining up for a beer."
Craig Gilbert is responsible for all the artistic can designs, putting personality into the beers. According to Leonard, Gilbert, who also works in the taproom, is an irreplaceable, indispensable member of the NEBCo family.
Tours of the brewery can be made by appointment, and NEBCo plans on adding regular weekend tours this spring.
The taproom is open Wednesday to Sunday with a dozen beers on draft.
Looking to drink some NEBCo beers? "Now we're just in Connecticut and we can't make enough to meet our market," says Leonard. "We're very fortunate. We'd love to stay that way."