By Gregory B. Hladky
11:00 AM EDT, May 9, 2012
It's going to run from deep in Fairfield County almost to the Rhode Island line, and from New Haven north nearly to Massachusetts. We're talking about the brand new Connecticut Brewery Trail, a map for a beer and ale lovers' pilgrimage.
There aren't any state signs up quite yet, and the breweries and brewpubs are still getting their application ducks in a row. But people like Chris Kepple, director of sales and marketing for Cottrell Brewery in Pawcatuck, believe this addition to Connecticut's drinking landscape is going to make a big difference.
"I think this is a turning point in the Connecticut craft-beer culture," Kepple says.
The idea of putting together a beer or brewery trail in Connecticut, something similar to the now-familiar Connecticut Wine Trail, had been talked about for years. But official approval came last year when the General Assembly passed legislation to make it possible.
"It's not going to be a trail of package stores and bars," says Kepple, one of those who testified in support of the plan last year. Only places where beer and ale are actually produced by breweries and brewpubs will be included, he says. "It's to promote Connecticut-made beer."
The trail as now planned will include at least five or six working breweries and eight or nine brewpubs. Each will have to pay $550 to cover state costs for applications, permits and signage along state highways. (No signs will be allowed on limited access highways like the interstates, according to guidelines created by the state Department of Transportation.)
Kepple says there are at least five more Connecticut breweries now being planned or already under construction.
Barbara Cieplak, of the state Office of Culture and Tourism, says beer trails have become "very trendy" in states across the U.S. Her office started promoting Connecticut breweries and brewpubs on the state website last year.
There's already at least one private website devoted to Connecticut beer culture (CTbeertrail.net). Kepple says the new Brewery Trail will soon have its own site.
At the same time that the trail is coming into existence, this state's beer and ale producers are also organizing their own guild or association.
Kepple says the first meeting was held last month (at Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. in Bloomfield, which has been named as one of the top 15 micro breweries in the nation by Beer Advocate).
This state's brewers recently got more good legislative news. The bill that approved Sunday alcohol sales includes a provision that will finally let breweries sell beer and ale by the glass and allow consumers to buy packaged brew directly from a brewery.
Under prior state law, a brewery could only provide consumers a sample taste of beer during a tour but wasn't allowed to actually sell it by the glass or conduct tastings the way Connecticut wineries can.
Brad Hittle, one of the partners in a new brewery (Two Roads Brewing Co.) expected to open in Stratford this fall, says the inability to have a tasting room was a real handicap for brewers. He says the new law will "put everybody on a level footing" and give brewers a great chance to show consumers what their products really taste like.
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