By Elizabeth Keyser
1:55 PM EST, February 4, 2013
Two Roads Brewery
1700 Stratford Ave., Stratford, (203) 375-3361, tworoadsbrewing.com
Half Full Brewery
43 Homestead Ave., Stamford, (203) 309-2821, halffullbrewery.com
Hey kids, let's open up a brewery! A lot of people must be having the same idea, because Connecticut is awash in new breweries. About nine new ones have opened and ten are coming soon. Visits to Fairfield County's two new breweries, Two Roads in Stratford and Half Full in Stamford reveal they aren't just creating beer, they're creating exuberant beer scenes.
Home brewers going pro is the theme of most new breweries in the state, but Two Roads is laid on solid bedrock. An experienced team of craft brewers and beer marketing executives are behind this large craft beer production facility. Brewer Phil Markowski was the founding brewer at New England Brewing Company in Norwalk in 1989, and has won many national and international awards.
The team renovated the abandoned 1911 US Baird Building to create a 100,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art brewing and bottling site. The tasting room looks over a soaring window-filled, reclaimed industrial space dominated by stainless steel vats and tanks.
Two Roads' philosophy is the road less traveled, with a "unique and fun" approach to craft beer, says partner Brad Hittle, a former marketing executive with Pabst. With names like Ol' Factory and Road 2 Ruin, they've got the fun part down, but the good news is: Two Roads is putting out really good, flavorful craft beers. With high-tech, computerized equipment imported from Germany, designed for craft beers, Two Roads also does contract brewing for U.S. and international clients. In the control room, six flat-top screens show the entire system, every vat, tank, filtration system, temperatures and times. "We invested a lot of money in an automated system and computers," says Hittle.
The ingredients are water, malted grain, yeast and hops, but each beer type has a different recipe. Stratford's water, low in mineral content, is a good base, says Markowski . Depending on the style of beer, he adds various minerals. A silo running up the outside of the building contains 80,000 pounds of base malt, imported from Germany. Smaller bags of specialty malts, from around the world, roasted for varying amounts of time, are stacked in the malting room. Two Roads import hops from all over the world and the Pacific Northwest.
The tasting room is drawing crowds, about 100 people on a recent Saturday afternoon. A food truck parks in the parking lot on weekends. Customers leave with growlers, half-gallon jugs, of beer. Tours run on weekends and include tastes of Two Roads brews. On a recent tour a guest asked, "Are you thinking of producing a lighter beer?" Hittle's reply was instant: "No."
Markowski says beer is all about balance. That is the defining characteristic of Two Road's tasty brews. Road 2 Ruin is their flagship, and at a recent tasting, it was our favorite. A bold, piney, citrusy and floral double-hopped IPA, it balances malt with bite, clocking in at 7.2 percent alcohol by volume (abv). Ol'Factory Pils is Two Road's spin on tradition, a clean, crisp pilsener, given extra aroma by dry hopping, arriving at 5 percent abv. It's made with German and American hops and malts. Workers Comp Saison is a farmhouse style ale made with four grains, rye, wheat, barley and oatmeal. It's fruity and spicy (4.8 percent abv). Honey Spot Road White Beer is a clovey, slightly cloudy wheat beer (6 percent abv). Coming soon, Igor's Dream (as in Sikorski), a Rye Russian Imperial Stout aged in rye whiskey bottles.
If Two Roads represents old pros with new ideas, Half Full Brewery represents the new kids following a dream. After three years on Wall Street, a disillusioned Conor Horrigan traveled the world and thought about pride and passion. "Between Prague and Vienna, I got this idea," he says, "I went home and started a brewery." His team includes "Chief Beer Artist" Jennifer Muckerman, who was head brewer at Trailhead Brewing, a brew pub in Missouri.
The tasting room opened in September. The big draw is the "every-other-Friday night" open house. "It's a social event," Horrigan. As many as 200 people have filled the tasting room and brewery, drinking beer and playing darts and a super-sized form of jenga. Most range in age from 25 to 35, but beer drinkers come in all ages. "There were some older guys in their late 50s and they said 'I feel like I'm in my old fraternity,'" Connor says, "And I thought, 'This is a lot tamer than mine was.'"
How's the beer? Well, it seems geared toward Half Full's customers. "We get a lot of Bud Light and Coors drinkers," says Horrigan, "Stamford's not like New Haven where people are used to drinking great craft beers." The Bright Ale is pale, crisp, and is described on the Half Full website as "sessionable" (5.2 abv) and "approachable." The IPA has a light hoppy scent and light piney flavor, and takes a similar "approachable" stance. "People who come in and say they don't like IPAs like this one," Horrigan says. More interesting is the chocolate coffee brown ale, which they collaborated on with Lorca, a downtown Stamford coffee shop that gets Handsome Roasters imported single-origin beans.
If you want to try Two Roads or Half Full's beers, you don't have to go to the brewery to find them. They are served at many local restaurants, such as Coalhouse Pizza and Dinosaur Barbecue Stamford. More information on the breweries websites.
Two Roads Brewery: outside.
Two Roads Brewery: inside.
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