Backstage Eat. Drink. Live.
84 Main St., Torrington, (860) 489-8900, backstageeatdrinklive.comThere is nothing small about the award-winning Backstage in Torrington. Customers are presented with a grandiose atmosphere even before they set foot inside. Nestled comfortably next to the NEAG Performing Arts Center and Warner Theatre on Main Street, a passer-by can look through the large windows into what employees call “the Red Room,” an intimate setting separated from the bustling main area with marshmallow-like red chairs and coffee tables. But what really draws the customers inside is the massive selection of beer, with over 80 craft brews and 24 beers on tap.
With a collection that could rival the best big-city beer destination, Backstage is barely two years old. General Manager Chris Verrilli has had a long-standing connection for 14 years with local and national distributors including regional craft brewers like the Berkshire Brewing Company. Among Backstage’s large supply, City Steam Brewery’s Naughty Nurse, an amber ale brewed in Hartford, has been catching people’s attention for quite some time. Another ale, Thomas Hooker’s Blonde, is regarded by the Backstage staff as a gateway beer. “Blonde is a good introductory beer for those moving away from the more mainstream brews,” Verrilli says. “It’s light enough and doesn’t have any of the big or overpowering tart flavors.” Those looking for a stronger beer should try Hoptimum Imperial IPA from California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., with a whopping 10.4 percent alcohol count. And the list is constantly changing.
Backstage updates their beer menu or “Beer Patches” every two days. One of Verrilli’s daily tasks is to sort through a giant list of beers before making the necessary calls to various breweries. He says ordering the beer takes up a total of 26 hours a week, the first step in a long process.
Excited to talk about beer, Verrilli shares an extensive history of various breweries while showing some of his machinery, including a large box-shaped engine with 50-foot insulated conduits that keeps the beer at a constant 38 degrees, and a collection of intricate tubes and dials called “the fab system,” which prevents the beer from sputtering and spewing from the tap.
But Verrilli isn’t the only one who knows about brews. “None of the people who work here are new to the business,” says manager Bill Nolte. “Robert DeZinno, our director of operations, has an extensive knowledge of beer, for instance; he is a longtime professor in food and beverage management which he teaches at the university level. He is also a consultant to many large restaurant chain groups.”
To stay updated, Verrilli and his team require that their employees learn as much about beers as possible. “Our waitresses and waiters are our eyes and ears,” says Verrilli.
Verrilli hopes that Backstage will turn the locals toward the lesser known brews. “We try to educate the public so they can get a better experience from beer,” says Nolte. “A lot of the time people will come in to have something like a Bud Light. During those instances, we try to recommend ones that are similar.”
What makes this job easier is the flight, a small wooden tray that serves up to four 4 oz glasses for $7. “The flight is great for the curious beer drinker,” says bartender Marrianne Greaves. “It gives customers the chance to sample a few beers at a cheap price rather than buying numerous large drinks. It’s also fun for small parties.”
Backstage also hosts some exciting beer-centric events. “We have what we like to call Tap Takeover Nights where we feature either a certain manufacturer or type of beer,” says Nolte. “On a manufacturer night, we might have 24 taps of something like Ommegang and on other nights, 24 pumpkin ales.” On an Ommegang night, the selection from this Cooperstown, N.Y., brewery might include anything from Three Philosophers, a bold quadruple Belgian ale with malty tones, to Hennepin, an earthy farmhouse ale with a fruity aroma and flavor.
Looking ahead, Verrilli has plans for the upcoming season. On October 26, Backstage has scheduled a large delivery from various suppliers that he believes beer connoisseurs will enjoy. Among these is Sixpoint, an up-and-coming company from Brooklyn that Verrilli is extremely excited about. Others include some new additions from Founders Brewing Company, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Sierra Nevada.
“What we do goes hand in hand with education,” says Verrilli. “I learn something new about beer every day and am constantly trying to keep myself and my staff abreast about it.” And his favorite beer? When the topic of the Berkshire Brewing Company came up, he had this to say: “Whoever likes Shabadoo has some great taste.”