At a time when so many industries are shutting down or migrating out of Connecticut, the craft brewery business is hopping—pun intended—with 84 opening across the state over the past two years, seven in Litchfield County. “It’s been a big couple of years for Connecticut, sort of an explosion going on,” says Bart Watson, chief economist for the Boulder based Brewers Association, a trade organization that represents independent American craft brewers.
Most breweries start at home amongst friends. “We kind of cycled between each others’ houses, doing the book club and making beer,” says Max Rettler, 32, who opened Bad Dream Brewing in New Milford in June with his wife, Michelle, 28, and two others.
The Woodbury Brewing Company also began with four friends, making beer in a barn. Besides their ever-changing assortment of fresh brews made with locally sourced, organic ingredients, this brewery offers an extensive food menu, with meals brought in from surrounding restaurants, and live music performances on weekends.
Most of the craft breweries are BYOF—bring your own food. At Housatonic River Brewing in New Milford, patrons share take-outs from nearby Thai Charm and Holiday Pizza. “It’s just so kick-back here, and you can’t find these beers anywhere else,” says Mike Nahom of New Milford. Dave Littlefield opened the 3,000-square-foot brewery, taproom, and beer garden along the Housatonic River in September, in a former tack shop. “It’s a ton of work, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he says, offering a toast of his personal favorite, Sacred Grounds Coffee & Cream Porter. “I mean, look at all these happy people.”
All of the breweries use four simple ingredients to produce a variety of hazy, amber-hued brews: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. Some add flavors like honey, vanilla bean, chamomile, coriander, even chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker as in the weirdly tasty Happy Camper S’mores Stout offered at Great Falls Brewing Company in North Canaan.
Many craft breweries are also dedicated to sustainable farming practices that benefit the greater community. Bad Dream gets its malt from a family farm in Connecticut, and its spent grain goes to feed the goats and chickens in a farm in Sherman. Brewery Legitimus, a seven-barrel brewery in New Hartford, not only uses locally-grown hops, but is starting a program this spring called CSABC: Community Supported Agriculture, Beer, and Cheese. Working with nearby Barden Farm, Legitimus will offer weekly farm shares that include 64 ounces of craft beer, one specially selected cheese, and one box of assorted seasonal produce.
Norbrook Farm Brewery in Colebrook grows their own hops and grains on their 472-acre property, producing some highly “quaffable”—a big beer aficionado word—ales, stouts, and porters. The brewery also has spectacular views, nine miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking and even an 18-hole disc golf course.
Such attractions make many of these artisan breweries great tourist destinations. Kent Falls Brewing Co. opened its taproom in 2017 on part of a 53-acre diversified farm that dates back to the 1700s, and people come from afar not just for its coveted craft beers, but for tours of their pasture-raised chickens and pigs, beautiful ponds and perennial pollinator gardens, and one-acre crop of hops. The brewery sells the organically raised pork and fowl from freezers in the tasting room lobby. Brewer Zach Ross offered a sample of a new offering for this spring: dandelion beer, made from petals picked from the property and enhanced with local honey. “It’s a whole circle of life thing,” says co-owner Barry Labendz. “Social consciousness, sustainability, brewery-supported agriculture; and the freshest, most interesting beer we can make. That’s what we’re all about.”