A couple of days after Christmas (Thursday, December 27), we drove from Maryland to Hartford, CT to spend a long holiday weekend with the in-laws. Our first stop in Connecticut was the New England Beverage Company in Orange, about 1.5 miles off I95 at Exit 39B. We were due for a stop anyway after being delayed for an hour by an accident shortly after crossing the state line. It was a frustrating wait, but I kept patient knowing that a warehouse of beer awaited.
I stopped at this huge beverage store a couple of years ago before my sister-in-law’s wedding. On this trip, we were in charge of supplying beer for the family holiday party the next day. I loaded the cart with 12-packs of Sam Adams Winter Classics and Harpoon Wintry Mix. I wanted something local too, so I picked up a mixed 12-pack from Thomas Hooker Brewing Company. I also grabbed some beer for me, including a build-your-own six-pack, but more on that later.
We eventually made it to Hartford, and on our first night in town, the family – 8 of us altogether – gathered for dinner at City Steam Brewery Cafe. This was my fourth visit to City Steam – we stopped here for lunch a few times over the years during our trips to Massachusetts. I love this place for its great beer, solid pub grub, and unique setting. City Steam is in a historic downtown building that was built in 1875 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Good Beer Guide to New England describes the pub’s sprawling interior as resembling “an M.C. Escher drawing with its assortment of sweeping staircases, small dining nooks, and open balconies spread over multiple levels.” Check out my pics of the building from our visit in 2009.
I ordered a sampler and picked 5 beers from the 8 house beers available on tap:
- Naughty Nurse, this Amber Ale is the flagship beer
- Blonde on Blonde, a hoppy American Pale Ale
- White Wedding, a Wheat Ale
- Innocence, a traditional IPA
- Norwegian Wood, a Winter Warmer infused with chocolate and cinnamon
Everyone enjoyed the dinner at City Steam, but I had to laugh when we tried to order the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings appetizer. The server told us they couldn’t serve the steamed dumplings because their steamer was down. At City Steam. So where’s the steam? Oh well, everything else was great and hopefully their steamer will be working on our next visit, whenever that may be. We will definitely return again.
The next day, Friday, we all met at my sister- and brother-in-law’s house in West Hartford for the family holiday party – thanks to Karen and Glenn for hosting! We were joined by about a dozen of my wife’s closest relatives. I filled a beverage cooler cart with Sam, Harpoon, and Thomas Hooker brews. The mixed 12-pack from Thomas Hooker Brewing Company included:
- Hop Meadow IPA, a crisp, hoppy, but balanced IPA (6.4%)
- Blonde Ale, light and drinkable (4.6%)
- Irish Red Ale, a malty, easy-drinking brew (5.5%)
My wife’s family loves good craft beer and we also enjoyed cans of the local Elm City Pilsner from New England Brewing Company in Woodbridge, CT and a bomber of Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale from Berkshire Brewing Company in South Deerfield, MA. Karen shared a bottle of Samuel Adams Thirteenth Hour, a strong Belgian-Style Stout (9%) with notes of spices, coffee, chocolate, and oak. Cousin John brought a growler of IPA from Gritty McDuff’s in Freeport, ME. Great beer, great food, and great company – what more do you need?
The long weekend went by fast. On Saturday, we had a family outing to the Connecticut Science Center in downtown Hartford, but a snow storm ruined our dinner plans and stranded us after a harrowing drive back to the hotel. We were planning to find New Haven-style pizza, but had to settle for the Red Lobster right beside our hotel. Because of the snow and our relief and joy at somehow making it back to our hotel through heavy snow on slippery roads in our minivan, we had a memorable meal at Red Lobster, highlighted by the 22 oz glasses of Samuel Adams Winter Lager.
On Sunday, I wanted to watch the Ravens game, and I found an awesome sports bar in Hartford called Damon’s Tavern. We got a booth with our own TV where we watched the Ravens game while being surrounded by 40+ TVs with all of the NFL games. Damon’s had a fun atmosphere, fast and friendly service, and a menu full of pub grub. The beer menu was decent too, and I found a new local beer I hadn’t tried yet – Ten Penny Ale, the flagship beer of The Olde Burnside Brewing Company in East Hartford, CT. Ten Penny is a smooth, sessionable, Scottish Ale (5.6% ABV) that I kept going back to all afternoon.
The next day, on New Year’s Eve, we drove home to Maryland. Our trip to Connecticut was over, but my exploration of Connecticut brew was not. Remember that build-your-own six pack I mentioned? I built mine with all-Connecticut brew, including four impressive offerings from Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford, CT:
- Worker’s Comp Saison, a traditional farmhouse ale (4.8%)
- Honeyspot Road White IPA, a smooth, wheat IPA (6.0%)
- Road 2 Ruin Double IPA, a big, strong, and hoppy IPA (7.2%)
- Ol’ Factory Pils, a traditional Pilsner, except dry-hopped (5.0%)
I also brought home two more from Thomas Hooker Brewing Company:
- Nor’easter, a hearty Winter Lager accented by mild winter spices (5.7%)
- Chocolate Truffle Stout, a sweet stout made in collaboration with Connecticut chocolatier Munson’s Chocolate. Brewed with Munson’s proprietary cocoa powder and several pounds of cocoa nibs for a fresh chocolate aroma. I couldn’t resist bringing home a six-pack!
Now that’s a lot of Connecticut brew – 16 beers from 5 different breweries. But I barely scratched the surface. On our next trip to Central Connecticut, I’m planning to hit the Burgers & Brews Trail, which runs through “the American birthplace of the hamburger sandwich, historic taverns, innovative burger bars and the region’s finest breweries.” Check out the brochure – the Connecticut department of tourism did a great job with this — can’t wait to go back!