Located at historic Hilliard Mills in the rustic eastern Hartford suburb of Manchester, TOP SHELF BREWING COMPANY opened its doors during August 2013 – right in the midst of Connecticut’s booming microbrew renaissance. Distributing product all over the state from a 2,000 square foot warehouse, the three-barrel nanaobrewery has room for expansion.

Taking up the space Onyx moonshine distillery once occupied (and picking up the slack left by the closing of Tullycross Brewery), Top Shelf came into existence when three nearby UConn alumni (home brewer Mike Boney and fellow co-owners TJ Lavery and Joe Frost) gained inspiration from local New England and Back East breweries and decided “it was time to get involved” with brewing on a professional scale.

On my initial one-hour February ’14 Saturday afternoon exploit, the inconspicuous cement-floored tasting room featured samples of various limited edition ales and one winter seasonal as well as three flagship beers (bought for home consumption). Behind the tap room in a seperate space, the immaculate brewhouse puts out the well-rounded selection of generically-named American, Belgian and Irish styled ales.

I reach for Smoked Belgian Ale , an alternate to the regular Belgian, upon entering. Its lightly smoked peat malting, toasted caramel spicing and earthen musk pick up meager orange fruiting. But a lack of true Belgian yeast character hurts.

Three more limited edition brews hit my lips thereafter. Snowed In Imperial Stout brought chocolate-chipped molasses malting to caramel-burnt toffee-cocoa-coconut restraint, creme brulee sweetness and compost-wafted winter spicing.

Village Charm IPA gained floral-perfumed citric hop prominence as lemony grapefruit rind and Chinook-hopped resin subtly embittered creamy crystal malts.

Interestingly experimental hybrid, You Be The Judge, an unclassified one-off (?) offered raw-honeyed cider souring to saison-like lemony orange tartness, vinous green grape esters, kiwi-mango-guava tropicalia, fig-dried acridity and sourdough wheat (retaining a crisp watered freshness).

My only problem was that Top Shelf’s Belgian- Style Ale surprisingly had a similar pungent yeast profile as their Irish Style Ale.

For the former, an astringent cider solvency seems to outdo the apple-soured green grape tartness and herbal-peppered guava-kiwi-pitaya tropicalia. As for the latter, a blatantly acrid cider souring overruns the peated molasses malting.    

Bottled versions are listed in Beer Index.







Located inside a tan barn stable with green and brown trim in a freestanding mall-bound building, Manchester’s TULLYCROSS TAVERN took over the space previously occupied by John Harvard Brewpub and had its grand opening October 1st, 2011 (but closed down November ’13).

A hybrid sportsbar, mahogany furnishings bedecked the hunter green walled interior and a rectangular oak bar served the main area and outer perimeter dining space. A new patio to be constructed in spring would’ve provided outdoor dining. Plus, a newly designed menu featuring upscale pub fare with an Irish flare was just introduced.

Like Willimantic’s Wollner, Tullycross brewer Brian Flach grew up on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sam Adams Boston Lager, thereupon becoming a Dogfish ‘Head.’ After home brewing several IPA’s, an 18-month New England Brewing internship afforded the Worcester resident the chance to come aboard for Tullycross’ July ’11 soft opening. A 22-ounce ceramic mug club offered discounts and special happy hour pricing on Flach’s solid offerings crafted at the front side brew tanks.

On my January 2012 visit, it’s Tuesday Night Trivia, and following some chicken wings and quesadillas, a large crowd gathered for tonight’s 9 PM contest. While digging the scene, I tried four year-round libations, a nifty winter stout and a Belgian IPA.

Eric Burdon & War’s cryptic “Spill The Wine” played as I revisited Tullycross the following day to meet with Flach, who promised a cream ale, German altbier and sundry IPA’s in the near future.

As for today’s beers, I started off with Tavern Light, a Kolsch-styled sourdough softie with citric esters, rice niceties and popcorn buttering that’s just right for indiscriminate pilsner fans as well as bolder folk better suited for the next three ales.

Best selling Tully’s Irish Red retained a bigger body than most stylistic competitors, bringing amiable red-fruited spicing and caramelized wheat-honeyed cereal grains to a stable earthen bottom. Better yet, TCT Pale Ale had a heady IPA-like wood-toned grapefruit rind bittering and tangy peach-tangerine spicing.

“If you’re gonna drink a pale ale, why not go to an IPA,” Flach said. “It’s made hoppier for our customer base. But there’s not a lot of alcohol.”

Next up, Flux IPA #8 saddled subtle yellow fruiting with spiced hop bittering.

Flach contends, “All Fluxes have different hop profiles but the grain bill generally remains intact.”

Another Tullycross standard, Silk City Stout, maintained a soft cask-like chocolate creaminess, malt-smoked hop char, vanilla sweetness, dewy peat resonance and peanut-shelled cola-walnut conflux. Likeminded Siberian Winter Imperial Stout doused Christmastime cinnamon-toasted gingerbread spicing atop oats-toasted dark chocolate, nutty coffee, black cherry and raisin notes.

Though not in regular rotation, mild Scottish 80 Shilling plied toasted cereal grains to peat-y earthiness in an approachable manner.

But the best bet may be Convergence Belgian IPA, where white-peppered basil, thyme and peppercorn regale lemon-dried orange rind bittering, snippy juniper piquancy, tangy peach-pineapple sweetness and buttery crystal malting.

“Convergence was a collaboration with New England Brewing, whom I’m still good friends with,” Flach affirms. “They were happy to oblige. They make 668 Neighbor Of The Beast. We borrowed their yeast strain and hopped it up.”







Opened 1997, Manchester’s JOHN HARVARD’S BREWHOUSE may’ve been the best franchise brewpub in the Northeast chain. But it closed in the summer of 2011 and was replaced by Tullycross Tavern & Microbrewery in November. 

Visited May ’10, this freestanding mustard-hued maroon-trimmed pub was located across Manchester’s Plaza at Buckland Hills. Typical pub fare such as appetizers-pizza-burgers and expanded Americana dinner menu went fine with brewer Frank Fermino’s well-crafted stylistic libations emanating from rear glass-encased brew tanks. Rectangular center bar with opposing TV’s served wood-furnished side dining booths, pews, and roundtables.

I enjoyed ‘Pick-A-Pair’ clam chowder and Cuban half sandwich with lighter fare such as snappy Saaz-hopped corn-dried vegetal-soured Harvard Light, funky earthen-grained grape-soured bourbon-burgundy-whirred Black Lager, and pallid spice-hopped red-fruited tea-like John Harvard Pale Ale.

Better were hand-pumped cask-conditioned water-softened fungi-wafted coffee-creamed butter-nutty English Brown Ale, resinous bark-dried pine-needled lemon-seeded peach-toned pekoe tea-like C n C IPA, and chocolate-soured walnut-charred ESB.

Creamy cascade-headed caramel-malted yellow-fruited green-hopped English Pub Ale stayed milder than ESB. Dark ale fans will enjoy hop-charred grain-roasted peat-malted Shovel-Head Porter, with its cedar-burnt hazelnut, walnut, and Baker’s chocolate illusions adjoining port-burgundy wining.