The amazing proliferation of brewpubs and breweries in Connecticut during the past few years has been extremely encouraging. Some of my favorites popping up recently include Cavalry, Back East, Half Full, Relic, Two Roads, Beer’d and nearly a dozen yet to be discovered by 2014.
One of the finest new craft beer operations, SHEBEEN BREWING, opened on Cinco de Mayo, 2013. Inside a red brick warehouse near the west-central city of Waterbury in suburban Wolcott, the parquet-floored, green-walled space features a cozy tap room (with wood tables, two serving tanks, and beautiful cobblestone row-housed Galway-inspired murel) plus expandable right side brewing area.
Entrepreneurial head brewer, Rich Visco, is a mad scientist “combining hybrids with a twist and a new aspect.” And there’s a certain wizardry to his madness. Concocting some of the most enjoyably peculiar elixirs in the Constitution State, Visco initially hooked up with established Harpoon brewer, Scott Shirley, a long-time inspiration who’d help the self-described ‘beer designer’ get off the ground.
Three fully functional direct-fire silver tanks are used to experiment with small batches. And Shebeen recently converted from a one-barrel to thirty-barrel system in less than half a year.
As my wife and I visit in mid-December ’13, Visco’s in the middle of trying an unfinished cucumber-pureeed Wasabi Ale. Upon inspection, its soft-toned approachability contrasts rice-wined saki sweetness against horseradish-like sour ale eccentricities and coriander-salted celery plainness.
“I like to be experimental making beers no one else is doing,” Visco explains. “Everyone’s got India Pale Ale’s covered so I’ve taken the next step with many other hybridized styles. We only distribute to Connecticut now, but we’re looking to expand.”
Nevertheless, Visco offers hop-heads busy medium-bodied Royal IPA. Unlike fruited American IPA’s, it’s a peaty British-styled version with chocolate-malted Cascadian Dark Ale likeness reinforced by perky Cascade-hopped yellow grapefruit seeding, black currant tartness and earthy pine resin.
Bettering Smithwick’s similar peated malt fare, Irish Pale Ale counters honeyed apple-orange fruiting with sharp hop spicing and woody hopped florality.
A transcending delight, Cannoli Ale, utilizes unsweetened Girardelli chocolate for a cinnamon-spiced dessert beer with outer-shelled cannoli flavor rocking out above orange-dried tartness, nutty hop astringency and vanilla-creamed nutmeg sweetness. Try it with glass-rimmed powdered sugar for best results.
Bacon Kona Stout brings chocolate-smoked Kona coffee overtones to bacon-greased charred hop spicing. Perfect for breakfast.
Dry cocoa-chocolate malting, dark rye breading, nutty minerality and sharp hop spicing inundate Rye Porter, a full-bodied mocha brew that provides sturdy foundation for truly sublime whiskey-aged Double Rye Porter. Its barleywine-like richness picks up molasses-sapped sherry-brandy-bourbon overtones for ultra-rich dark chocolate creaminess and chewy dried fruiting. Bruised cherry, blackberry, raisin and prune illusions infiltrate the crowded dry rye backbone.
Revisited Shebeen one Sunday afternoon in February ’14 after Hartford area brewpub tour to get two new brews.
Quaint Pineapple Wheat offered lemony pineapple tartness to candi-sugared pale wheat malting and distant peach tones.
Another understated fruit ale, copper-toned Concord Grape Saison, worked semi-dry Concord grape juicing into lemony grapefruit saison souring and black-peppered herbal whims while allowing vinous green and white grape tannins to bring forth soft champagne-wined honey mead spicing.