Connecticut may not get the same respect its New England neighbors receive, but there’s a few wonderful Constitution State breweries competing favorably against the best public houses dotting Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. Besides five decent Southport Brewing franchises, Granby’s upscale sportsbar, Cambridge House, New Haven’s fabulous pizza-brewpub, BruRm @ Bar and Hartford’s terrific City Steam deserve plaudits.

On my January ’12 trip, I reinvestigated one of the best Northeast brewpubs and another one just getting restarted under an Irish banner. The former, WILLIMANTIC BREWING COMPANY, serves a quickly rotating selection of finely detailed handcrafted beers alongside fine food. The latter, TULLYCROSS recently changed hands from John Harvard’s affiliation to craft its own likable libations.

Growing up in Bridgeport during the Seventies, entrepreneurial Willimantic brewmeister David Wollner discovered microbrews when visiting his older brother at New York University. There, he was introduced to Samuel Smith Taddy Porter and Aass Bock at nearby Bleecker Street’s Peculier Pub.

Afterwards, he entered UConn, became an early Sierra Nevada Pale Ale supporter and bought a homebrew kit. When a local general store started yearly amateur brewing competitions, Wollner tried his hand.

“The critics wrinkled their noses at what tasted like carbonated cider,” Wollner recalls as the Allman Brothers play in the background. “The judges said next time double the malts, cutback sugar and add fresh hops. The next few years I won with a stout, old ale and pale ale.”

In ’88, Wollner met his wife, Cindy, and by ’94 they’d open a full service restaurant and craft beer bar with 16 taps led by Shipyard, Samuel Adams and New England brews. Christened Main Street Cafe, the pair slowly convinced Bud-Coors-Miller drinkers to try microbrewed pale ales.

Then, he found the boarded-up, water-damaged post office that’d be a local sanctuary for hardened beer enthusiasts. By ’97, the spacious Willimantic Brewery would open and thrive, becoming a true destination point.

Though Wollner still enjoys a brisk pale ale or hoppy IPA, he’s currently enamored with saisons and funky sour ales. His assistant brewer, Ben Braddock, helped make the varietal Summer of Saison special. Six different summer beers came from one saison yeast strain, including a Belgian Double IPA and Saison Noir. The duo also did a delicious propagation batch with Saaz hops, Simon Saaz-On. Then came well-received Flower Infusion, utilizing hibiscus, rosebud, chamomile, galanga, and wildflower honey.

At age 50, the seasoned owner-operator realized the long hours were taking their toll. So he allowed Braddock to take the reins on a few recipes. A current Thomas Hooker associate with a production background, Braddock helps organize, take inventory and brew on-site.

“I was invited to go to Boston’s Extreme Beerfest, but failed to fill out the $200 Massachusetts license form. I’d donated beers for years and got invited as a guest but was left with a special beer from an old English homebrew recipe,” Wollner shares. “I boiled a chicken, soaked it in the driest country wine, put in a bag with raisins, mace and clove, stuck it in the beer and let it ferment. I had ten gallons of this Cock Ale for Weird Wednesday on cask eight months later. Needless to say, Cock Ale caused trouble. ‘Pump that cock!,’ customers groaned. Some said it came with a large head. It was spicy, like a winter warmer. The chicken added some body.”

Maintaining only one constant year-round draught from the beginning (approachable mainstream moderation, Certified Gold), I’d tried 25 diverse Willimantic beers before downing another four offerings post-haste.

As I dig into my wife’s LA Smog pizza (spinach, mushroom, onions and garlic atop mozzarella-cheesed wheat-floured dough), Wollner joins us as we break into Bohemian Hopsidy. Lively lemon-seeded and grapefruit-peeled orange rind bittering and woody hop dryness contrasted its creamy crystal malting.

Chill Pilz, a feisty schwarzbier, carried coffee-roasted dark chocolate and dry cocoa above bourbon, burgundy and black cherry illusions. Described as a ‘chocolate wheat malted and hop-forward pilsner with ale yeast,’ Wollner may give it permanent seasonal rotation.

Poor Richard’s Olde Ale retained a leathery cedar-burnt mocha fruiting, allowing black cherry, red grape, raisin and burgundy to infiltrate chocolate liqueur, Godiva chocolate, Begian chocolate, vanilla, Kahlua and cocoa passages.

When Wollner’s beverage manager passed away suddenly in 2011, he made a tributary Maibock, Marge’s Meisterbrau, a wonderful honey-dried, orange-fruited, peach-licked, Vienna-malted medium body that warmly concluded my latest Willimantic journey.

Don’t miss out on this extraordinary brewpub. There’s a certain antique grandeur Willimantic Brewing’s marble columns, gothic ceilings, capacious interior and wall-bound ephemera expressly capture.




Out of the rural hilly sticks in central Connecticut pops up the small metropolis of Willimantic, home of arguably the best Northeast brewpub, originally visited October ’07. Over a frog-pillared bridge in a historic street-cornered granite-limestone ex-post office, WILLIMANTIC BREWING (formerly Main Street Café) has cozy left side wood bar with eclectic wall-bound specialty tap handles, windowed side tables, and encased brew tanks plus separate right dining area.

Bottled beer selection included amiable local, English, Irish, and Belgian ales. And though I sleepwalked through acrid wheat-oats-fronted, dry-hopped, grapefruit rind-embittered Certified Gold, subtly citric-hopped corn-sugared Mail Carrier Maybock and cardboard-y fruit-crimped pecan-skimped oxidation Autobahn Alt on my initial stopver, the proceeding seasonal offerings were terrific.

Most Wanted IPA had illustrious grapefruit-peach-mango burst harboring Cascade-hopped maple-sapped piney bark bittering. Well-calibrated Willi Whammer Barleywine boasted 10% alcohol-soaked cherry luster, bruised orange-banana sweetness, teasing brandy snipe, and buttery vanilla finish.

Scotch-rye-affixed, fig-date-tinged, raw-honeyed Extra Postage Pub Ale went down gently alongside flatbread pizza, nachos, and sandwiches.

During March ’09 revisit, discovered five more worthy brews. Vienna-malted Saaz-hopped corn-sugared hop-spiced Czech In The Mail suited connoisseurs and nubians alike. Cask-conditioned barrel-aged cider-sharp grape-soured fig-dried Willi Funk Hammer maintained tart tannic acidity. Piney citric-spiced pear-sweet grapefruit-embittered Pushing The Envelope Extreme Unfiltered Double IPA possessed heady ethanol flare. Citrus-tingled honey-sweetened pilsner-malted Springfest and unfiltered tea-like cocoa-powdered fig-sugared honeycomb-finishing Winter’s Dunkel had easy appeal.

Amazingly, on my third trip to Willimantic Brewing, February 2011, there were seven (!) more new beers to try. I’d already quaffed eleven preferable libations on my past two visitations, but there were two amazingly distinct and differentiated stouts to discover as well as a terrific IPA, expressive pale ale, and four other favorites. My wife and I settled into a vegetal pizza while dipping into lightest fare, dry-hopped German Pils, Hope & Hops, a perfumed corn-husked wheat-grassed moderation with lemony grapefruit tingle that may’ve topped tranquil Carrier’s Credo Cream. The latter, a dry-bodied grassy-hopped maize-flaked wheat-cracked clover-honeyed cream ale, placed cooked veggie, orange rot, lemon meringue, and white apricot illusions in the subtle backdrop.

Bettering those promising openers were three diversified medium body brews. Excellent Spam Mail Pale Ale brought woody Amarillo hop parch to dry lemon-seeded grapefruit-juiced grape tannin, apple skin, apricot, orange, and tangerine tartness contrasting ascending honey-sugared crystal malting.

Creamy Double Black IPA retained intense hop-roasted tobacco chew, black cherry, prune, raisin and fig frenzy contrasting rich chocolate malt durability. Nearly as fine, Scarlet Letter Red situated sweet caramel-crystal malting alongside dry spice-hopped alacrity and compost-wafted vegetal mineral graining.

An engaging sidestep, Scotch Tapped Scottish Ale diverted away from any restrictive regimented style with its Band-aided beechwood-smoked peat malting contrasting sweet honey nuttiness.

I was admiring the terrific, colorful tap handle collection above the walnut bar while imbibing astonishingly reciprocal dessert treats. As much as I enjoyed creamy espresso-coffee fronted Just Stout, with its dry hop-roasted vanilla bean bittering coarsening black chocolate, anise, hazelnut, and walnut illusions, its chocolate-milked counterpart reached nirvana quicker.

A perfect chocolate dessert beer, S.W.A.K. Stout, advanced creamy brown chocolate sugaring and rich vanilla sweetness above soothing coffee roast, allowing rich chocolate cake, Belgian chocolate, and Hershey Kiss opulence to spread across the mouth.

My long-time pal, Dennis Flubacher, brought back growlers of two previously untried brews, May 2011. Roaden Zok Flanders Sour Red Ale retained crisply tart green apple spicing and hard cider pucker above fig-dried oaken cherry, vinous white grape, and sour pomegranate fruiting, embittering raspberry-boysenberry conflux along the way.

Next up, Victorian Neighbor Pale Ale placed caraway-seeded rye breading and caramel-roasted chocolate nibs snip atop fungi yellow-fruited apicot-fig dryness for proper English ale styling.

Quaffed another five rangy brews during 2011 winter solstice (December 21st) on trip back from Boston with wife and daughter. One of the most popular local selections, Rail Mail Rye, maintained a soft, unfiltered flow with fig-dried citric rye gently caressing mild hop peppering. A sturdier dried fruiting spread across brown sugared, dark-spiced Edge Of Darkness Brown Ale.

Just as approachable and twice as delectable, Pushing The Envelope Double IPA plied brown-sugared cinnamon spicing inside orange-cherry fruiting, crystal malted sugaring, wood-singed walnut sharpness and sweet hazelnut clusters.

Nearly as great, Coco Porter took dry cocoa powder and smoked chocolate malts to the soft black cherry midst, where mild caramel latte, milked coffee and espresso illusions claimed ground.

As for the wintry seasonals, unobtrusive Winter Fest had a musty dry-hopped fig-plum-date astringency and very little spicing. But 1st Class Festive Imperial IPA doused a load of brown-sugared cinnamon spicing inside sugary crystal malting, leaving wood-singed dried cherry, hazelnut and walnut undertones.