Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Tucked between the Connecticuts largest city (Bridgeport), the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound, Stratford isn’t exactly the quaint New England shore town that conjures images of Frost, Thoreau or Emerson. In fact, growing up in this town of 50,000 I really only knew it to be famous for one thing – massively contaminated industrial sites. Sure there was a rich aviation manufacturing history, a perennially excellent women’s fast-pitch softball team, and a theater that long ago boasted summer programs with “all the famous New York city actors”. But those things don’t really inspire pride in a teenage boy.
How did I know that Stratford was environmentally famous? On a job interview in New Hampshire after my junior year of college I struck up a conversation with a staff member and he asked me where I was from. I was surprised that he intimately knew my hometown, so I asked if he had grown up there. Without speaking a word he pointed to the completely full bookcase behind me. I read the labels on the thick binders, “Remedial Plan“, “Superfund“, “Asbestos and Heavy Metals Dumping Sites“. As I was reading he said in a perturbed voice “I’ve been working on Stratford for over 10 years…”.
I never got the job.
So why then, after more than 10 years living elsewhere, am I particularly proud to call Stratford home?
Beer. Specifically, the new brewing venture named “Two Roads Brewing” founded by former Pabst executive Brad Hittle and Brew Master Phil Markowski. The brew house, sporting a beautiful 100bbl brewing setup is located in an immaculately preserved and restored factory that was the home of the US Baird Company for over 150 years. Of course, before the team could begin brewing there was some dirty business to take care of – wouldn’t you know it – an environmental clean-up of the factory. The team also supported changing Connecticut laws to allow beer sales on Sundays, and for breweries to sell pints for on-premise consumption.
Plans for the brewery include a full line-up of beers to suit many styles, ranging from a saison to a double IPA. For the first year production is expected to be about 20,000bbl, but by 2020 Two Roads plans on cranking out 100,000 to 200,000 bbls annually. Though broad distribution is planned, not all of that beer will be labeled as Two Roads. One reason the brewery is so massive is that Hittle and crew are planning on contract brewing for other craft beer labels. The industry is growing, and they had the capital to build big – so they chose that road to follow.
I had a chance to stop by the brewery on a snowy evening just before New Years, and found a packed tasting room that included family and friends. With five beers on tap, including a tasting room only Biere de Garde I settled in with the bowl of Utz Party Mix that was offered and got to tasting.
The dark copper biere de garde Holiday Ale was up first, and proved to be deliciously malty, with a hint of warming alcohol and wintry spices finished with a little hop bitterness. Very tasty and exceptionally drinkable. Note: Two Roads will not be bottling this yummy brew. So you have to visit the tasting room to try it for yourself.
I decided to mix up the recommended sampling order here and next went for the Ol’ Factory Pilsner and the Honeyspot Road White IPA. While I loved the creative names, the taste of these two just didn’t do much for me. The pilsner will be well received by the Budweiser crowd, while the Honeyspot Road will likely be recommended for fans of ShockTop or Blue Moon (and they’ll be a little confused when they taste it).
I saved what I anticipated to be the best for last – the Workers Comp Saison and the Road 2 Ruin Double IPA. And I was not disappointed.
As I left I tweeted that Two Roads needs a pale ale and a “Sikorsky” Stout – and was immediately informed that a Russian Imperial Stout aged in rye barrels is in the works – and will honor Igor Sikorsky, the father of modern helicopters (Sikorsky first tested his helicopters in Stratford and the company headquarters is still located here). Can’t wait to return!
Road 2 Ruin : The double IPA (dIPA) is by far my favorite beer style, and a hometown dIPA – come on! It pours with a deep amber color and a soft pillowy white head that you could rest your head in all day long. While you’re resting there, take a deep breath and enjoy the piney hop aroma. Ahhhhhh… My first taste was met with a wallop of pine and grapefruit hop flavors, that gave way to a pleasant mild sweetness. Though the hops disrupt my palate a bit, I wouldn’t call this a palate-wrecking dIPA – it is more in line with Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, albeit a little less refined. Don’t take that the wrong way, Loose Cannon is my go-to beer, and the slightly “rough around the edges” taste channels Stratford pretty well.
Workers Comp: I was surprised when I heard the local package store was pushing a saison on my youngest sister – these people know my family very well – and much as I love my sister, she is a Michelob Ultra and Bud Light Lime kinda person. When I tasted the Workers Comp saison and mulled the recommendation over in my head I realized there was a logic behind it. This is a very accessible version of a style that can get downright funky, it’s not a particularly intense saison – so for somebody willing to take a risk and be exposed to a new flavor profile, it is a winner. It poured a light straw/golden color and had all the essential saison characteristics – the slightly funky aroma and with that spicy saison yeast, the crisp light body, hints of white pepper, the “get hot outside so I can drink you on my back porch please!” feeling. It was a nice to find a saison that I could enjoy myself, and that I could share with my family and friends who are willing to step out of their comfort zones.
Two Roads – keep on doing what you’re doing!