There are few views more triumphant than the skyline of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Crossing the Arno River from the Uffizi, it takes about twenty minutes to trek to the elevated square where thousands gather at dusk to watch the sun set over the Duomo, the Palazzo Vechhio, Giotto’s Campanile, and the rest of the exalted buildings that comprise the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance. It is in these old places, where sturdy structures are measured by centuries, not decades — where time has stood still — that people can breath. And in this breath citizens can pursue their passions, however odd, quirky, and offbeat they may be.
So when an older gentleman occupies the entrance to the Piazzale Michelangelo, wielding a soapy hula-hoop sized bubble maker as floods of tourists pass him by, creating a spectacle for all to see, you think two things. First, pretty fucking weird man. Second, that you’re a bit envious of the time he has — what would I chase if my life allotted this kind of freedom? In the past six years I’ve traveled to Florence three times, in three different seasons, and bubble man has been there every single time and I will tell you this — he isn’t a bum. The man did something right in his life to provide the freedom that his daily calendar provides.
Connecticut doesn’t have a flagship beer and I’d argue that it’s a bit murky to even identify the flagship beers of most Connecticut breweries — the flagship is dead after all, said Beer Advocate in 2012. While I disagree with this statement, some of it makes sense. With Connecticut’s brewery explosion over the past few years, it sets the standard for beer-makers to keep it seasonal, local, and constantly shifting. People are coming to your space more for fresh beer and expertise, rather than a specific pint. But tell this to the brewer who is trying make ends meet. Principles and ethos matter in this business, but so does keeping the electricity on. So when I look at Stubborn Beauty Brewing Company out of Middletown, CT, I see a brewery that has secured both their critical and financial future with a throwback flagship beer — Happy Treez y’all — but also a future that is now untethered to the constraints that many other small brewers face.
The location of Stubborn Beauty isn’t pretty, but it’s proximity to downtown Middletown makes it an attractive place to visit. Driving up to what was once a long abandoned warehouse, you’ll see another beer-maker — Forest City Brewing — before hitting a big white sign with a jagged red rose; the insignia of Stubborn Beauty Brewing Company. The tap room at Stubborn Beauty is a bit no-nonsense. Concrete floors and tattered brick walls comprise it’s foundations with four four-top metal tables in the main room, with another two-top table in a connected side room. Massive vats sit in the distance behind the aluminum bar, with a cool and quite large blackboard tap list, pastel colors and all, hanging from the ceiling. Stubborn Beauty usually has eight to nine beers available at their brewery, with cans of Happy Treez for sale, and crowler fill options. It’s definitely a legit place to post-up and sample Stubborn Beauty’s offerings for an hour or two, but definitely not a place to spend the whole night at. The allure of visiting Stubborn Beauty is that it’s a perfect aperitif to exploring Middletown. In a five minute drive or less, you can be parked on Main Street and mowing pizza and bourbon at Krust or indulging in even more great beer at Eli Canon’s. In this sense, it’s really a fantastic set-up that Stubborn Beauty has created. While they’re a brewery that’s certainly worthy of a standalone visit, the whole of Middletown is in their backyard — why not capitalize on that location, the city’s awesome food scene, and spend the day or night?
The tap list at Stubborn Beauty can be described as aggressively accessible. On one hand they are playing to the crowd with a heavy heaping of IPAs, DIPAs, and Saisons that dominate their menu. On the other hand, I’d argue that their renditions of these styles are rather distinct and pretty high in alcohol — many are 8% or above. In other words, they are producing bold beers masked in familiarity. There is no better example of this then their How Rye I Am Saison. It’s a farmhouse ale on steroids. How Rye I Am holds all of the characteristics of your classic farmhouse — Belgian yeast, zesty taste, and a slight hop finish — but with a ramped up malt profile. At 8.4%, it’s a definitively higher ABV beer than it’s Belgian predecessors — Saison Dupoint is 7.7% for example — and it’s more golden in it’s makeup too. The breadiness (#notaword) from the rye also stands out and gives the Saison a fuller body feel. Both the alcohol and the sweetness might be a turn-off to some, but to others they just might fall in love with these intrepid flavors. Of the four people I sat with in one of my tastings, two said that the rye saison was their favorite with damn tasty IPAs everywhere — this speaks volumes to this beer.
Yet as interesting as How Rye I Am Saison and their Saint Alfonzo Belgian Stout are, Stubborn Beauty is ultimately a fine purveyor of hazy, cloudy, and tasty IPAs. Nummy Nummy, their most prominent DIPA, clocks in at 8.1% and pours a deep, dark golden yellow. The beer has imperious wallops of orange and pineapple throughout, with mango — and even caramel — as secondary waves. There is pine to this beer too and it’s name doesn’t lie — after every sip, and certainly upon each pint’s completion, your mouth becomes noticeably numb. This isn’t bad though, it just makes you want more. As does their Naughty Eskimo, a single hopped New England Session IPA. At 4.8%, it’s incredible how much flavor and volume they packed into this ale. Minimal head, with a light yellow haze, this beer screams both mouthfeel and tropical fruit. If you’ve tried Naughty Eskimo, you might have to redefine “football beer” — you’ll want to crush growlers of these for the Sundays that lie ahead.
Lastly, there couldn’t be a review of Stubborn Beauty without praising Happy Treez. It’s the face of the franchise per se and for good reason — it’s a formidably nuanced and drinkable New England IPA. Happy Treez begins with a distinctly peachy nose and a mélange of bright yellow and orange hues. The mouthfeel is super creamy and weighty, with big splashes of mango and grapefruit. I get hints of orange too, but it’s actually the mango that seems most dominant. What I love about this beer too is that it’s not all juice. You get an oily, resiny hop bite at the end and the finish doesn’t hide the bitter. For everything else that’s going on with this beer, I dig that. At 6.2% too it’s a utility beer that can be happily drank in any season or occasion. If it’s in your local liquor store — because it is well distributed — know that it’s a worthy beer to pick up.
As the Connecticut beer scene continues to proliferate, expect Stubborn Beauty Brewing Company to become even more well-known. They’ve already paved the way for their success with a killer flagship and now — like that quirky hobbyist outside the Piazzale Michelangelo — they have the freedom to be fearless and guide Stubborn Beauty down an independent path. As a cog in the Connecticut brewing scene already, they are proper stewards for the years ahead indeed.
Strengths: Proximity to Downtown Middletown / Signature Beers (Happy Treez, Nummy Nummy) / New England IPAs / Big Beers
Weaknesses: Below Average Space for Tasting / Car Necessary to Visit Anywhere Else
Tips: Stubborn Beauty for the buzz + takeout Krust for the bites + Eli Canon’s for the belligerance = a hell of an afternoon or night.
FEAST: Food Trucks occasionally stop by, but leave the grub for downtown Middletown if you intend to eat.
FROTH: Happy Treez you can buy in cans, but Nummy Nummy is the crown jewel of the Tap Room. Luxuriate in that desensitization, friends!
FEAST: 4/10 – FROTH: 8.5/10 – BREWERY: 8/10