Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. Tomorrow Never Knows was the final song off the Beatles’ album “Revolver” and the introduction of psychedelic rock to the masses. Revolver was the first album produced after the four famous Liverpudlians dropped acid, turned on, and at the height of their fame, began to create some of history’s most critically acclaimed music. Strawberry Fields Forever, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, I am the Walrus, and their magnum opus, A Day in the Life, all have roots in this era and every track found massive commercial success, with heavy psychedelic elements underpinning each.
Some less popular, but more trippy tracks were Only a Northern Song:
If you think the harmony
Is a little dull and out of key
Cause there’s nobody there
Or, It’s All Too Much:
Set me on a silver sun
For I know that I’m free
Show me that I’m everywhere
And get me home for tea
These are great tunes! And holy shit do I love them, but it’s hard to argue that they aren’t super weird — especially when examining the lyrics at a different stage of life, with a clearer head. Yet when I hear these tracks today, nostalgia kicks-in and I’m immediately transported to a time when Pink Floyd laser light shows at the Boston Planetarium seemed like an appropriate night out. When I walked into Fat Orange Cat for the first time then, and saw an entire farmhouse wall tattered with photographs of marmalade cats of tremendous girth, along with brewery tees stating “Someone In My Head” printed above a feline skull, I had to laugh. Forget Tomorrow Never Knows, I thought, this place is a time warp to some of the less productive days of my youth.
Nothing is normal about Fat Orange Cat Brewing Co. and this starts with the brewery location itself. East Hampton isn’t Siberia — it’s only a twenty-one minute drive from Middletown — but the entire trek to the brewery feels remote and removed. The arrival to FOC is atypical too. After driving through the sticks, unaware that places like this existed in Connecticut outside of Litchfield County, you’re greeted with a cluster of beer advocates, on maybe a 200 yard plot of land, which reveals a boisterous scene that is the exact opposite of the wilds you just traveled. While other brewers typically open their doors Thursday through Sunday, Fat Orange Cat is only open for five hours on Saturday and three hours on Sundays, which makes the place particularly lively on those Saturdays. In the fall, people roam between fire pits outside, goats towards the back-end of the property, and the barn itself, which serves the beer. Once inside the barn you can either buy cans to-go or purchase their sampling package. For $7 you get four tasting pours and the iconic FOC snifter to keep, it’s a really good deal. After those four pours though — they track them with poker chips — it’s time to buy some beer and disperse.
The can artwork for Fat Orange Cat is extraordinary and sets the tone for the brewery. Colorful and distinctive, nearly every can has some depiction of a feline, usually with blue eyes, and a flurry of petite brush strokes that create mayhem on each can. Credit must be given to the artist, Leslie Herman, who unsurprisingly has created album covers for Phish. The artwork is stunning, peculiar, and mesmerizing, while contributing to the baseline of what the small-batch brewery is all about — playful and creative beer.
FOC outsources much of their brewing to Twelve Percent Beer Project and, due to this arrangement, they have an arsenal of beer at their disposal that varies greatly. Most microbrewers will fill growlers or have a few brews canned, yet FOC is the exception in that they have a huge offering of beer on premises. They are usually pouring six to eight beers, while having the equivalent number of cans for sale — though those cans are usually different from the beers on tap. And their beers are tasty. Of important note is that while they are imaginative with their recipes, Fat Orange Cat is heavy with their NEIPA offerings. My favorite of which is Consensus, an NEIPA that pours a thick, heavy, and hazy orange. It’s grapefruit on steroids, with slight hints of orange and pineapple. Every sip is a juice-bomb and the composition is voluminous — just looking at that seductive beast forces another sip. Another NEIPA that I enjoy is You Can Borrow My Straw I Don’t Have Cooties, which clocks in at a palatable 6.8% and is chalk-full of Galaxy and Mosaic hops. Like Consensus there is a creamy texture to this IPA, with pineapple, peach, and berries ample throughout. Both of these NEIPAs are well-crafted homages to the style and won’t disappoint.
It is the creativity of Fat Orange Cat though that makes them shine. I do love Consensus, but it’s their more eccentric beers that I crave. One particular brew that is wonderful, if not slightly mind-bending is All Cats Are Gray in the Dark, their white stout. For one it’s my second favorite can art (Someone in My Head ’s can and it’s ode to LSD takes the cake) as the sharp teeth, green eyes, and maniacal smile of the black cat makes me grin. The beer itself is a trickster. If you drank it out of the can, you’d call it a milk-stout, with an extreme amount of lactose and vanilla bean. When pouring it into a glass though, the composition could be mistaken for an old school Pale Ale. My father-in-law was excited when I was drinking it on Thanksgiving, believing it to be a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, his favorite beer. He was betrayed when I gave him a sip! There are subtle coffee notes, and a definite chocolate undertone, but this stout is all about that sweet vanilla kick, which is omnipresent at every stage of the sip. Jalapeño Jack — a jalapeño infused cream ale —was another beer that messed with my senses. It poured a translucent golden yellow, with a nice creamy head. The texture had weight too for a 5.5% beer and the taste was just so damn unique. The nose of the beer, and both the introduction and middle of each sip, is a sledgehammer of jalapeño and green pepper, with the finish being absent of the intense initial flavors..
Finally, I need to end this review by highlighting Sweet Jane — their milkshake IPA. They have played with the recipe, with notable variations including blueberry, blood orange, and tangerine, but the base version is vanilla and orange zest and it’s my favorite. There is an overwhelming amount of choice for Connecticut beer lovers in 2018, yet Sweet Jane stands among the elite. The vanilla and orange combination create a beautiful creamiscle taste — so familiar from our collective youth — without masking the fact that you are drinking an IPA. The balance here is what makes this beer special. I paired foie gras with Sweet Jane a few months back — yup I eat foie gras on the regular, come at me! — and that shit was insane. The sweet and savory worked perfectly. If you haven’t tried Sweet Jane yet, seek it out — it’s wonderful.
Beer nerdom is fantastic, but frequenting microbreweries isn’t a young man’s game. As such, the majority of craft beer enthusiasts are well past their prime of using mind-altering drugs. Music can bring us back to those days of limited responsibility, but so can one single trip to Fat Orange Cat. It’s like going to LOVE, without having to drop $250. Consume fresh beer and stare at those obese cats on the brewery’s wall — the weirdness of the experience won’t disappoint.
Strengths: Creative Beer / Unique Setting / Goats / Art Central to their Culture
Weaknesses: Isolated / Beyond four small tastings, can’t really hang at the brewery if you are drinking beers on tap.
Tips: Their milkshake IPAs are first-class. If they have *any* of them on tap or in cans, be sure to purchase them.
FEAST: No options. Beer only.
FROTH: Sweet Jane. All variations are good, but I prefer the original.
FEAST: 0/10 – FROTH: 9/10 – BREWERY: 8/10