Horfrost Stout was brewed during a February blizzard in 2010 and was the end to my ignominious homebrewing career. Thin bodied, burnt, with an unintended blast of bittering hops, I knew it was an abomination before I even pitched the yeast. With NYC public schools already cancelled, my teacher roommate removed me from that disaster to another — the howling winds and whiteout snow of Park Slope. We trekked down two avenues and five blocks, nearly eating shit with every step, in search of our preferred neighborhood hideaway — The Gate.
The Gate was a great local spot, but that wasn’t really the draw. First, it had this nook in the back of the bar that housed an exceptional dart set-up. Narrow and three quarters encapsulated, the space could barely fit two people and was an optimum spot to disappear, get drunk, and make irresponsible bets with a friend. Secondly, it had great beer. In fact, The Gate would have absolutely been considered a beer bar for the time. A decade back, when breweries were significantly more sparse — where hitting up two or three breweries in a day was a planned vacation, not an average weekend activity — beer bars were a lifeline to the obsessed. For myself and many others living in Brooklyn, The Gate was more than a local bar, but a respite from the mundane tap lists that predominated the majority of rival establishments. They’d have some Belgian or German classics, Dogfishhead representation always, a few banging West Coast IPAs, and I even remember trying my first Stillwater Saison there. Yet thinking back, there was little about that menu that was local — maybe a Captain Lawrence tap or two. In other words, The Gate — like almost every wonderful beer bar of the time — strived to get the best brews, but to do so, had to pull from a wide geographical net.
Now this is the the operating model of many beer bars still, yet as the local options explode, it puts into question what the average beer connoisseur wants in his or her beer bar. The Beer Collective is just over two years old and they’ve brought a fresh and unique perspective to what these establishments can be. The interior of the New Haven outfit is comprised of weathered wooden tables, a hard wood floor, and row after row of rare and illustrious beer bottles that line its walls. There is a venerable feel to the place, but with modern touches too. Farmhouse chic, meets scattered MOMA art, with goddamned hipsters loitering about. The lighting is dim enough to create an ambience, but bright enough for lively conversation and the long, inviting bar sits sixteen souls at least. A pint after lunch with a book or big beers after dinner on a Saturday night both work at The Beer Collective, with its backdrop making your day just a bit more civilized.
As we race towards 2019, the beer world has shifted mightily from what it once was — especially in Connecticut. A decade back Connecticut had less than ten breweries, now it has over eighty. The notion that some beer is best drank immediately, that letting a can sit in a fridge for two months, even if it came directly from a brewery, will eliminate some of its zip, would be an alien concept then. Further, the beers you really want, which are often local — well they aren’t available at your local package store. You need to go to the brewery itself, try it on tap, or hope that the stars align and they have it canned. In this world then, Connecticut was screaming for what Beer Collective has done — create a tightly curated beer menu, that isn’t overwhelming, but is Connecticut centric. Fox Farm, Kent Falls, Beer’d, Counterweight, Armada, and Back East all feature regularly at The Beer Collective — a verifiable who’s who of great Connecticut breweries. And the beers they are snagging aren’t the leftovers either. I had Fox Farm’s Burst, one of the best beers in the state, and Ice Cream Man, the brew with a cult following from Back East. Kent Falls taps are super hard to find and for someone living a cool ninety-four minutes away from their brewery, it was appreciated that The Beer Collective had not only their Field Beer — a Saison series of Kent Falls, but Doubly Awkward Hug, their highly rated DIPA. Other beer bars overwhelm you with their selection — and I am not knocking this — but The Beer Collective finds that Goldilocks Zone where volume, quality, and focus meet.
It isn’t just Connecticut beer either. I am not going waste words, nor time, listing off their many great non-CT options, but put it this way, they produce the goods when they venture out of state too. Avery’s 14% bourbon barrel-aged chocolate raspberry imperial stour — Raspberry Truffale — was on tap. Enough said, they are a honeypot of carefully selected masterclass brews. If you aren’t feeling beer — then grow up — but if you’ve really tired from the world’s greatest beverage, then thirty-five bourbon, rye, and scotch whiskeys behind the bar should have you covered.
Lastly, the food at The Beer Collective is sneaky good too. The menu is absolutely catered to those who are drinking beer and want to casually snack on the side. Like their beer menu, the food is elevated and focused. Poutine two ways (pesto and bbq), pork chili nachos, and “chick-a-rones” — crispy deep-fried chicken skins / Nashville hot honey / house buffalo sauce — give a hint into the creativity the kitchen produces. The fare has character and flare, while always staying tight to what the beer drinker wants and needs. A few people in my party crushed the TBC Burger and loved it, while I took down the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich. I raged in Nashville this summer and had myself a mountain of Nashville Hot Chicken, this sandwich did the Music City justice.
To live in the past, is to die in the present. The world of beer has changed and so has the demands of beer drinkers in 2018 — especially those in this state. The Beer Collective has stepped up to offer local beers that are not only exquisite, but difficult to procure. Combine this with a prime metropolitan location, brilliant food, and a hip setting and it’s easy to see why The Beer Collective is so damn attractive to so many.
Strengths: Curated Connecticut Beer / Rare Selections / Location / Pleasing Food / Decor
Weaknesses: Not always the liveliest of atmospheres.
Tips: Menu shifts constantly, keep abreast and hit it up when the beer you *really* love is available. Fantastic pre or post New Haven dinner drink spot.
FEAST: Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich
FROTH: It changes — they really do get exceptional CT Beers. Huge fan of Fox Farm Burst, which was on tap the last time I visited.
FEAST: 7.5/10 – FROTH: 9.5/10 – BAR: 8.5/10