It was always easier to steal booze from your parents over beer. Liquor was the more pragmatic of options of course, with its portability and potency making it superior to beer when I was a teen. Yet there was another reason why it was preferred— the beer I drank just wasn’t that good. Now beggars can’t be choosers, so don’t get me wrong, whatever I could procure, I consumed. As such, I guzzled a fuck-ton of light beer and, depending on what my father stocked in the fridge, a few other choice options as well. One of these options that I was excited to try was Sam Adams Boston Lager. This, my dimwitted seventeen year old brain told me, was good beer.
But I basically hated it. It made my stomach bloat and face twist — a suboptimal struggle to catch a buzz for sure. Yet all this changed one night in Vermont when I tried Magic Hat #9. Like so many New Englanders of a certain era, the red and yellow swirl of the #9 logo was light parting the heavens. It was beer, that tasted, well, nothing like the beer I knew. Sure it made my belly fuller than usual, but it also didn’t burn the shit out of my chest when I drank it, and it tasted like fruit. It was the first beer I ever loved.
For this Magic Hat #9 will always hold a special place in my heart. In this same vein then, for Connecticut Beer, so will Beer’d Brewing Company — the first Connecticut brewery I ever put on a pedestal. Sam Adams wasn’t a bad beer — especially in retrospect to what else was out there at the time —just as Connecticut breweries were churning out fine brews in 2012 too — but whether it be circumstance or chance, a trip to Beer’d changed my view — Connecticut could, in fact, produce exceptional beer.
In the Walking Dead there is a safezone called Terminus where Rick and his gang, stranded on the road without shelter, seek. Signs and radio broadcasts proclaim it a sanctuary, only for the abandoned train station to be found out as a cannibalistic trap. When walking into The Velvet Mill for the first time, a reclaimed Warehouse in North Stonington where Beer’d is located, my initial feelings were about the same as Rick’s gang — eerie and ominous. That uneasiness faded quickly though, as a wonderfully refurbished maze of art, food, and drink was revealed. Just a ten minute drive from downtown Mystic, the Velvet Mill is a refuge for funky small businesses, the cornerstone of which is Beer’d. Distant murmurs hint towards its location, but as you trek the long hallways and gargantuan open rooms, those whispers steadily grow louder until you find the Beer’d tap room.
The tap room itself is medium sized, with concrete floors, and forty foot ceilings. I *think* it’s a monkey, but the ceilings are so high in this place that the staff has hidden a few stuffed animals throughout to create a Where’s Waldo scenario for anyone so bold to embark upon. The half rectangle wooden bar is located towards the back of the room on the right side, where you can choose from the many beers — usually 8 plus — on draught. To the left of that bar is where you pick-up growlers, cans, and Beer’d merch. About two thirds of the space is dedicated to seating — two, four, and six-top tables are scattered about, with extra chairs set against the two side walls as well. Hanging lights run across the ceilings to bring some character to the windowless venue, with a bright, luminous sign of the iconic Beer’d logo centering the brewery. It’s not the best spot for a sunny Summer afternoon, but a cool place nonetheless to indulge in wondrous Connecticut beer. Lastly, there are appealing food options. If Zest Bakery is open, they are an awesome place for fine pastries, snacks, and coffee, while Beer’d also has takeout menus for pizza and other comfort food. If Zest is closed, and you are willing to wait thirty minutes for some tasty grub, Beer’d provides great options that will deliver.
Beer’d won me over with their DIPAs. 2012 was an interesting time for craft beer in that it was decidedly ahead of the NEIPA craze, but at the precipice of microbrewery explosion across the country. In the late 2000s, it seemed much more about the incumbents in every state getting more creative with their fleets, rather than competition from new microbreweries. According to the Brewers Association, the U.S. had 405 microbreweries in 2000, 620 in 2010, 1,143 in 2012, and 3,812 in 2017. These stats are great, but the story here is that in the decade from 2000-2010, microbreweries increased by about 50%, while the two year period from 2010-2012 saw a near doubling of those numbers — a massive acceleration. Where craft beer changed, I think, is the blueprint of what a microbrewery could be. In the 2000s, it was to brew an amber, porter or stout, IPA, and maybe a wheat beer, with a few seasonals mixed in. The notion that you could build a brewery that would have a heavy leaning towards a specific style was an alien concept.
So when Beer’d opened, they hit the market with a wallop of DIPAs. With their most distinct beers clocking in at 9% plus, it was a departure from what most Connecticut breweries — even most New England breweries (save Alchemist!) — were doing at the time. And like the famous DIPAs of this era, they were balanced with a blend of strong citrus and grapefruit, with big pine and bitter at the end. Dogs and Boats is their most famous brew and, in 2018, is still one of the single best beers in the state. Grapefruit gives way to pineapple and peach, before a healthy kick of resiny pine and bitter. I loved this beer the first time I had it and it really is timeless. It doesn’t fit into the NEIPA profile of today per se, but its bold without being overwhelming. Dogs and Boats gives you the full scope of what DIPAs have always been about — loud hops, citrus notes, and beautiful bitter. Hobbit Juice holds many of the same characteristics of its cousin, but with the fingerprints of Nelson Sauvin hops. Replace the grapefruit, mango, and pineapple of Dogs and Boats with apple, pear, and white grapes and Hobbit Juice is an equally balanced and potent DIPA.
Three others beers that represent Beer’d quite well are their 8 Days a Week, Whisker’d Wit, and Frank & Berry. Frank & Berry is another DIPA that is markedly more malt forward, chalk-full of mosaic hops, with undertones of strawberries and blueberries. It’s a much sweeter beer than both Hobbit Juice and Dogs and Boats. Beer’d also makes great brews that aren’t nine percenters — something my thirty something self appreciates. 8 Days a Week is a beautifully hazy APA that is a Citra single hopper. Huge notes of orange and lemon dominate this ale, with an pillowy mouthfeel too. At 6.7% it isn’t a session beer, but its sessionable. Lastly, Beer’d’s Whisker’d Wit is a staple of their fleet. Orange peel, spice, and white grapes create a flavorful, yet dry witbier — the dryness really separating it from other versions of the style. A pretty beer with pronounced flavor, it’s a nice respite from the higher ABV beer that make Beer’d tick.
In the coming years, Trillium will build a farmhouse next door. For me, this is an absolute boon for Beer’d. Almost immediately they catapulted themselves into the top tier of Connecticut beer and have maintained that status ever since opening, even with exponential competition in the state. With hoards of beer lovers bound to flood Trillium’s new location, Beer’d will be a benefactor of this increased tourism. And there are few breweries in the state who deserve it more. They already have one of the great beers in Connecticut and an armada of wonderful options too. As such, the spotlight should be kind to one of Connecticut’s beer elite.
Strengths: DIPAs / Funky Location / Proximate to Westerly + Mystic / CT Beer Elite
Weaknesses: IPA Overload / No Outdoor Space / Long Drive for Much of the State
Tips: Explore the Velvet Mill — its creepy, kooky, and cool all at once.
FEAST: Zest Bakery is a nice stop before or after the brewery
FROTH: Cliché, but I don’t care…Dogs and Boats is among the greatest CT beers ever produced.
FEAST: 5/10 – FROTH: 9/10 – BREWERY: 9/10