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Last week I published “CT BEER RANKINGS 2019: Most Popular Brewery”. That list was objective, using data to rank every Connecticut brewery by their popularity.
This week’s list is all about subjectivity. This is my personal list of the Top 25 Breweries in Connecticut for 2019.
The rankings are weighted heavily on the quality of beer being served, though they do take into account the brewery experience and its culture.
What do you love? What do you hate? Sound off in the comments below!
|Fox Farm||Salem, CT||2016||#1|
|New Park||West Hartford||2017||#5|
|Fat Orange Cat||East Hampton||2016||#9|
|Five Churches||New Britain||2017||#23|
1. Fox Farm – A unanimous pick for the number one slot, Fox Farm is Connecticut’s top brewery. Double Burst and Viridescence need to be at the top of any IPA list – the latter being the best deployment of Nelson Sauvin hops in the state. Yet it’s the excellence in variety, that sets Fox Farm apart. Cabin, Copestone, Fohn, and Quiet Night are all pillars of each respective style. Their pristine, bucolic venue doesn’t hurt anyone’s experience either.
2. OEC – Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores is not just the most unique brewery in the state, it’s one of the most distinctive breweries in the US. In a decade dominated by IPAs, OEC focused on just the opposite. Wild Ales, sours, oak-conditioned pilsners, blended beers – combining different vintages and even other spirits like Sake into their ales – the Oxford brewer is just as much a laboratory as a brewery. House made yeast, ingredients grown and exclusively used on premise – you don’t get more technical, innovative, and experimental than the Order of Eccentric Brewers.
3. Counterweight – Crucial Mass is the highest quality beer in the state that is widely distributed. Period. That Counterweight keeps the price of this beer – and all their beers – affordable to the consumer, says everything about the culture of this gem. Headway and Workhorse are trusty sidekicks to any packy run, while Slumbering Behemoth and Triple Inudation are peak examples of each style.
4. NEBCO – Historically, NEBCO has been the greatest brewery in Connecticut. It still remains in the discussion for the state’s best brewery nearly 20 years later. Their excellence over the long term is remarkable – are there more iconic names in CT Beer than Imperial Storm Trooper and G-Bot? Yet they didn’t stay complacent. People go wild for the Fuzzy Baby Ducks series and form lines for can releases too. A rarity for a Connecticut brewery, but commonplace for NEBCO.
5. New Park – The West Hartford outfit exploded onto the scene in 2017 and has crushed it in both beer quality and popularity. Their tap room is a perpetual madhouse, with brewheads cramming every last inch of the space. New Park cranks out exquisite Berliner Weisses and IPAs. Spectrum and Cloudscape are constants on their menu and both are brilliant beers, while their Blender series is special. Voluminous, tart, and sweet – these are models for how the interpretation has progressed.
6. Beer’d – For me, Beer’d ushered in the modern era of Connecticut Brewing. Early classics like Dogs and Boats and Hobbit Juice were just incredible offerings that shed light to the potential of CT Beer outside of NEBCO. Always a sought after destination for beer nerds, they’ve ramped up their distribution in 2019, but also the number of beers they’re producing too. A fleet of hazy NEIPAs hit the market over the past few years, along with some badass collaborations. Both Dogs vs. Shinobi and Stay Toasty are fantastic beers – the latter being one of my favorite stouts in the state. The opening of their new space, The Silo, should only accelerate their growth.
7. Alvarium – If this were a dog friendly list, Alvarium would be Everest. Alas, it is not, but that doesn’t mean that Alvarium doesn’t sit in rare air. The New Britain outfit bolsters huge creative successes such as Clusternutter and Bomb Pop, while also concocting one of the most delightfully crushable beers in the state – Crunchy Roll. With an expansion in distribution in 2019, get used to more access to Phresh and the delectable Honey Shot going forward.
8. Kent Falls – Sequestered in the hills, forests, and falls of Kent, Connecticut – Kent Falls Brewing Company is the biggest little brewery in the state. In terms of their reach, they’re a massive CT Brewery – shipping beer to every corner of this state and the Northeast region. Yet step into this beermaker’s pastoral landscape and the place feels cozy and intimate. Their beer is atypical for a brewery of their scope too as witnessed by Waymaker – a Brett IPA and one of the first beers they ever sold. They do make fantastic hoppy beer, yet they are so much more than that. Multiverse, Equinox, and Danny Boy are three wonderful brews representing three different styles. Open fermentation, barrel-aging, and wild ales galore – they perform the artisanal aspects of brewing exceptionally well.
9. Fat Orange Cat –– Depending on whether or not you like felines, the inside of Fat Orange Cat’s barn would either be the best or worst place to trip. The entire feel of Fat Orange Cat is wonderfully weird and, even without good beer, would make it worth a visit. Yet FOC’s beer is spectacular and creative. They were ahead of the Milkshake IPA craze and their Sweet Jane series is a superb standard for that style. All Cats Are Grey in the Dark remains among the best white stouts I’ve had, while Jalapeño Jack is wonderfully different. They also produce a crazy amount of IPAs, so if you are into that type of thing / have a beating heart, then Fat Orange Cat will please.
10. Back East – Back East has been a staple in CT package stores for close to a decade, yet it wasn’t until the introduction of a beer so Citra-cy and sweet that they had to put “contains no dairy” on the label. Always a strong brewery in Connecticut, Ice Cream Man catapulted Back East into a different level of acclaim. I don’t think you can say that there has been a beer that has been as accessible to every type of consumer, while also being a critical success in this state. The introduction of their Double Scoop only grows the hype. Unicorn Farm, Tony Goes Dancing, and their original Porter are all plus options too.
11. Tribus – One of the younger breweries on the list, Tribus Beer Company already holds gravitas in the state. And while their brewery culture, set-up, and social media is the antithetical of serious, their beer is nothing to f**k with. In general, Bru-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f**k with. Definitely an outlet for hazy NEIPAs, Tribus cranks out this hyped beer. And while everyone says they produce this style well, not many execute. Tribus does. Their German Pilsner BIER is another great option too. With a great Milford location, proximity to the well-traveled to Two Roads, and a 15 minute drive to New Haven, Tribus is positioned to grow and grow fast.
12. Little House – Puppy videos on loop, Little House Brewing Company is the cutest brewery there ever was. Yet beyond it’s obnoxiously quaint locale, and the best social media around, Little House produces incredible beer, making it one of the great breweries in CT. Wave Racer is hands down the best Milkshake in Connecticut, while Gone Muddin’ and Sleepy Bee would rank high on any CT Beer list for each respective style. Yet Little House is all about the Gemütlichkeit. In such a small space, their warmth, positivity, and amiability is contagious. It’s my personal favorite brewery in the state.
13. Skygazer – As a new brewer, could there be a more inspiring story than Skygazer? Their brewery is absent of a tap room, sells cans for about eight hours a week, has *tiny* distribution, but is immediately lionized across the state for brewing exquisite beer. It’s an insane story, but the rumors turn out to be true – Skygazer’s beer, specifically their Watercolors series, is magical. Somehow balanced, sharp, and subtle all at once – the sweet and sour rolls in waves in these beers. Their Milk Stouts and IPAs aren’t far behind. Skygazer is off to a celestial start.
14. Two Roads – Many centuries from now, when historians write the annals of Connecticut beer history, there won’t be a more important brewery than Two Roads. In Road 2 Ruin they mass produced what really has been the flagship of CT and got that beer everywhere. When non beer-bars started to wade into the craft scene, it was Road 2 Ruin that would sit alongside your generic Sam Adams, Harpoon, Long Trail, and Dogfishhead (if you were lucky!) options. And this was a big win for the state. With Two Roads remaining financially viable by brewing other people’s beer, they were able to unleash their brews across the state. Finally, the average consumer, *no matter what part of the state you lived in*, had access to Connecticut beer. Worker’s Comp, Road Jam, Espressway, Two Juicy, and Honeyspot have always been tasty and trusted options on the shelves, with Lil Heaven rivaling Road 2 Ruin in it’s distribution across the Northeast. The novel Area Two opened in 2019 and represents the next step in the forward thinking mindset that has made Two Roads thrive.
15. Armada – The Beeracks has a grand bar and with a tap list dominated by Armada’s beer, it’s silly not to stop by New Haven’s best brewery when within range of the Elm City. A hop forward outfit, Armada is noteworthy not just for the caliber of their IPAS, but in how well-balanced those IPAs tend to be. They front with the juice, but never sacrifice the floral and earthiness of the hop. The galaxy laden Mermaid Cove is a special beer, but their staples like Cursed King, Savage Queen, and Liberty Abandoned are all worthy and great options too. Best of all, Armada is widely distributed. Among the CT Breweries that ship their beer the most, Armada is a likely savior in even the bleakest of Connecticut liquor stores.
16. Tox – Though they’ve been open less than a year, it is undoubted that Tox Brewing Company is deserved of a spot in the Top 25. The New London outfit serves their flights in beakers, which is appropriate as their beer is remarkably honed-in. Dart Frog and Angel Wings are already apex NEIPAs in the state, while their Deadly Nightshade and Lily of the Valley series (milk stouts and sours) are knock-down delicious. For a young brewery, they’ve absolutely nailed what the modern interpretations of each of these styles should be. It’s elevated beer, folks.
17. Relic – Opening in 2013, Relic is one of the older breweries in CT and a one that continues to flourish. A recently expanded tap room makes Relic comfortable and fun – leather chairs, shuffleboard, and pinball machines dot the the large space. Their outfit is also unabashedly about IPAs. Leaf Storm, The Bloomist, and Midnight Muse are all dependable options, while The Mage and Violet Ray are are two esteemed hoppy creations. A massive collection of whiskey to fortify your beer consumption is a pretty cool feature to Relic’s allure too.
18. Outer Light – Outer Light has always been a blast to visit and, along with their southeastern CT compatriot Beer’d, has formed a most excellent one-two brewery tour punch. Tried, true, and tested –– Outer Light produces high quality ales that tend to be flavorful, but egalitarian too. Snobs and noobs dig their product just the same and that expansive in-house tap list is always a draw. Love too that some of their best beers are NOT IPAs, though they do have a few great options for hopheads as well. Worth a trip to Groton or the local packy – Outer Light will most definitely be available everywhere.
19. Lasting Brass – Lasting Brass is the best brewery in the Naugatuck River Valley and a shop who can hold their own with really anybody in the state. The tap room is small, but great – complete with bourbon barrels acting as tables and free Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter arcade games for all. Glorious. Their beers kick-ass too. War Poet, Brass Monkey, and their Weisse Words series are fantastic executions of each style, while their Dreaming in Dog Years could be the mightiest Imperial Stout in the state.
20. Thomas Hooker – Nearing 25 years of operation, Hooker is the longest standing name in Connecticut Beer. And while first mover advantage is helpful, think about how much the craft beer landscape has changed since 1997. That Hooker remains a strong precense in an exploding CT Beer scene is a triumph. Hooker now has two locations and their beer has adapted over time. I remember drinking and loving their doppelbock WAY BACK, but now beers like #nofilter, Super Duper Double Citra, and Reindeer Slayer standout. These aren’t beers that they were making ten years ago, but they’ve become what Hooker is today – a competitive brewery in a formidable market that still stands tall.
21. Kinsmen – Kinsmen Brewing Company’s taproom is convivial and congenial. The 1854 building maintained it’s character through renovation and breeds a cozy, let lively atmosphere. A balanced brewer, Kinsmen crafts fantastic NEIPAs, but also discrinimating stouts. 21.3 is a great go-to option if you’re drinking for the long-haul, while YUP/NOPE is their most popular beer and a Top 10 flagship in the state. Roast is a fine coffee stout, but their Princess of Darkness Imperial Stout –– an annual release –– is where it’s at. To cite appropriate 1990’s lingo, it’s DA BOMB.
22. Nod Hill – SOUTHWEST CT REPRESENTS! There are a whole lot of breweries in Connecticut, but not so many in our state’s southwest corner. Ridgefield’s Nod Hill is doing their best to shed light into an oft-forgotten region of the CT Beer community. A genuinely fun and rustic venue to throw back a beer, Nod Hill imprints their prowess as a a brewer both on-site and through a huge net of distribution. Super Mantis, Geobunny, and Reflectsha are not only appealing and juicy IPAs, but they are available everywhere. Its not just IPAs though, Terrane is a solid porter and, if you can get your hands on a Grandfather Twilight — aged 17 months in bourbon barrels — you’ll savor a rare and delicious Imperial Stout.
23. Five Churches – Housed in a magnificent space in the heart of downtown New Britain, Five Churches is a great stop to make. With a modern decor and huge bar, it’s both a welcoming place to imbibe, but an impressive one too. Steeple Peeple isn’t their flagship, but is pretty close to it, and a damn fine DIPA. Their actual flagship, Pew Pew, is slammed with Citra and Simcoe and a perfect beer to drink year round. How Stouty Got Her Groove Back and No Diggity, No Stout are nice Imperial options too. But you can’t talk about Five Churches without the heavenly pizza made on premises. Really a perfect spot to stop in the middle of a brewery tour for pints and snacks.
24. Stubborn Beauty – Middletown is one of Connecticut’s most underrated cities, especially if you are a beer lover. Eli Cannons is an institution in CT Beer and less than five minutes from that mecca sits Stubborn Beauty. A staple in the scene since 2014, Stubborn Beauty has made it’s name off of two awesome beers – Nummy Nummy and Happy Treez – yet there is more to the Middletown brewer. Naughty Eskimo is an imitable session IPA, while The Fist is a great mosaic-forward DIPA. Though it’s only an annual release, Singularity always tends to be a top Imperial option come the Holiday season too.
25. Bad Sons – From a community level, BAD SONS Beer Co. represents everything that rocks about craft beer. Renovating and restoring an abandoned warehouse in Derby, BAD SONS turned that decay into a central place where people congregate in the Naugatuck River Valley. BAD SONS’ base is their hoppy beer and the Doobius series represents both their most popular beer and, in their Double and Triple Doobius, some of their highest rated. Yet they are varied, barrel-aging and mixed fermentation techniques are part of their repertoire, as are some badass collabs with Armada. Combine this with a big open space that always seems to be buzzing and BAD SONS continues to roll.
Great choices and congrats to FOC as they are most deserving! But still missing great brew houses in Norwich ( Epicure Brewing & These Guys). Leaving off Willimantic Brewing Company is just a travesty!!! They are Simply the Best and started the craft beer craze in CT!
Norbrook Farm Ales