Despite the huge growth of breweries in Connecticut, lower Fairfield County has been conspicuously uninvolved in the craft beer movement. Given the Gold Coast’s resources, this state of affairs is remarkable.
The Balance Sheet
There are approximately 123 craft breweries in Connecticut; 16 of them are in Fairfield County. Yet 7 of the Fairfield breweries are found north of the Ridgefield – Easton – Shelton parallel, and another 7 are east of Fairfield Town.
That leaves 2 breweries in the Connecticut Panhandle, both in Stamford: Lock City Brewing Company, and Half Full Brewery.
White Knights. Sort of…
The market vacuum in lower Fairfield brought 4 new players onto the scene this summer. These breweries are emblematic of the subtle changes that are already re-defining craft beer in Connecticut: one part consolidation, another part corporatization, a dash of brand extension, and a continued move away from the most egregious (some might say heinous) IPA/DIPA/NEIPA dank-itude of craft brewing’s salad days.
One of the new breweries is in Bridgeport, two others are in Stamford, and the third is in progress in Norwalk, about 10 blocks west of the high-rent district on Washington Street.
The most elegant new Brewery of the four – Berlinetta – is in downtown Bridgeport’s rejuvenated courthouse/municipal building district.
Berlinetta’s conceit is to offer good beer, and to bring customers back to classic brews. Their menu eschews IPAs in favor of Pilsner, Kölsch and Lager, including a Viennese Lager. A punchy hard seltzer is their only nod to trendiness.
The beer here is special. Full, rich, flavorful, well- (almost too-) carbonated, with a balance that is hard to find in all but the top breweries in the State. And oh, so fresh…
That’s not to say I renege on my assessment that there is almost no bad beer in Connecticut. But Berlinetta offers the kind of beer joy that spreads slowly across one’s lips into an eye-closed smile of giddy satisfaction.
HALF FULL BREWERY
Half Full’s beers leave me somewhat unconvinced, but I appear to be in a distinct minority in my quality assessment. Stamford residents love them. Now that Half Full has expanded from its basement refectory on Homestead Street into a large, impressive (but cozy) space, business is sure to shoot the moon.
The address is 575 Pacific, but my advice is to go down Atlantic Street from I-95, make a left onto Henry, and come up Garden Street to the back entrance, where there is a decent-sized parking lot. Enter on the side.
Third Place has a smaller room on Garden Street, and a larger front room on Pacific. The width of the front room seems to observe a sort of golden mean. It offers the feel of a great hotel lobby: trafficked in the middle, but calmly serene in the alcoves.
The central bar dominates the busiest part of the room. It offers a classic nexus for socializing. Altogether, a superb, comforting experience in the hippest part of Stamford.
Rhode Island’s Cisco Brewers has its fifth location/franchise at 4 Star Point, in the South End business-district-slash-bedroom-community. Again, not really a new brewery so much as a brand extension, the space opened in June.
The Cisco space is breathtakingly simple and stunning. Open only on weekends, the concept depends on the natural beauty of the Rippowam’s East Branch and its beautiful marina. This space is made to party: about 40 outdoor table/chair sets, with a raw bar and cash bar space reminiscent of South Beach or Long Island’s East End. An indoor private-party space that doubles as a refuge on rainy days completes the festive mood.
SPACECAT BREWING COMPANY
Coming soon… Spacecat looks to be just weeks away from opening in a secluded old factory at 57 Chestnut Street in South Norwalk. The space is large, and looks like it has all the signs of success. It’s a shame that Iron Brewing closed, and great that Spacecat has come in. Norwalk should not be without a craft brewery.
The brewery looks very promising: from outside, I could see a large central space, with bar and taps all but finished, vats ready to go, and even pallets of brewer’s malt on the floor. The converted factory is also home to East Coast Kombucha. One suspects that there may be a kombucha beer in this brewery’s future…