New Haven & Southern Connecticut

Destinations by | Dec 2012 | Issue #71

Illustration by Sam Brewster

Connecticut is known as “The Land of Steady Habits.” Habits so steady, in fact, that it wasn’t until May 2012 that liquor stores could open on Sunday.

It’s a no-brainer victory, but also a sign of the changes that have come to the state’s growing palate for good libations. New Haven’s discerning crowd (thanks in no small part to Yale University) have lent a hand.

The Elm City was once home to Hull Brewing Company, which survived 105 years before closing in 1977. The craft began anew with the New Haven Brewing Company in 1989. Later named Elm City Brewing, that group folded in 1997. In 2001, the former head brewer of New Haven Brewing, Rob Leonard, started New England Brewing Company, which has become the standard-bearer for southern Connecticut. NEBC hosts a gathering at the brewery the last Friday of every month, often inviting other area breweries like Hooker, Back East and Half Full Brewing to help unite the beer-making community.

“When I first got involved in beer, there were a select few passionate craft brew people, and we all knew each other,” says Matt Westfall, head brewer at NEBC. “Now every time you go to a tasting, there are new faces, new people to meet. Craft beer culture in Connecticut is just growing like crazy.”

And it’s not just New Haven. “Things are growing,” says Jonathan Edwards, general manager of the Mikro pub in nearby Hamden. “Right now, in Connecticut, we have so many new breweries that have come in here [to distribute] in the last six months.”

For lovers of great beer, this is one steady habit that we’re going to keep up.

254 Crown Street
Better-known combatants in New Haven’s pizza wars (Sally’s, Pepe’s, et al) may get a lot of press, but BAR is a true sleeper hit. Wash down their famous mashed potato and bacon white pizza with one of their five house-brewed beers. On weekends, this brick-walled brewpub (which once housed a car dealership) hosts dance nights crowded with Yalies; on Wednesdays, catch free indie rock shows.

Cask Republic
Cask Republic likes to keep things at just the right temperature. They have a dedicated cask engine, five of their 53 tap lines pour at slightly over 50°F for their appropriate beers, and an aging cellar stays at 55°F. Beer is an art and a science. Cask Republic works it at both angles.

Delaney’s Tap Room [closed]
Delaney’s is one of the original New Haven-area beer bars, and remains the local favorite. They stock at least 50 rotating taps, including local and regional beers (NEBC head Rob Leonard says Delaney’s was the first bar to ever carry their beer), plus a stellar bottle list with barrel-aged and vintage selections that draw beer geeks from all over.

Prime 16
Right in the heart of downtown, Prime 16’s burgers have a reputation as the best in town. Their taps rotate daily, often featuring New York-area brews like Captain Lawrence, Sixpoint and Blue Point.

Rudy’s Bar and Grill
The old Rudy’s, opened just after the end of Prohibition, had a reputation for being the diviest of dive bars. Their classy new location a few blocks away is quite the opposite. Along with transporting the tables and walls etched with names of inebriated Yalies, this New Haven institution brought over their Belgian-leaning beer list and legendary pommes frites.

Coalhouse Pizza
This blues- and jazz-themed pizza joint has over 50 taps and hosts regular “flight nights” for a sampling of a brewery’s offerings. Coalhouse also promotes the community with their Beer and Home Brewers Clubs. The first gives discounts, free brews and prizes, while the latter works with homebrew supplier Maltose Express in nearby Monroe for brewing tips and competitions with other local brewers.

Eli Cannon’s
Another staple of Connecticut’s craft beer scene, Eli Cannon’s is sort of like the uncle who moved into a New York loft to become an artist. Enjoy beers from their cask engine and 36 taps (at least 10 rotated daily, and almost always including NEBC selections) surrounded by the eclectic punk rock décor inside, or out back in the sandy beach beer garden. Afterward, head across the street to their affiliate, NoRA Cupcake, for the richest gourmet cupcakes imaginable.

Ginger Man
Like their sister beer bar, Cask Republic, the Ginger Man restaurants have the feel of a classy vintage cigar bar. In fact, Ginger Man hosts the occasional cigar and beer night, along with beer dinners and tap takeovers.

The Half Door
This Irish gastropub offers a Beer Passport program—try every one of their 100-plus beers and get a plaque on the wall and beer discounts. With events like Night of the Funk (a ’60s-themed evening of funky cheese and farmhouse beers) and their annual wild game dinner (2011 had grilled emu paired with ‘t Gaverhopke Extra), the food proves pretty extraordinary too.

While the “Fuh-Can Monday” $3 can special should be attractive to students from nearby Quinnipiac University, this place is no college bar. As much care is put into Mikro’s food as their drinks, with a menu designed to pair with their 18 beers on tap (read: mussels, fig & prosciutto flatbread and bouillabaisse).

My Place
The taproom attached to My Place can get pretty packed, which is a good sign. Settle in at this warm bar for a German import or a Northeast brew, like a Blue Point beer from Long Island. Don’t miss the pretzel bread, baked by Spinelli Brothers in Stamford.

The Outer Space
When The Space (one of the area’s most popular all-ages punk and indie music venues) decided to open a place for people to drink, they did it right. In addition to hosting frequent shows, The Outer Space’s nine taps often feature unexpected selections, like Dogfish Head’s Bitches’ Brew or Widmer Bros.’ Gose.

Plan B
Come for the burgers, stay for the beers. Or should it be the other way around? This local chain offers a huge bottle list alongside verified humane beef burgers with toppings from cheesesteak to lobster. Check the calendar—they host regular tap takeovers from breweries like Dogfish Head and Allagash.

The Winchester
This sports bar turned movie mecca is stumbling distance from New England Brewing Company, which is of course reflected in their tap selection. Scan the bottle list for random imports like Grimbergen Dubbel and Boon Geuze, and catch one of the flicks being continually projected on the wall of the bar. The venue’s name is not only a nod to Shaun of the Dead fans, but an homage to the now-defunct New Haven gun manufacturer. 

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