It's hard to believe that in affluent Fairfield County, Southport Brewing Company, the home of the Hoppy Hour, is the sole brewery and brewpub. Known as SBC, Southport Brewing Company, which has five locations around the state, is enjoying craft brewing's current vogue. Nationally, sales of craft beer climbed 15 percent in the first half of 2011, according to the Brewers Association, which represents microbreweries.
In nearby Westchester County, N.Y., the only commercial brewery, Captain Lawrence, recently doubled its capacity. SBC is expanding into new concepts. For the first time, they plan to brew and bottle a batch of Connecticut Pale Ale at the Thomas Hooker Brewing Company facility in Bloomfield, said Frank DelGreco, head brewer at SBC's Southport and Stamford locations.
"We're in the process of getting the license," said DelGreco, who acknowledged the state's quirky alcohol laws. Once the kinks are worked out, SBC plans to brew 16, 500 12-ounce bottles, almost 700 cases. "I don't think we're allowed to sell any of the beer here, though. I would love to bring 100 cases here and have customers go home with a six-pack, but we're not sure about the law."
At SBC, four out of five locations (Milford excepted) brews on premises.
DelGreco brews 14 kegs per batch. With nine tanks in Southport and seven in Stamford to play with, he continues to experiment. He and fellow brewer Mark DaSilva, who mans the tanks in Branford and Hamden, recently introduced the Blue Collar IPA series.
IPAs, or India pale ales, usually feature an abundance of hops, which impart a flowery, sometimes bitter taste. Related to marijuana, hops are the "spice of beer," said DelGreco, who noted that some brewers tend to go overboard. "You have to have balance," he said.
For his new IPAs DelGreco created two styles, an East Coast with East Kent Goldings hops and a West Coast with Cascade and Chinook hops. The brews display a hint of hops and go down smooth. DaSilva's Black IPA is a complex brew with many flavors competing for attention. It has the body of a porter with roasted coffee accents and a subtle hoppy finish. An Indian Maibock in the series was sold out.
The popularity of growlers, 64-ounce refillable glass containers that resemble moonshine jugs, is exploding, said SBC partner Barry Burns. The company joined a new venture, the Growler Station, which opened its first location on West 8th Street in Manhattan earlier this year and plans to open in Greenville, S.C.
The Growler Station uses a foam-free filling machine that injects CO2 to help the beer stay fresher longer. When growlers are filled straight from the tap, there is considerable waste. Some establishments fill growlers with a hose, but purists contend that this decreases the carbonation and alters the beer.
On-site consumption at the Growler Station in New York is forbidden. Due to Connecticut's strange beverage laws, SBC cannot transport its beer across the state line. The brewery must contract with a distributor in New York or elsewhere and pick it up from SBC, said DelGreco.
In addition, one of SBC's partners has the exclusive rights to sell the growler-filling system, known as the Pegas CrafTap. "Things are going well, knock wood," said Burns as he rapped his knuckles on the bar in the Southport location. "The brand is well positioned and we plan to open another brewery that's not unveiled yet, but we're working on that lease."
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