It's never been a better time to be a beer lover in Connecticut. In the past few years, breweries, brew pubs and contract brewers have popped up all over the Nutmeg State, bringing a fresh approach to craft beer and giving aficionados several new locations to visit.
Bryon Turner, executive director of the CT Brewer's Guild and founder of the CT Beer Trail website (ctbeertrail.net) estimates that close to 15 brewing businesses have opened since 2010. His news and events website serves as a gathering place for members and fans. Tastings and onsite tours at breweries draw fans as well.
"We're seeing positive traction in developing a thriving craft beer culture in Connecticut," Turner said.
Long-recognized such names as Thomas Hooker, Olde Burnside, Willimantic Brewing Co. and City Steam have been joined by several energetic startups. Back East Brewing in Bloomfield launched in the summer of 2012 and is already looking toward expansion.
Co-founder Tony Karlowicz says he's happy, but not necessarily surprised, by Back East's early success. "We came into knowing there was a market for good beer, and [that] consumers' tastes are evolving and changing…they're looking to support local breweries, so we're doing what we want to do to be able to satisfy that demand," he said.
At the brewery at 1296 Blue Hills Ave., the tasting room is open for complimentary samples and growler fills Wednesday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. On Saturdays, tours are available at no charge at noon, 1, 2, and 3 p.m., but they're limited to 30 people apiece. Information: 877-923-2739 and backeastbrewing.com.
In Plainville, Mark Sigman's Relic Brewing, which opened in March 2012, has earned a cult following for its inventive recipes and intricately designed labels. A pumpkin ale is in the works for late October, along with Darkness Falls (a dark saison.) Rococo, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale Sigman describes as "rich and lavish" at 9 percent alcohol by volume, had a recent limited release of 150 bottles.
Relic has also partnered with Beer'd Brewing Co. in Stonington on a Belgian Black Rye IPA they're calling "Nano e Nano," a nod to their statuses as nanobreweries. Two versions based on the same recipe will be available at both breweries, Sigman said. Relic, 95 Whiting St. , is open Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m.;and Saturdays, noon to 3 p.m. for tastings and growler fills. Information: 860-255-4252 and relicbrewing.com.
Beer'd, about to mark its first anniversary on Nov. 9, distributes 98 percent of its beer via growlers from its Stonington location, said owner Aaren Simoncini. "What makes us stand out is our relatively small size…we can make changes to our offerings very easily, and this keeps it interesting not only for us, but anyone who frequents the tap room."
Beer'd, 22 Bayview Ave #15, Stonington, is open Fridays 5 to 9 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Information: 860-857-1014 and beerdbrewing.com.
In August, Manchester's Top Shelf Brewing opened its doors at 640 Hilliard St., where co-owners Mike Boney, T.J. Lavery and Joe Frost are brewing and distributing American, Belgian and Irish ales. It's open Fridays, 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Information: 860-680-4105 and topshelfbrewery.com.
The state's newest brewery, Broad Brook Brewing, at 2 North Road in East Windsor, debuted Oct. 3 and plans to serve both house beers and guest brews in its taproom, said president Eric Mance. It's open 2 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 12 to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Information: 860-623-1000 and broadbrookbrewing.com.
In New Haven County, the popular New England Brewing Co. in Woodbridge is in the process of moving to a larger facility by December. The move will quadruple the brewers' working space, which will help them double production by next year, said partner Matt Westfall. "Our new building will have a much bigger tasting room, and we'll be able to offer more variety there as well." New England Brewing, at 7 Selden St., is open Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Information: 203-387-2222 and newenglandbrewing.com.
And in Wolcott, Shebeen Brewing is getting creative with flavors: They've produced a "cannoli" beer, pineapple wheat, Concord grape saison, Kona bacon stout and a cucumber wasabi Japanese rice beer. "Nobody else was making things like this, so I did it myself," said head brewer Rich Visco, who has 25 years of experience. Shebeen, at 1 Wolcott St., is open Wednesday, 5 to 8 p.m.; Friday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Information: 203-514- 2336 and shebeenbrewing.com.
Further south in Stratford, Two Roads Brewing has taken over the former U.S. Baird building, creating a massive space for production along with a sleek tasting room, private event space and gift shop. Guests can sit and enjoy pints or flights of the current beers on tap, or drink outdoors in the brewery's beer garden while dining on fare from a rotating lineup of food trucks on Saturdays. The brewery at 1700 Stratford St. is open Tuesday through Friday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; with tours at 5 p.m. on Friday; 1, 3 and 5 pm. Saturdays; and 1 and 3 p.m. Sundays. Information: 203-335-2010 and, tworoadsbrewing.com.
Several more breweries are in the works to launch in the coming months, including Stubborn Beauty in Middletown, Firefly Hollow in Bristol, Lost Elm in Stafford, Black Pond in Danielson, Overshores in Killingworth and No Worries in New Haven.