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A New Era For East Hartford's Olde Burnside Brewery

The Burnside Craft Brewers Festival

June 15, 1-5 pm, High Meadow Resort, North Granby,


So proud is Case McClellan of his Scottish heritage that he has affixed the slogans "Scotland Forever" and "The Pipers are Calling: Resistance is Futile" on his black SUV. He has also stuck large decals of claymore swords, like the one wielded in the film "Braveheart," along the sides of his vehicle and smaller sword logos adorn his hubcaps.

In addition to supporting a local Celtic music festival and sponsoring the band Red Hot Chili Pipers, Case and his family live their heritage by brewing award-winning Scottish-style beers. The Olde Burnside brewery began as an offshoot to the family's block ice business, but "the beer operation has totally taken over," said Case, 29, who speaks in a slow, deep voice.

He and his brother, Jason, are adopting a more active role as their father, Robert, who established the East Hartford brewery, begins to take it easy.

"Our dad provided the inspiration and is still involved in the day-to-day operations, but it is passing on to us," said Jason, 42. "Case does the bulk of marketing and sales and I focus on logistics, ordering and overall management, but our dad still has final approval."

Once available only in kegs and growlers, the brothers are rolling out a brand new bottling line, "the biggest leap we've ever taken," said Case.

Four-packs of their most popular concoctions just hit store shelves last week [first week of June]. They also plan to sell their barrel-aged beers, Amazing Grace and Stone of Destiny, in 22 oz. bomber bottles.

The brewery's offerings began with Ten Penny Ale, a malty Scotch-style concoction with little bitter bite. Then came Dirty Penny Ale, a black and tan that mixes a California style stout with the Ten Penny, followed by Penny Weiz, a wheat beer.

More prone to experimentation than their father, the brothers created a sour Belgian-style ale that their dad disliked. Last year, the brewery introduced Hop't Scotch, a subtle IPA style designed to appeal to the beer geeks who prize their hops, though it's still not hoppy enough to get raves, said Case.

"We brew our beers to be sessionable," said Case, referring to long drinking affairs where flowery high-alcohol beers can lead to problems. "If they don't like one style of our beers, they will find another."

Bryon Turner, founder of the CT Beer Trail, a web site that offers information on local breweries along with organized tours, knows the McClellans well. "Hoppy beers are great when made well, but they're not the only game in town," he said. "Olde Burnside succeeds by offering great beer and by being a company of really nice people who care about the community."

The family's ice concern started in 1911 when the brothers' great-grandfather began tapping water from an artesian well beneath the property in East Hartford. They still freeze blocks and bag chips, the last company in Connecticut to do so, but the market is drying up. Case, who studied business at UConn, diversified by creating so-called ice luges, where people at parties take shots of hard liquor that is poured down grooves carved into ice blocks.

The brewery has grown organically over the years and several fermenting tanks and the bottling machine are housed in a new room built onto the brick industrial building, which dates to 1933. Out back stands a barn that will become a tasting room and visitors' center.

Case brings an interesting sensibility to the company's clever marketing, which includes sending a claymore sword emblazoned with the name of its brews to bars instead of promotional neon signs. New posters that announce the new bottles carry the slogan "chips off the olde block" and depict photos of the four-packs sitting atop blocks of ice, a play on words that also refers to the kegs and growlers.

The brothers also revamped the company's website and will sponsor their third Craft Brewers' Festival in mid-June featuring 60 breweries.

Olde Burnside beer owes its provenance to the coin-operated spigots located on the front of the building, where patrons spend 50 cents to fill up a gallon. Family members noticed a lot of people lugging five-gallon jugs and when asked, they answered that they were home brewers who prized the company's water. Burnside water is known as hard water, coveted by ale brewers. German lager is generally made with soft water, said Case.

The brewery got its start during the second wave of the modern home brew revolution, which began in the 1980's, cratered in the 1990's and revived in the early 2000's. So many breweries have opened up in Connecticut over the last few years that Case contends there will be a shakeout within the year.

"There's a bubble and it's going to burst," he said. "There's only so much shelf space, and stores are going to have to pick and choose."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun