Dino Acquarelli

Dino Acquarelli: beer hunter. (Image courtesy Dino Acquarelli / May 9, 2012)

Aron Daniels is sitting in his parked car waiting to meet a stranger that he's been talking to online. No, Daniels isn't a drug addict or looking to indulge any weird kinks, though he does have an obsession. He's there to trade rare craft beers.

Daniels runs a popular Facebook page called CraftBrewGuy that caters to people for whom beer is more than a fizzy drink on a hot day. His own interest in small-batch, craft beers started with his introduction to Sam Adams in his early 20s, and is a decade-long preoccupation.

Aside from sketchy parking-lot meet-ups, Daniels has traveled around the world to visit breweries in Iceland, Hawaii and Costa Rica and paid exorbitant baggage fees to lug home bottles and growlers from these small outposts.

Both he and Dino Acquarelli, beer writer for Themercurial.com and founder of the Facebook page Northeast Beer Hunter, believe in drinking local.

Both beer aficionados cite New England Brewing Co. as a favorite brewery. The Woodbridge-based institution creates the popular Sea Hag IPA and Elm City Lager among other recipes. New England Brewing Co. will be joined by several small, new breweries opening around the state this year. Back East Brewing (Bloomfield), Half Full (Stamford), Relic Brewing (Plainville), Beer'd Brewing (Stonington) and Two Roads Brewing (Stratford) should give hopheads and fans of other subgenres a variety of reasons to get buzzed.

For the uninitiated, a hophead is shorthand for a fan of extremely hopsy craft beers, according to Daniels, a hophead by his own definition. His favorite beers are Double IPAs (Indian Pale Ale). "There is something very refreshing and enjoyable about the aromatics of a solid IPA as well as the hop bite on your tongue," he said.

Acquarelli also loves a good IPA though he admits that sours are the hot style for beer geeks to gush over right now. He describes sours as "beers that make you pucker when you drink them. They are barrel-aged and not easy to find — and when you do find them, they aren't cheap." He loves Russian Imperial Stout too, but names Vermont IPA Heady Topper by The Alchemist and California's Pliney The Elder as his all-time favorites. The latter is seldom available on the East Coast, so he's been inclined to make the flight home with a bag clinking full of the stuff.

Daniels started his page so that his beer brethren could "join in and share their passion for all things craft beer." It's a place where news, pictures and updates can be shared. "It seemed like a natural fit, that my appreciation for craft and my page grow alongside the craft-beer industry itself," he said of the state's craft-beer scene, which is exploding thanks to beer bars such as Hamden's Mikro Beer Bar, The Cask Republic, Prime 16, and Delaney's Tap Room (all four in New Haven). Norwalk's Burger Bar and Bistro, The Tavern Downtown in Hartford and Eli Cannon's Tap Room in Middletown are also destinations for the beer-obsessed. Add Willimantic Brewing Co. and Granby's Cambridge House to that list. Many of these bars host high-end beer dinners, where craft beer is paired with fine dining, as well as tap takeovers, where a small brewery will commandeer all of a bar's taps in order to share some of their rarer beers that are not often tasted on draft.

Both guys use their pages to share beer stories, pictures and news. Both have made friends with liquor store owners and state brewers and can immediately share updates about when a rare beer is being shelved at their favorite stores around the state.

Acquarelli became interested in craft beers around the time he "got tired of drinking fizzy, yellow beer." When he began, he admits, he didn't know much about indie beers and, while he was learning a decade ago, picked a lot of beers by their labels.

He calls Blue Moon his "gateway beer," the one that got him started on brews outside the Coors, Bud and Miller realm. He visits breweries each month and has made friends all over through his involvement with forums such as Beeradvocate.com. These friends allow him to trade and taste microbrews from all over the county.

As the legion of craft beer fans grows, sites such as Daniels' and Acquarelli's gain popularity as new phenomena such as beer vacations and beer sommeliers become public parlance. As Daniels says on CraftBrewGuy, "Drinking craft beer is not a trend, it's a revolution."

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