In all our local ramblin’, we’ve come across plenty of Western Mass. booths at farmers markets, tons of Rhody produce or Brooklyn condiments, and good lord, the sheer volume of Vermont cheeses.
We’ve noticed a void, though, just beneath our great state. A void that, thankfully, has started to fill up over the past year. So we decided to celebrate the growing food scene in Connecticut by paying a visit to two of our favorite Nutmeg State artisans: Two Roads Brewing and the Mystic Cheese Company.
We had to get some food in our stomachs so we hit up Mystic first (which you can read all about next week). Then we made our way to Two Roads in Stratford, CT, where they were hosting Sourcopia, an event to celebrate the release of three new sour beers (a kriek, gueuze, and balsamic ale).
Nature was pulling out all the stops that day, and as we pulled into the Two Roads parking lot it was a beautiful sun-drenched scene. Food trucks were parked alongside adorable vanity vehicles painted with the Two Roads logo and folks were lining up for salty, fried treats. We made our way upstairs and through the wood-paneled hallways of their 100-year-old converted factory building, feeling antiquey vibes and getting ever-closer to the sounds of inebriation. It was shockingly easy to find our host, Two Roads’ Boston-area rep Meghan Misset, in the crowd of devoted beer geeks repping The Alchemist, Founder’s, and Trillium on their t-shirts. To start, she got us glasses of the balsamic-infused red wine barrel-aged Philsamic—named in honor of their head brewer, Phil Markowski.
Phil actually wrote the book on saisons—literally, he penned Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition, the only tome in the industry on the subject—so he clearly has a passion for wild ales. It is perhaps due to Phil’s prestige that Two Roads has become not just a well-respected brewer in the less than two years they’ve been open, but also a contract brewer for some of the biggest names in the craft world (Evil Twin, Stillwater Artisanal, Lawson’s Finest, Notch, Peak, and Terrapin, to name a few). This means that certain gypsy brewers trust Phil with their recipes, and he cranks out their beers in a volume not yet possible on their small scale.
This is something the four Two Roads founders had in mind early on when conceptualizing their brewery. “We saw a void in the market for really high quality craft contract brewing,” said co-owner Clem Pellani, who has a brewing degree from the Siebel Institute of Technology. So they purposefully sought out a building much larger than they needed, with the intention of filling it with other people’s beer in addition to their own.
“We’re like the Motown of brewing,” said Clem, “every day some guy like Sean Lawson will be downstairs on the brewery floor, just hanging out.”
Of the four owners, three are from CT, and they knew immediately that they wanted to resurrect one of the old broken-down factory buildings they saw everywhere across the state. Phil and Clem had past experience working in the beer industry together, as did CEO Brad Hittle who was chief of marketing for PBR. CFO Peter Doering brought a Harvard degree and a mind for numbers to the outfit, so his job is to make sure the others don’t give away too much free beer.
The Stratford warehouse, a relic from 1911 with a saw-tooth roof, became theirs in 2012. When they tore up the factory flooring on their mezzanine level (that overlooks the brew floor and holds their taproom), they found gorgeous maple and decided to be one of the only wood-floored breweries around (it requires more upkeep, but definitely enhances the vibe). Their mash tuns on the ground floor were too tall to store beneath the mezzanine, though, so they got crafty and cut holes for them to poke through on the balcony level. The best part? The leftover maple from the cuts became the bar in their tap room.
Also on the mezzanine level is a room full of specialty malts, featuring large silos of their base malt and dozens of varieties of specialty malts. Between their beers and their friends’ beers, Two Roads works with 100 different recipes every year, 30 of which are their own. And the crazy thing about their impressive repertoire is, they’re all pretty damn good.
To manage this output, the brewery has developed a system of several computers working in tandem to execute recipes. The control room storing all of these computers looks a little like the bridge on the USS Enterprise and makes brewing look just a little harder than rocket science. But apparently, this system makes life a lot easier for Phil.
“We do so many beers, when you’re doing them by hand there’s so much room for human error,” said Clem, “this enables us to do the amount of beer that we do. Phil can access this from home, in bed! A machine will fire up and it’s Phil, at home on his iPad firing up the machine.”
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the gadgets in use at Two Roads. A German machine called the Dryhopnik dry hops their fermentation tank for them by grinding the hops into powder and circulating them through the beer rather than just dumping them in (a process responsible for the bright lemon flavor in their Lil Heaven Pils, which we tasted fresh from the tank). Another device the guys splurged on was a centrifuge that controls how much yeasty sediment gets left in the finished beer. “We can spin it [the beer] through to be crystal clear if we want, but we don’t usually because it can take out some of the flavor,” said Clem.
Other fun implements at the brewery include their own bee hives for any beer that needs honey, and their experimental lab manager Kendra, a Yale PhD who works in a room marked with the intimidating and amazing words “Scientists Only” (how do we get that job?)
Unfortunately none of the sours we tried are available in MA, but keep an eye on our shelves this week for the introduction of their Road To Ruin Black IPA and the Two Roads Holiday Ale! This winter seasonal is a Biere de Noël, the maltier cousin of the farmhouse style Biere de Garde known for its fruity esters, musty hop bitterness, and funky wild yeast presence. If Phil’s work on their farmhouse-style Workers Comp Saison is any indication, this beer should be insane-tasting. And it could be on your table as soon as this next week!
Stay tuned for updates about the arrival of new Two Roads beers at the shop—they come out with new ones often! And check back next week for the next installment in our road trip where we visit the Mystic Cheese Company.
All photos taken by Caley Mahoney.