Trip to the near east

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While the explosion of new breweries is making shockwaves in central and southern Connecticut, it’s easy to forget the eastern part of the state. It’s well worth the ride to get tastes of seasoned veteran Cottrell Brewing Co. and brash newcomer Beer’d Brewing Co., which is just what a group of us did last weekend.

Aaren Simoncini and Precious Putnam of Beer’d Brewing.

When you drive through Stonington off of Interstate 95 to get to the village of Pawcatuck, you’re met with some beautiful properties. It’s a world away from the hulking brick factory along the Pawcatuck River that houses Cottrell Brewing. The factory used to be the home of a printing press business owned generations ago by the Cottrell family; it wasn’t until 1997 that David Cottrell Buffam opened a brewery in the same space as his ancestors and name it after his mother’s side of the family.

Despite the size of the brewery, the tasting area is rather small: there are just a few taps set up near the entrance. However, the hospitality is great: we were treated to pours and full descriptions of Cottrell’s offerings. For many years Cottrell Brewing made only one beer: Old Yankee Ale. It’s a smooth, caramel-tinged amber ale that goes well with a lot of food, especially when it’s grilled. A few years ago it branched out with its Mystic Bridge India Pale Ale, which is certainly “English” in its appeal, meaning it’s not super-bitter like a lot of American versions of IPAs. Cottrell’s latest is the Stonington Glory Pilsner that drinks clean and has a few floral notes to it.

By far their most experimental beer is Perry’s Revenge, a Scotch ale. Almost syrupy in its maltiness, there are notes of dark fruit like fig and plum in this one. At 8.2 percent alcohol by volume, it registers rather high compared to most ales; be wary, however: it sneaks up on you.

Brewery representative Bergin O’Malley took me for a brief walk through part of the 350,000 square-foot building. Not only do they produce their own beer, for distribution in and outside of Connecticut, they make beer for several other companies, Safe Harbor of New London, GW of Greenwich, and The Bronx Brewery of New York, and some beers by Narragansett Brewing in Rhode Island.

The beer was pleasant, especially in the sweltering brewery. For $12 you can get a 64-ounce growler filled, or get a 32-ounce “howler” filled for $8 (Perry’s Revenge is a bit more expensive, as are the brewery’s “nano” beers: small-batch beers oftentimes of an experimental nature). A special bonus for my gang was olfactory: we couldn’t get enough sniffing of the Faire Ivy Soap, made with Mystic Bridge IPA by the Stonington’s Terra Firma Farm (available for $7 a bar).

About five miles away in Stonington, you’ll come across the tiny Beer’d Brewing. The 3-barrel brewhouse (which could be swallowed up many times over by Cottrell) has a home in the Velvet Mill, a large center for creative businesses. Nestled among art gallaries, design studios and other arts-related businesses, Beer’d is 2,100-square-feet with a small tasting area and a row of crammed-in fermenters a few barrels of beer stacked nearby.

For the past two years by Aaren Simoncini, a 28-year-old Mystic native, has run the brewery with his partner, Precious Putnam. The avid homebrewer was an accounting major at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York State when he took a class called “Beers of the World,” which not only helped him with his GPA but gave him a tasting perspective that’s informed his brewing. After an unpaid apprenticeship at Cottrell Brewing, Simoncini (who is, indeed, bearded) launched Beer’d and has already racked up more than 30 different beers.

Although personally drawn to hoppy pale ales, Simoncini said it’s key to his brewery’s success to be changing up styles regularly. “Craft beer drinkers are fickle,” he said. “At this level, if I can play with different styles, I will. If I don’t like it, I just won’t make it again. I brew what people are looking for.”

You never know what you’ll get at Beer’d, including wine- or gin-barrel aged beer. Two of the most popular selections were my favorites: Whisker’d Wit, a Belgian-style wheat beer made with Trappist yeast and Curacao orange peels, and Hobbit Juice, a 9.2-percent double IPA that employs a sought-after New Zealand hop called Nelson Sauvin. This aromatic wonder has almost a white-wine touch to it.

We decided to keep it at two breweries for our trip, but if you wanted to add a third, you might consider crossing the border and visit Grey Sail Brewing Co. in Westerly, RI.

Sated for beer but hungry, we took Simoncini’s recommendation and ate at The Engine Room in Mystic, which is about 15 minutes from Beer’d. It’s a gorgeous, yet casual, restaurant that’s got views of Mystic River. It’s a seafood town, but Engine Room focuses on burgers, which are juicy and generously built. The savory, kiwi-sized hushpuppies were a hit with jalapeno mayonnaise. It also takes its craft beer seriously, and the choices among its 16 taps were varied.

I highly recommend a trip to our state’s near east, where beer is just one of New London County’s numerous charms.

Until next time, sip well.

You can follow Beer Snob on a regular basis by following him on Twitter: @beersnobwrites

IF YOU GO

Cottrell Brewing Co.
100 Mechanic St. #22, Pawcatuck
(860) 599-8213
www.cottrellbrewing.com
Tasting bar hours: Fridays 3-6 p.m., Saturdays 1-6 p.m.

Beer’d Brewing Co.
22 Bayview Ave. #15, Stonington
(860) 857-1014
www.beerdbrewing.com
Tasting bar hours: Fridays 5-9 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 1-5 p.m.

The Engine Room
14 Holmes St., Mystic
(860) 415-8117
www.engineroomct.com