Monday, September 26, 2011


After enjoying a really satisfying visit to Mystic, despite chowing down on a delicacy that I hope to never have to ingest again, we headed off to the first of two breweries we had planned to visit: Cottrell Brewing Company. The fact that the brewery opens to visitors at 3:00PM afforded us the extra time in Mystic to find John's, but also endangered our chances of visiting the second brewery as it closed at 5:00PM and was about an hour's drive without traffic. But we'd cross that bridge when we got there. So off to Cottrell it was!

But wait! On route 1 in Stonington something caught my eye off to the side of the road. It looked like a little church so I made The Control hang a U-ey to see what it was. As it came into view we noticed that the structure was in a cemetery. We drove into the cemetery expecting to be told to leave as soon as we did, but meeting no such recrimination we drove to the structure I had seen, parked, got out and proceeded to take copious amounts of pictures. Here's one.

Still curious as to what the structure was we approached some groundskeepers and inquired as to its nature. We were told that it was a mausoleum that was built by Cottington Billings but was never used for its intended purpose. Cottington is buried in another part of the cemetery, but one of his descendants was cremated and his urn is inside. As you can see from the picture, the mausoleum is in need of repairs and they mentioned a group that was set up to raise money for the refurbishment, but I couldn't find anything on the internet about it when we returned home.

Cottrell Brewing's "Front" Door
We left the cemetery and drove into Pawcatuck and found the brewery with fewer wrong turns than most people. Driving around the back of a factory we could see the dock door for the brewery with empty pallets scattered about. Getting out of the car and walking we passed a hopper of spent grains that seemed to still be warm which meant that they were brewing today. Sweet! As we walked through the open dock door we got confirmation of this in the form of the lovely, malty aroma wafting about the place. We noticed that there was only one other person there at the sample bar. When you think "sample bar" think of a table set up right outside the office door with a kegerator, a few freshly-opened bottles and small, plastic cups. Drew, the tour guide was pretty generous with his pours and led us on a tour of the brewery. The mash tun was still open after having been cleaned out and the brew kettle was going, giving off that sweet, malty smell. Love it! Empty malt sacks hung from the hook of a massive industrial overhead crane which probably could have lifted the engine from a cruise liner. We pointed out that it was a bit of overkill but Drew confirmed it came with the space they were using so why not put it to work. Yup.

Drew at the sampling bar
The fermenters
He took us in back where the nearly antique bottling line sat behind teetering stacks of empty cases. There was a fermenter encased in...something...Drew may have said, but I didn't catch it. There were also the more familiar stainless steel fermenters...four of them lined up against one wall another tank labeled "CARB". Guess what that's for. The place was dingy, the floor was less-than-spotless and detritus from the brewing process was here and there. This was a working brewery, run by someone who put stock in the end result of great beer. Okay, pretty good beer. Nothing really stood out about their Yankee Ale, Mystic Bridge IPA or their Summer Ale, but they were very drinkable. In many regards this place reminded me of Cricket Hill without the lovably lunatic owner. And who knows? If the owner had been there, he may have shown as much passion for brewing as Rick Reed.

The place was pretty small, but made good use of its space and it didn't take much time to complete the tour and down the samples. After nearly convincing the other tour participant to ditch his wife for the day and come into Newport with us to drink at the brewpub, we jumped in the car, turned onto Route 1 and took the bridge over into Rhode Island. Hmm, spellcheck claims that I have spelled "Rhode" wrong. Perhaps we should change the name of our smallest state to Road Island? Then again, spellcheck says that I've spelled "spellcheck" wrong.

Their sign shows both businesses
I never asked if they used this tank
After hitting a little bit of traffic we crossed that bridge that I mentioned we'd cross when we got there at the top of the page (you can go back and check; this will all be here when you're done). In reality it was two bridges: the Jamestown Bridge and the Newport Bridge, but it sure seemed like one, long, damn bridge with no good view of the lighthouse next to it. The next destination on the itinerary was Coastal Extreme Brewing which brews the Newport Storm brand of beer and also distills Thomas Tew Rum. We had lost hope of making it in time for their 5:00 closing when we left Cottrell, but once again we had made pretty good time, getting into Newport at 4:30. So we thought we'd give it a shot. We got there at 4:40, ran inside and asked if we were in time for the tasting bar. We were informed that they'd be closing in 20 minutes but from the looks of us we could easily down the five samples in that time. Taking that as a high compliment we paid our $7.00, got our souvenir tasting glass and our tasting sheet and hit the bar with a fury.
Their taps...I guess we got some out of bottles
Mike Rowe signed this shirt "Do not clean"
After finishing the first two samples we took a look around the tasting room. It was really nicely appointed with a large u-shaped bar in the back corner, nautically themed wall hangings and shelves, and a sizeable gift shop with Newport Storm and Thomas Tew merchandise available. Mike Rowe recorded an episode of Dirty Jobs here distilling rum, all the while getting snookered on Newport Storm beer. It's worth a watch as he gets pretty silly...sillier than usual. The video quality on this is okay, but there are annoying ads that automatically run and mess up the audio. I paused the video when the ads ran and started again when they were done.

There was a large window in the tasting room where you could look out over the brewery; we were too late for any guided tour. The brewery was all shiny, stainless steel and had floors clean enough to eat off of. Even the structure that housed everything looked like a brandy new prefab factory building. Their dock doors were big enough that their bright tanks could have been brought in upright. Everything about this place was clean, crisp and orderly. Quite a difference from Cottrell Brewing's leased out dock space. You've got a 50% chance of guessing which one I liked better, but those who know me know easily know the answer.

The beer was pretty good, but nothing really stood out except maybe the Thunderhead Red. Many of their beers had a lighter than expected body and weren't as fully flavored as the beers I tend to favor, but they were all pretty good. They are deservedly local favorites, but nothing I would really go out of my way to get. But sit me down at a bar with some of them on tap, then I'll be drinking one or two for sure.

I was very happy to have made it to both of the breweries in the area and now it was time for a brewpub, dinner and the sights of Newport, RI.


Friday, September 16, 2011


The Chevy Camaro I had in high school
The Control and I spent much of our high school years driving around trying to get lost. As a result of doing this quite often, we couldn't get lost in New Jersey anymore, even if people wished we would. The only way for us to comply with the myriad requests to get lost was to head out of state. But we never really did that until recently. Our most recent road trip was rife with beer-related activities.

We had decided to head up to Providence to idle some time away in their two brewpubs, but that somehow turned into a trip to Newport, RI. The revised plans included a beer store stop in New Haven, CT, lunch in Mystic, a brewery visit near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, a brewery visit in Newport followed up by dinner at a brewpub just up the road from that brewery. Connecticut and Rhode Island beers were the concentration as was trying whole belly clams and stuffed quahogs, or "stuffies" as the locals call them. We had a lot planned and set our goals high, but we held low expectations for completing all of them and thus we set out.

When I travel it isn't exactly off-the-cuff. I am a incessant over-the-top planner...a devil-in-the-details planner. I need to know as much about a place before I go there as I can. Some say that it ruins the sense of discovery and adventure, but I feel it's necessary and it actually aides in the fact that we spend less time trying to find the things we're looking for and wind up with extra time to find things we didn't know we were looking for. You can read that last statement a few times, but it will be more clearly illustrated as the trip unfolds.

Getting a delivery, but not beer
We almost delayed the trip a week, but the weather forecast for that Friday was remarkable and we decided to take advantage of it and proceeded as originally planned. We set out at 9:00AM to avoid rush hour and headed over the Tappan Zee to the Hutch and from there took the Merritt Parkway all the way into New Haven and easily found Amity Wine and Spirits. The purpose here was to hunt down some Connecticut beers and stuff I can't find in New Jersey. The beer aisle is right in front of you as you walk in and featured much of what I see in New Jersey except for the expected larger representation of beers from New England. Thomas Hooker and Cavalry were easy to find, but I had to do some searching for Olde Burnside and New England Brewing Company (NEBC). Our timing was bad as none of the highly-sought after NEBC's were there. I also came away with a bottle from Berkshire Brewing in Massachusetts which was the best of the lot I purchased that day. Nothing else really special other than some beers from Maine I had not seen before and few Rogues that didn't make their way onto the shelves of my most frequented beer store.

One of the most impressive aspects of Amity Wines and Spirits was their tequila selection. Yes, this is a beer blog, but I do enjoy a really nice tequila from time to time and their selection was overwhelming. It's entirely possible that it was huge only because they seemed to stock every intricately blown-glass vessel of tequila they could get their hands on. The tequila inside may have been a lot less impressive than the bottle, but there were some in plain bottles that neither The Control nor I had ever seen. We were loathe to purchase any without doing a little research first. We may need to go back for when NEBC ships Imperial Stout Trooper and to pick up some tequila.

Notice, no Julia Roberts, or Eric either
There was a Sam Ash next door and we spent some time in there, but then hit the road again and wound our way through New Haven, past Yale University and then to Route 95 North. We were making really good time but encountered our first batch of traffic at the 395 interchange, but then it was clean sailing all the way into Mystic. We exited Route 95 before we crossed the Mystic River and came into that quaint-little-fishing-village-turned-vacation-destination via Route 1 North and as soon as we got into town we came to a dead halt. It was the scheduled time for the drawbridge across the river to go up. So we waited, parked just shy of Mystic Pizza. No, we did not see Julia Roberts and did not stop in for a slice.

Fried clam bellies = Blech
The bridge finally went down and we drove through to the other side of town to our lunch destination: Sea Swirl Seafood. Here is where we got to try fried whole belly clams and I can sum up the experience in one word: blech. These are obviously an acquired taste as the mouthfeel is as if you've bitten into a pussy eyeball and the taste is that of the sea floor. We used most of our large sodas to wash them down. However, the fried clam strips were the best I have ever had and we eagerly gorged, luxuriating in the fact that they were not in the slightest way rubbery. Worth the trip for those.

We finished lunch and looked at our watches and realized we had some time to kill...we were a full hour and a half ahead of schedule! So we decided to backtrack and go into town. As we found parking we realized that those large sodas we downed needed to be addressed. Across the road from where we parked was a place called John's with Irish flags flying outside and a small group of people and a dog huddled outside. We decided to stop in for a pee and a pint. Stepping inside we noticed we were the only people there, that is until the group that was huddled outside all filed in, dog and all, and one of them went behind the bar to serve us.

I love these places: Small, local, casual, friendly and serving local beer. They had a Newport Storm and a couple of Cottrell Brewery offerings on tap along with Irish pub standards Guinness, Harp and Smithwicks. Perfect! We eagerly used the facilities, each had a pint and then headed out to see the town a little, saying we'd probably be back in half an hour. The looks we received were friendly, but seemed to say, "Not likely."

Very similar to Cottrell's Mystic Bridge IPA label
We farted around town a little, entering some of the shops and galleries and skirting the rest of the tourists, trying not to throw any of them off the bridge. It wasn't all that crowded, but the commercialism was heavily evident. We decided to head back to John's to kill the rest of the time we had until our next destination was due to open. As we entered John's we were greeted with an incredulous, "You're back." To which I replied, "We learned that this is the only real place in town". We were congratulated for finding the "locals' watering hole" and were poured a few more pints and entered into conversations ranging from the French, America's early wars, bar jokes, John's bartenders past and present, why flags were flying at half mast in the state and the use of dictionaries in bars. We made friends with Rowdy, that was the dog's name, and then then departed with a really nice, warm feeling that we knew did not come from the clam bellies.

As we drove east out of Mystic on Route 1, we were grateful for four things: 1) that the traffic on the way to Mystic was really light, 2) the clam bellies didn't do anything to upset our bellies, 3) we found a place to pee after downing 24 ounces of soda to wash down the clam bellies and 4) that the place we found to pee was John's. We were fully aware that the experience there (not the peeing) had put us in a frame of mind that would allow us to just roll with whatever this roadtrip put out there for us. The planning had come in handy and we were right on schedule and we would stay right on schedule. What weren't aware of was that this roadtrip had a few more pleasant surprises in store for us.