Hartford Brewing Co.
By Gregg Smith
In "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", Mark Twain spoke fondly of gazing
down upon Hartford from an outlying hillside. The story described the friendly warm glow
of the city and how it beckoned both resident and visitor. Since then progress marched on,
transforming the area from friendly town into good size city. However, not all progress is
bad. Today Twain would be able to walk from his old house to Connecticut's first brew
pub. The beacon which guides beer hunters from the city's hilly approaches is the "gold
building" a land mark which can't be missed from any angle in town.
Located at 35 Pearl Street, and nestled at the foot of the gold building is the Hartford
Brewing Company. As soon as you arrive you notice something is different, its the
convenient feature of a parking garage located directly adjacent to the brew house. And if
your parking ticket is validated after 5PM the rate is a flat $3.00; try finding that in any
other east coast city.
From the sidewalk a half flight of stairs leads down to the pub. The walls
are painted in a medium brown and green, and the black hung ceiling combines to further
darken the area. A blond oak bar lightens the feel, but the bar itself is too small to offset the
dim surroundings, and the interior is not thoroughly disguised from its office building
roots. Fortunately this is the only negative aspect of the brewery.
The Hartford Brewing Company did its homework prior to opening up shop. A market
analysis was performed in recognition that a trendy urban area had developing palates,
cater-made for upscale brew. In fact you are more likely to see people drinking a premium
or import beer in the Hartford area than a mass produced American. As a further part of
their study a market test was completed in which the surveyed audience was first trained in
how to rate beer and then provided scoring sheets. Site selection was equally rigorous and
included criteria that the location had to have ample parking and be easily accessible to the
city's office population.
The brewery consists of a three tank stainless steel wooden clad system purchased second
hand from a South Hampton, England Pub named the Frog and Frigget. A seven barrel
system, it uses an infusion process with 2 row malts and whole hop flowers. The hop
varieties include Chinook, Hallertau, Cascade, Tettnang and Willamette. The completed
Wort is fermented in a separate chill-room with stainless steel open fermentation tanks.
Following this stage the beer is transferred to a conditioning tank. After a small delicately
handled shot of CO2, the beer is ready for serving.
Despite all the plans the opening was a bitter sweet event. The populace approved of the
beers a little too well; the entire store of 1,200 gallons was consumed in the first week of
operations. Following this set back the brewery was soon back up to full capacity.
The brewed-on-premises beers available include standard ales "Pitbull Golden" and "Arch
Amber" along with rotating specialty beers. The Pitbull Golden is a 1.043 O.G. with an
aromatic nose, clear medium gold hues and fine carbonation with a lacy head that
diminishes only a touch too quickly. The drinking is pleasant with a good balance which
continues through the finish and a copious amount of hops. Arch Amber, O.G. 1.048, is
named after the gate way into the city's Bushnell park (also the symbol of the brewery). A
clear amber with just the slightest hint of red. It is a lightly carbonated ale with a small but
creamy head, fairly typical of the American Amber style with a pleasant little bite at the
end. The bar also features a selection of premium beers and has a liquor license.
The kitchen's offerings are well prepared but limited. Here again forethought called for
visits to other brewpubs and the resulting menu is a condensed version of the most
successful items from other brewery restaurants. Choose from large sandwiches, sausage
and brats, and salads. At night there is a good selection of the necessary snack and finger
foods. Tours are available every Saturday afternoon and special tours can be arranged for
large groups. In general there are sizeable crowds on Thursday and Friday nights but at
other times you might want to try one of the two dart boards or chess, backgammon, etc
available from the barkeep. They even offer Mr. Potato Head
The recent establishment of small breweries in North East is a welcome return to the past
when the region held hundreds of neighbor hood brewers. The Hartford Brewing
Company is a valued addition to the New England's fresh brew suppliers and prototype for
the Nutmeg state's largely untapped market.
© Gregg Smith