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Off The Beaten Path: Three Solid Microbreweries in Northwestern Connecticut

“Beer: the original social network.” ~ Unknown


Winsted, CT

Introduction

The ability to cook for people is one of the best parts of my life, a considerable transformation of who I am today from where I was many years ago, growing up in Colebrook, Connecticut. Anyone from the area knows that career opportunities and industry were not at the forefront of our little community. While we were studying in the 1980s, businesses were contracting, and manufacturing headed overseas. However, people did and still make an effort to grow the economy and hold a community together because it is vital for them to instill a sense of compassion, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation. I always remembered my roots and knew I would return to visit and explore all the changes for the better.



Craft Beer


A Hand-Crafted Food, Wine, & Beer Culture

After leaving the tiny town of Colebrook in the early 90s for a more extensive playground, I became a hobbyist in the world of food culture, had the privilege of covering accounts around the globe, and, for 30 years, made my home in The San Francisco Bay Area - a place to experience culinary craftsmanship in over 400 restaurants city-wide. I watched the craft beer movement take off like a rocket ship on the West Coast. I remember attending my first winemakers' dinner, overhearing someone mention that San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Brewing Company was close to hitting its 100th birthday.



Craft Beer Aging Barrels


For nearly 30 years, I was thrust into a community of forward-thinking food movers and shakers, Techies, Google-ites, and artisans alike. We learned from one another and built our lives around fermentation festivals, winery events, growing livestock, making jam, and stomping 750-pound lugs of wine grapes from a Sonoma AVA. Hoping and praying, we were embarking on creating drinkable cases of wine - while picking green walnuts from local trees to make a sweet and spicy Italian liqueur called Nocino.



Fermentation Tanks


Our children gathered around us to participate in these wild and crazy learning opportunities, making memories of those long-forgotten days. Today, As they gaze out the windows of their college lecture halls, they hang onto those heart-warming experiences while in the throws of carving out their own futures. We made sourdough, bought turkeys from our backyard CSA friends, and collaborated for monthly supper clubs to share our bounty and stories of recent travels. My life was on fast forward, keeping an eye on the latest and greatest tech releases. Making wine country dishes- drawing from experiences, pairing craft beer and wine with the backstory and taste of Hopkiln Vineyards (where hop growing started in the Western Region) and Lagunitas Brewery and all the memories that fascinating watering hole affords me.


Three Breweries Making Some Great Beer In Northwestern Connecticut

The 2000s brought us a craft beer boom, and by 2018, we had 7000 breweries to choose from in the marketplace. Oregon, Washington, and Idaho record the most hops grown in the United States. Fast forward to August 1, 2023 - Sapporo Corporation closed its subsidiary doors to one of the first microbreweries on the West Coast - Anchor Steam Brewing. The beer market is fluid, and while we watch early adopters living the slow burn - planning their exit strategy, “Locals” are still building fantastic product lines and developing distribution and food tourism models to last decades. Three local breweries from my hometown area deserve a shoutout for fantastic beer, food, and eco-tourism.



CRAFT Signage


Little Red Barn Brewers - located at the last turn before heading up the hill to Highland Lake. They are adjacent to the Mad River in an old manufacturing plant in Winsted, Connecticut. Three men working hard at making good beer and creating community. They offer nightly entertainment and some of the best food trucks this side of the Mississippi. Three brothers, “well, one is from another mother,” launched their brewhouse out of a red shed in the backwoods of Litchfield County. They grew that little brewhouse incubator into a craft brewery, selling over 20 beers on tap, and extending production beyond capacity. They have good beer, and the community is proud to call them “friends.” I especially enjoyed the Mad River Pilsner when visiting.


Norbrook Farm Brewery - is the embodiment of eco and food tourism. The symbiotic nature of a 450-acre year-round outdoor playground, coupled with great beer and pizza, gets me excited. It reminded me that I was “home" and brought me back to extraordinary memories of growing up in Colebrook. At the time, I was reminiscent of living near the Sierra Nevada mountains and all the brewery experiences it afforded me over the years. Norbrook has a pretty extensive reach when it comes to distribution, and The Dennis Hill Estate Saison is fabulous—their attention to tasting notes is on point.


Great Falls Brewing Company - not too far up the road, another excellent tasting room sits just up the road off Route 44, and their MERCH is off the hook! You have got to try the Great Falls + Little Red Barn Count Bockula Chocolate Doppelbock collaboration. Collabs can be some of the best business ventures to bring some of the best brewers in a room together to create positive and fun memories. Their tasting notes, too, are on point, and the layers of flavor shine through with each batch.



Beer Tasting

Cheers!

Manufacturing and production are very much alive in Northwestern Connecticut, and craft brew distribution is beyond the bounds of Litchfield County. With enhanced beer production comes additional cookers, fermentation tanks, mash tun, lauter tun, and homegrown hopyards abound. It's good to be back on the East Coast and have more access to some fantastic brews in our hometown neck of the woods.



Winsted, CT


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