03 Jun Northwest Connecticut Ale Trail
Want to do some CT brewery hopping this weekend? Of course, you do!
To help, we’re putting together some regional “ale trails” to make decision-making and traveling easier so you can enjoy more beers and less time arguing with Waze.
Let’s start in the northwestern part of our great state in Litchfield County, where Route 7 and Route 44 meet near the Massachusetts border. The following four breweries make up with is called the “Northwest Connecticut Ale Trail” – you can pick up a “beer passport” for it in any of them and get it stamped when you arrive. Get all four and you get a special sticker for your car.
Great Falls Brewing Company (1 Railroad Plaza, Canaan —https://www.greatfallsbrews.com/) in Canaan only opened in December 2018 but it is truly historic. A fully renovated and restored 19th century train station houses this gorgeous brewery and taproom that produces trendy New England IPAs and sours alongside traditional and tasty stouts, porters and lagers.
The Historic Canaan Union Depot, built in 1872, served for many decades as a crossroads waypoint for freight and passengers traveling between Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Hartford (east-west) or Danbury and Pittsfield, Mass. (north-south). You can still watch trains roll by these days, but with a freshly brewed pint in hand and a homemade bar munchie in front of you, both from locally sourced and sustainable ingredients. Great Falls Brewing became the first business to occupy this beautiful yellow L-shaped building since a fire gutted it fire in 2001.
Great Falls Brewery maintains a rotating 14-tap draft list that includes weekly cask tappings and a nitro line plus its own house-made draft root beer for your littlest craft lovers.
Norbrook Farm Brewery (204 Stillman Hill, Colebrook — https://www.norbrookfarm.com/) resides less than a dozen miles down US-44 on 450 rustic acres straddling the Norfolk/Colebrook border — hence the name. Before you indulge in its awesomely eclectic array of beers, check out the incredible surroundings known as the Norbrook Farm Trail.
The Trail is perfect for outdoorspeople of any season. Already in place are nearly 10 miles of paths for walkers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers plus an almost 11-mile single-track mountain biking trail. For those who like to use their wrists for more than just tilting a mug, grab a Frisbee and try the three-mile long disc golf course.
After all that play, head to the 5,300-square-foot brewery. You can take a seat at the richly inviting copper bar or in a nook in the taproom, or grab some more rays out on the spacious patio on enjoy the view and a brew. You’ll always find something to love on tap as Norbrook Farm Brewery maintains a wonderfully wide range of beer styles. Its six mainstay signature beers alone include a kolsch, saison, brown ale and American porter as with two IPAs – a well-balance American style and a rotating hop-forward brew. Stouts, wits, Belgium black ales and other delights regularly round out the list.
Norbrook Farm Brewery has been perfecting growing its own hop crop and plans to start growing its own grains in hope of being a truly CT Craft Beer by using purely local ingredients in its process.
Little Red Barn Brewery (32 Lake St., Winsted — https://lrbbrewers.com/) is a quick, 10 minutes away (via backroads) in Winsted, or as the brewery’s owners call it “the gateway to both the Litchfield Hills and the Berkshires.” While not located in an actual barn – the name comes from an old horse barn where one of the founder’s parents let them brew their initial batches – there’s a little barn, a little church, a little schoolhouse and a whole lot of community heart in this place.
Two brothers and a friend who turned their homebrewing hobby into a career opened Little Red Barn Brewery in summer 2019 after years of honing their craft. Realizing that opening a business downtown required local support, the owners ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fix up an abandoned tool manufacturing factory in a way that celebrated the history and people of Winsted and its neighbors. The money helped purchase and craft repurposed wood taken from old structures from around the area into the taproom’s bar, tables and chairs. Loads of local memorabilia round out the décor of this truly cool and cozy spot.
Little Red Barn Brewery made its mark with its Everyman’s Porter, a robust American style brew, and it’s still a star of its lineup which runs from kolsches and cream ales to sours and imperial stouts. Come at a time where you can nosh on the specialties offered by a local food truck while listening to local musicians play their hearts out for a memorable good time.
Brewery Legitimus (283 Main Street, New Hartford — http://www.brewerylegitimus.com/) is the last stop, less than 15 minutes straight down US-44 in New Hartford. Don’t be too impressed by the 3,500 square foot facility, housed in a former Waring appliance factory, and its spacious and lush beer garden … because they are in the process more than doubling that space. While the original plan was adding room to host larger or private events, the extra elbow room will be welcome in this age of social distancing.
Opening in 2016 right across from the Farmington River, Brewery Legitimus has a perfect location. The seven-barrel facility is not only perfectly situated right by one the region’s best fly fishing spots, it’s also just minutes from Ski Sundown so it a great place for the sun and snow crowds to unwind. More importantly, though, it is an active member in a local Community Supported Agricultural program, working with nearby farms and growers in the area to bring fresh tastes, scents and experiences to the people through festivals, famers’ markets and other events. During the recent COVID-19 crisis, it also helped raise money for local food banks and fund free beers for health care workers and first responders!
Speaking of beer, Brewery Legitimus specializes in Belgian and American style beers with an eye (or is it taste bud) out for innovation. New England IPA fans as well as those who love more traditional German styles like bocks and pilsners will always find something to love on tap here.
If you’re already up in this section of the state and have the time, go off label and visit Kent Falls Brewing Co. (33 Camps Road, Kent — https://kentfallsbrewing.com/). It’s about 45 to 60 minutes away from these other breweries but well worth the side trip!
Kent Falls Brewing is located on the 50-acre Camps Road Farm, which has been in operation as agricultural land for more than 250 years. In addition to growing hops for the brewery and apples for its Port Chester, N.Y.-based Neversink Distillery, the farm is known for its plentiful vegetables and pasture-raised poultry and pork. You can take a free tour of the entire place on certain days and learn about its many sustainable farming and brewing practices (all the brew waste, for example, is composted into crop fertilizer and solar panels help provide the bulk of the brewery’s electrical supply).
Kent Falls Brewing started distributing its beers in early 2015, making it the first licensed farm brewery in the state. It quickly gained critical acclaim, leading to the opening of the family-friendly public taproom a year later. (Clarification: it’s KID-friendly. It is a working farm with live animals around so please leave your pup at home). While you’re in the tap room, take note of the beer tap handles. They were once chain links from a mechanical conveyor in the farm’s dairy barn.
Cool place, right? It gets even better with beer – but then what doesn’t, right? Kent Falls Brewing first gained fame for its farmhouse ales (naturally!) but that’s a pretty broad term that the brewers like to stretch and shape to their tastiest whims. IPAs, wild ales, stouts, gozes – oh, my – these folks offer them all at one time or another in can, bottle or growler fills. The only thing you won’t find on site right now are food trucks. However, they do a have a farm store where, in addition to beer, you can purchase fresh-from-the-farm eggs and meat, produce, flour, cheese and more items made from their crops. “Barnside” pickup is even available.