When you think of Connecticut do you think “silk”? You might have if you lived here about 100 years ago.
The town of Manchester, just east of Hartford, served as home for many major U.S. manufacturing facilities over the years, the most well-known being Cheney Brothers Mills, once the largest and most innovative silk manufacturing factory complexes in the world. Starting in 1832 when it first harnessed the power of the Hockanum River, the mill operated here for more than a century. When synthetics started replacing silk and other natural materials around World War II, it pivoted to making nylon – even creating the first nylon parachute ever used by a human.
That, friends, is why Manchester, CT, earned the nickname “Silk City” and this is the Silk City Suds Tour!
Elict Brewing Company
Elict Brewing Company (https://www.elicitbrewing.com/), just off I-84 in western Manchester, is also along the Hockanum River. You find it in an enormous wood-beam filled 19th-century building that at one time housed one the country’s most successful paper mills, Adams Mills.
As the Elicit owners say on their web page, they are “restauranteurs are heart and beer drinkers at liver.” They also believe in providing an experience at their roughly 20,000-square-foot venue (told you it was enormous). They serve a hearty selection of upscale pub food, offer 50 local and regional crafts on tap, a full wine and cocktail bar, a beer garden with a fire pit and games, an old-school arcade and a karaoke lounge. Phew – after that you will need a drink.
Elicit Brewing, which opened in November 2019, uses a seven-barrel brewing system to conjure up to a dozen beers they offer on tap and to-go at any time. Recent offerings have included such intriguingly named beers as Botched Face Life (a blood orange sour), Marriage Counseling (a double IPA), Tree Like Symptoms (American pale ale) and Yodeling Cherubs (a pineapple hefe).
Wander just 10 minutes south and you’ll find yourself at 2nd Bridge Brewing Company (https://2ndbridgebrewing.com/). They are one of several tenants occupying Hilliard Mills, a nationally listed historic site once home to the United States’ oldest woolen mill. So what, you say? So, Hilliard Mills wool was used for the suit President George Washington wore to his inauguration and the material used for blankets for solders in the War of 1812 came from this very spot. So there!
2nd Bridge Brewing prides itself on having an English pub vibe – and it should. The family owners are fans of English football (uh, “soccer” to us Americans) and they founded this funky little rathskeller in 2015 specifically so they and their footie-loving friends had a friendly spot to grab a pint and watch the game, toss some darts and enjoy a good chat while having a nice pint.
2nd Bridge Brewing naturally has an affinity for making English style ales. You’re almost always sure to find a brown, an oatmeal stout or an Irish cream ale (or maybe all of them) on tap along with the ever-popular variations of IPAs and seasonal brew like a summer shandy.
2nd Bridge Brewing offers no food so they encourage visitors to BYO or have one of the local restaurants deliver to their door.
Now, go take a hike
If you need a beer break, want to make room for more brews or just love the outdoors, take a side trip to the Cheney Rail Trail. Hop in your car, head about 5 minutes east on Hillard Street and park at 2 Main Street – the northern most point of the trail.
The gravel-covered trail follows the old South Manchester Railroad line, a 2.5 mile spur off the main tracks between Hartford; Providence, R.I.; and Fishkill, N.Y. The Cheneys built the rail line in 1869 to carry raw materials, finished goods and even some of its workers to and from their silk mills. It operated until the 1980s, and held the distinction of being the shortest passenger-and-freight line in the United States but also the longest privately owned one.
The Manchester Land Conservation Trust now looks after the nearly six acres of rail bed and converted it into a roughly two-mile long trail. It’s mostly flat and shaded and, if you are ambitious, its southern-most end puts you only a 20-minute walk away from our next brewery. (Or you can double back and drive there – no judgement here.)
Village people, er, beers
Labyrinth Brewing Company (https://labyrinthbrewingcompany.com/) opened in August 2018 in one of the many historic buildings of what was the thriving Cheney factory village complex. This one, a former warehouse used for storing waste silk, has been repurposed into the Lofts at the Mill residential/retail/commercial complex.
Labyrinth Brewing does an exquisite job of honoring this 1885 building’s past. The brick, wood and copper-accented interior give off a cool industrial yet woodsy vibe. Much of the décor and functional pieces inside are either salvaged or repurposed from others parts of the Cheney complex or old area businesses. For example, the tables and bar top are made from the oak trees that were removed to create the brewery’s parking lot. You can even find parts of an original Cheney shipping crate adorning one wall in a loving nod to the firs family that make this place possible.
Labyrinth Brewing took its name from 2006 Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pan’s Labyrinth so you will find a few, but not all, of their beers are named with a sci-fi/fantasy/mythical things of yore theme. Don’t let your lack of knowledge in those fields prevent you from tipping back a glass of Theseus DIPA or Kuato imperial red ale, or make you stick only to the delectably sweet Maize (think it over – you’ll get it) cream ale or Turbo Love Juice IPA. Go out of your comfort zone and sample one of their in-house brewed ciders or fruity sours, too. You’ll be glad you did.
Labyrinth Brewing doesn’t serve food but they encourage BYO items or visit when it brings in one of the areas many food trucks and nosh inside or on the patio. Curbside pickup and weekly home delivery service is also an option if you are nearby.
Urban Lodge Brewing Company (https://www.urbanlodgebrewing.com/) is your last stop in Silk City, just about a half mile southwest on Purnell Place. While it just opened in August 2019, the minute you step inside (or out on its patio), you’ll this place will feel as familiar as home.
But first, Urban Lodge is a fitting name on multiple levels. It’s in a converted downtown warehouse of which one entire outside wall has been painted over into an impressive mural that quickly became the talk of the town. The indoor and outdoor seating areas have a definitely ski lodge feel with fireplaces/pits, long tables and comfy nooks with table games, trivia night and bands providing regular entertainment. And the wives of the owners are sisters with the maiden name of Lodge. Perfection.
Urban Lodge has been doing brisk business since opening not only because of its friendly atmosphere but also because of its efforts to build strong community ties. For example, rather than prepare food on site, they have arrangements with several nearby restaurants who offer up their menus to patrons. And then – of course – there are Urban Lodge’s awesome brews. The five-barrel brewery regularly offers a good mix of beer styles, including a golden ale, milk stout and porter, for example, along with a range of trendy and traditional IPAs. And, yes, they have also have a fruity sour or two.