Not everything is what is seems to be in seemingly placid Wallingford, a town just a short drive up I-91 or the Wilbur Cross Parkway from New Haven. For example, this is not the place you’d expect the last witchcraft trial in New England to have been held, but it was back in 1697. It also happens to be home to a hoppy-ning craft beer scene with three breweries and a pioneering hard cider maker all within two miles of each other.
So strap on your best walking shoes, let’s go exploring!
We’ll start in downtown at Center Street Brewing Co. (24 Wallace Ave., Wallingford — https://www.centerstreetbrewing.com/), which is not actually on Center Street – so there’s your first bit of “expect the unexpected” in this one-time city of silver- and pewter-ware manufacturing.
Center Street Brewing welcomed its first customers in March 2019, and the friendly atmosphere and tasty brews have been bringing them back regularly. Its red cinderblock with white trim building may be small, but it holds a lot of local love along with a pretty nice award from a state builders association.
The inside features lots of bright, white wood on the walls, long tables for friendly gatherings, and a cool split pine drinking rail all around the perimeter – the remnants of trees felled by a 2018 tornado in Sleeping Giant State Park in nearby Hamden. A roll-up garage door, a nod to the building’s one-time use as an auto repair shop, slides up in nice weather so you can sit in a small, informal seating area. All this work earned the owners and their builder a top honor for commercial rehabilitation in 2019.
Center Street Brewing may be small, producing 1,500 barrels of beer annually, but its creations are big on flavor and wide in style. They produce they expected range of popular IPAs, of course, but they also have Lucky #19 – a nice malt-forward brown sugar EBS; a chocolate malt rich brown ale (Brown Eyed Girl) and a host of other liquid treats, some of which you can take home in cans.
While Center Street Brewing doesn’t make its own food, it’s cool with BYOF (grab some of the award-winning wings at the Archie Moore’s right around the corner, for example) or you can order from one of the local eateries for delivery to the taproom.
Now, head seven blocks west on the actual Center Street. Take a few minutes to explore the Center Street Cemetery, a nationally registered historic spot. Here you will find memorials to Declaration of Independence signer Lyman Hall, Associated Press founder Moses Yale Beach, and Joseph Benham, the father of those accused witches were mentioned (they were all found not guilty, by the way).
Just before the main intersection with Route 5/North Colony Road, you’ll find Cliffside Brewing Company (16B Center St., Wallingford — http://cliffsidebrewing.com/), which is – naturally — not even close to a cliff. Nonetheless, it is Wallingford’s first “nano brewery,” according to its owner, and home of Enlightenment, a 5% ABV apricot flavored refresher that won Best Ale of 2018, according to the CT Brew Cup judges that year.
The care that went into that award-winning brew also went into creating the brewery and taproom itself, which opened in October 2017. Cliffside’s founder and brewer did most of the work himself renovating the storefront, installing the brewing system and even building his own walk-in refrigerator, according to the brewery’s active Instagram page.
The result is a clean, bright and open space perfect for hanging with friends over a pint or two. Go there to tip back while participating in Cliffside Brewing’s popular trivia or bingo nights. Feeling hungry? Order up a “freshly baked on the premises” 10-inch bar pizzas, provided courtesy of the very CT brewery friendly Harry’s Pizzeria and Tavern in West Hartford Center. Not into pizza? No problem! Cliffside Brewing is BYO food friendly, and carries a selection of menus from local restaurants that will deliver to the brewery. If you’re not up for a whole meal, there’s plenty of free popcorn to chomp on.
Along with its award-winning apricot ale, Cliffside Brewing usually serves about five or six of its own handcrafted beers – each a different style from malty to hoppy from sweet to dry. Variety – it’s the spice of flights, my friends.
Front Porch Brewing Company (226 N Plains Industrial Rd #4, Wallingford — https://www.frontporchbrewing.org/) resides about a mile and a quarter north, just off Route 5 inside an industrial park. And – you guessed it – they don’t have a front porch. But don’t let that sour you – let their specialty sour beers do that!
Front Porch Brewing takes its name from the vibe it hopes to instill: one of just chilling with your amigos, playing some old-school video or arcade games, and bonding over a well-crafted drink or three. And that’s exactly what you can do in this intimate, 1,250-square-foot, one-barrel brewery that opened in late 2017. Belly up to the gray, concrete bar top (note the picket fence under it first), order a flight and have some fun. If the weather is nice, step outside the open garage door and drink in the fresh air with your fresh brew.
Despite the small space, Front Porch Brewing usually offers a wide and eclectic tap and cans-to-go list, thanks to collaborations and off-site contract arrangements with other local breweries. In addition to the previously mentioned sours, you’ll find its popular Reverse Mermaid, a double dry hopped hazy and juicy IPA, along with a mix of traditional and more adventurous styles. Bar snacks, local cider and even whiskey is also available for your pleasure.
That local cider comes from just half a mile up the road at our final stop, the New England Cider Company (110 North Plains Industrial Rd., Suite A, Wallingford — https://www.newenglandcider.com/), the state’s first brewery-style taproom for hard cider and the one exception to our “inaccuracy in naming” theme.
New England Cider prides itself on using almost exclusively ingredients from New England – Connecticut in particular. They’ve cultivated deals with several area farms and orchards so you’ll be happy to know you are supporting many local businesses whenever you stop in to take a sip there or a growler home. It’s no wonder New England Cider often appears on the guest tap list of many CT breweries.
Inspired by a trip to Vermont, the two homebrewing owners/friends started experimenting with hard ciders in 2009 and – viola – history was made in their garage, fitting because the owners are also both car mechanics. The two opened its cider business in 2013, producing flavorful styles that will change any preconceived notions you may have that hard ciders resembles that overly sweet, cloudy brew mom made you have at a harvest fest when you were 8 years old.
New England Cider produces a range of fruited hard ciders, hopped ciders, herb and spied ciders, single-apple variety ciders (think “single-hop IPAs,” beer drinkers), and even ones that are barrel aged in former liquor casks. How you like dem apples, huh? Well, Connecticut magazine liked them pretty well, naming its flagship Fresh Blend one to definitely try in 2018, noting it is “apple-forward, eminently drinkable and refreshing. There’s a reason this is one of the most widely distributed ciders in Connecticut.”
New England Cider’s taproom space is quite limited, so they discourage bringing the kiddies inside. No dogs allowed, either. However, outside food is welcome and food trucks are often on hand. Or you can nibble on the cheese and cracker options they offer while you play a board game while enjoying the fruits of a true CT brewing pioneer.