At City Steam Brewery Cafe, the owners concoct some of the area’s finest beers, scoring “best of” awards from Hartford magazine and Connecticut Magazine. They also brew potent batches of laughter inside their 200-seat comedy show-room theater. Ensconced in the historic Brown Thomson and Co. building, which was the state’s largest department store in 1877, Brew Ha Ha once was known as the Last Laugh Comedy Club, where fledgling unknowns such as Ray Romano and Kevin James vied for laughs in the smoky rathskeller of a restaurant.
Reborn in 1997 under a new moniker, the standup speakeasy keeps its calendar packed with nationally touring comics and local joke slingers. During shows, guests can toast with mugs of handcrafted beer and make edible sculptures of their favorite comedian using menu’s custom burgers, pizzas, and omelets.
Sea Dog Steak & Ale's menu catalogs hearty pub food and a deep well of beer. Every item on the menu pairs almost perfectly with one of the pub's 10 locally crafted brews served on tap, whether it's the milky Sea Dog Stout and the marinated grilled steak tips, the malty Winter Ale to wash down the chorizo-crusted haddock, or the crisp flavor of the Raspberry Wheat Ale as a palate cleanser after dinner. Sea Dog's chefs also grill 8-ounce filets mignons, which are as heavy as Willy Wonka minus his candy weight. The patties of seven specialty burgers blend ground beef, short rib, chuck, and brisket, all piled with toppings ranging from balsamic-marinated onions to root-beer barbecue sauce.
The alehouse's nightly crowd adds to the convivial ambiance of the pub by sharing drinks on its outdoor patio or in its rustic wood-paneled, chocolate- and almond-colored dining room. Frequent visitors can join the wine or mug clubs, which toss in benefits such as personalized mugs, T-shirts, and a spiritual connection with America's most famous beer drinker: Benjamin Franlin, the inventor of both mugs and T-shirts.
In addition to introducing customers to the intricacies of brewing beer and wine with instructional books and DVDs, Strange Brew can actually train customers in the fine art of making booze from scratch during its monthly in-store classes. During these small-group sessions, brewers divulge the necessary pieces of equipment, explore the core ingredients, discuss their roles in the brewing and fermentation processes, and lead a tasting of the final product. Even when they aren't applying this hands-on approach, the staff excel at helping customers ready their first batch, whether for a party or as a way to make taking a bath more fun. Starter kits for beer and wine include essential tools, such as fermenting and bottling buckets, siphon hoses, and hydrometers. To help customers fill these components with the requisite ingredients, a range of basic and specialized recipe kits feature pre-measured selections of hops and malts or juices and yeasts. Other kits are suited to more specialty brewing projects, such as mead or sake. For the more serious craft-brewers, Strange Brew also carries heavy-duty stainless-steel instruments by Blichmann.
In September 2010, a trio of beer-brewing buds joined forces to form Broad Brook Brewing Company. By February of the next year, their ales and lagers had netted ribbons at several regional and national contests. By July, the team was already dreaming up its own taproom. These days, that taproom hosts rotating drafts of year-round, seasonal, and specialty beers, ranging from IPAs made with seven hop varieties to imperial ales brewed with local honey. A menu highlights nearby restaurants that deliver grub, and tours showcase the 15-barrel system that yields each of the microbrewery’s batches. For patrons that can’t stick around, bartenders fill growlers with to-go brews, a less sticky alternative to pouring beer into your cupped hands.
Named for a small archipelago off the Branford coast, Thimble Island Brewing Company began with the home-brewed concoctions of Connecticut Natives Justin Gargano and Mike Fawcett. Though they lacked formal training, the duo tirelessly spent nights and weekends tinkering with their recipes until they sold their first pint of American Ale to KC's Pub in Guilford. Today, American Ale is one of the brewery's three mainstay beers, which Justin and Mike craft along with specialty batches such as a dark pumpkin porter. The twosome keeps four beers on tap at Thimble Island's tasting room, where visitors can drop in to fill up a growler, buy a t-shirt, or take a tour. Outside the brewery, Justin and Mike's beers grace many local establishments, including pubs and grocery stores.