New England Brewing Co., Woodbridge, Conn.
The signature Sea Hag, a crisp IPA with a crazy edge to it, put this smaller brewery on the map, and the map had been missing it until then. The beer at New England Brewing is balanced for everyday drinkers but also craft brewed for the specialty crowd. "We are selfish to be honest," said head brewer Matt Westfall in an interview with The Daily Meal. "We make beers we want to drink and hope everybody else wants to drink them, too." You will taste big, flavorfully pronounced beers here. Tours are casual and happen "after 4 p.m." Monday through Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Two Roads Brewing Co., Stratford, Conn.
While almost brand-new, Two Roads hops to the top based on its top brewing quality. It uses the industrial, abandoned U.S. Baird Building, which has a manufacturing nostalgia about it, to create Ol’ Factory Pils, Road to Ruin IPA, and Workers Comp Saison. There are limited tours Saturdays and Sundays between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. but there are only 20 slots per tour, so book in advance and hustle over to them. The huge tasting room is charming as it is inviting.
Willimantic Brewing Company, Willimantic, Conn.
Willimantic started 22 years ago at a deli down the street and is now a full-service brew pub, offering eight to 10 of their own brew taps along with 40 other regional ones. Certified Gold is their flagship. "Every beer here is seasonal," says brewer David Wollner. "When we were at the deli, we wanted a menu with something interesting and flavorful, then we applied that to our beers as well." That’s why they do a lot of "one-offs." If they get their hands on some interesting malts, they make a new beer, usually a new beer every week. Private tours are available but need to be scheduled prior to the visit.
City Steam Brewery Café and Restaurant, Hartford, Conn.
City Steam has a sense of humor about itself. No, literally — there is a comedy club in the same historic building as the brewery called, yes, The Brew Haha. The brewery's Naughty Nurse is the most popular and ubiquitous of its beers, and their motto, according to manager Conor Geary, is, "Your whole night not will not be tapped." Brewmaster Ron Page has created 80 or so beers over the years, and now they make eight to 10 of their own vibrant, handcrafted beers. They also sponsor the Winter Warmer event, inviting, not surprisingly, the other four breweries on this list. There are no structured tours, per se, but they are soon organizing a tour/tasting/lunch for these fun microbrews. Wander around the historical building and visit the comedy club.
Thomas Hooker Brewing Company, Bloomfield, Conn.
Thomas Hooker has risen to the top with its 12 styles and creative labeling. "We take [some things] very seriously," says directory of brewery operations Michael Labbe, with a chuckle, "but not much." Now they are collaborating with Connecticut Wine Trail wineries to create a saison aged in white wine barrels. "We’re excited to be telling people about this very interesting project," said Labbee. They offer tours on the first and third Friday every month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and every Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.