On the Northwestern Connecticut Beer Trail

Ariana DiValentino


Coming from Connecticut, it is exciting and fascinating to see the rise of independent microbreweries serving all manner of delicious, often creative brews popping up around the Nutmeg state. The northwestern corner of the state in particular is one of the more rural areas, with lots of open space and farmland. And with the current craft beer revolution, that farmland is turning trendy: locally-grown malts and hops are turning into beers deserving of national attention. These notable breweries may go uncelebrated compared to some other American craft makers because of their remoteness from major cities, but if you are taking a road trip through New England or coming down from the Berkshire Mountains, you owe it to yourself to visit some of the Nutmeg State’s northwestern offerings.

Little Red Barn Brewers is rustic with fun beers

The young Winsted brewery, which opened its doors to the public in just 2017, has the charms you would hope for from a fairly rural brewery – a cozy taproom, classic styles on draught – polished up to a modern standard. The space is now far and away from the titular little red barn of their origin, but the comfortable taproom nods to its humble, pastoral roots with a sweet farmhouse look.

As for the beers themselves, their core lineup is classic but up-to-date. They’ve got standards like the Cow Tippin’ Copper Ale and Mad River Pilsner, which are both strong examples of their respective styles, and a significant IPA roster including the juicy and aptly named Freshly Squeezed. Hopheads would be urged to try the Roll in the Hay Double IPA.

Their limited-edition styles don’t disappoint, so be sure to get whatever fun seasonal brews they have on tap. The Raspberry Fields IPA is a popular choice that routinely earns high marks from visitors. And if you happen to visit when the Raspberry Truffle Shuffle stout is on tap – beware. Its tempting, strong chocolatey raspberry notes completely obfuscate the 10.2% ABV. Enjoy heartily but slowly, please.

Norbrook Farm Brewery is an elegant farmhouse with beers to match

Norbrook, set on actual farmland in Colebrook, CT, continues to lean into the rustic feel of the region – you’ll know you have arrived when you spot a large cow statue overlooking the main road. Their patio makes a great sitting place to enjoy a nice summer breeze as you look out over the sprawling landscape. Should you get there on a rainy day, worry not – the interior of the taproom is bright and welcoming as well, perfect for an afternoon of relaxing and sampling brews.

The beers on offer are primarily reliable saisons, a couple of IPAs, and the like. Their more popular flagship brews include the Mount Pisgah IPA, which is a good middle-ground IPA with a modest IBU, ideal for those who like some hoppiness but don’t love the super-bitter options trending today. Their rotation has lots of mild, comforting flavours, but don’t skip the Miss Mary peach Trappist ale if it’s around when you visit.

At the time of my visit, the Date Night Belgian dubbel was on tap. With its distinct but not overwhelming banana notes, it was a hit all around, even among those of us who generally prefer more aggressive styles.

Great Falls Brewing is worth the trek

Great Falls, located in Canaan, CT, isn’t afraid to get weird. It’s one of the more out-of-the-way spots we visited, but it earns high marks. The brewery and taproom are set in an old train station, giving it a very classic New England aesthetic, with a spacious and polished interior.

Even their more standard styles are bold: the Lazy Hazy Housy is an almost-opaque New England IPA, for example, and its sister, the Crazy Hazy Housy, has a remarkably low IBU for an IPA (just 28), making it dangerously sippable at a steep 10.2% ABV. The bulk of the tap list is comprised of creative varieties like the Fruit Snack fruited sour (a popular choice) and Nod to Dionysus grape must IPA.

Importantly, these funky and out-there brews are done consistently well: while fruited beers and other brews with distinct “tastes like” flavours often come off as throwaways made to please non-beer drinkers, the oddballs at Great Falls are just excellent examples of styles you don’t always find in this part of the country. Although, if you’re craving a good old classic, their Reservoir Pilsner is as standard as it gets, and routinely wins strong reviews, too.

Brewery Legitimus pours an excellent IPA

Don’t be fooled by its location in a strip mall – Legitimus’ place among the northwestern Connecticut rural lineup is well-deserved. And, if you’re interested in atmosphere, its dark, wood-laden taproom makes a lovely place for beer fans to sit.

If you’re a fan of heavier styles, you’ll be pleased by their lineup of stouts. The lactose-tolerant will be drawn to the Glittering Prizes and Endless Compromises milk stout, with its tempting chocolatey, coconutty notes. In the tart and refreshing category, you’ll find their fruited Sindicat sours. Those with less of a sweet tooth still have plenty to choose from, like their crowd-pleasing core Helles lager and whatever smaller, creative brews you might be treated to.

But if you’re still on the hunt for excellent New England IPAs, one in particular – the Sundown 5.0 – stands tall. Catch this super flavourful, juicy and perfectly-balanced bitter brew if you can.

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