It’s a good time to be a beer drinker. No matter where you live, there now seems to be a nearby craft-beer bar or brewery, or at least a package store with decent craft selection.
My stomping grounds — south-central Connecticut — is no different. So when my cousins from Massachusetts came down this weekend, I took them to two of the area’s best beer destinations.
Prime 16 in New Haven specializes in gourmet burgers, and for appetizers we ordered the spiced candied bacon and fried pickles. In terms of beer, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better menus in the Greater New Haven area. It offers a mix of drinkable staples, local selections and rare brews from the national scene.
To the latter, I ordered a Sip of Sunshine, owner of a pristine 100 score on Beer Advocate. Lawson’s Finest Liquids (of Warren, Vermont) has brewed themselves an extremely flavorful, multilayered IPA, memorable for its seamless blend of tropical fruits, floral notes, and smooth-yet-noticeable hoppiness. In terms of brews, this was the belle of the ball. An uncommon beer to see on tap — if you see it, order it.
Which is to take nothing away from my other drink order at Prime. Black Hog is among my favorite Connecticut breweries, and their Granola Brown Ale is another in the long line of above-average beers I’ve enjoyed from them. Smooth, oaty, and with hints of vanilla, this medium brown finishes with Black Hog’s signature dry-hopped taste.
We then took off to The Outer Space, a Hamden, Connecticut destination that is one part dive bar, one part hipster haunt. Well known in the area for its multiple onsite music venues, The Outer Space also features perhaps the most reliably eclectic and excellent beer menu in the region.
The owner, former indie rocker Steve Rogers (half of the band Mighty Purple), is himself a beer nut, and it shows in his establishment’s brew selection and craft-community culture.
Along one wall hang several hundred little plaques baring names of people (including the author’s) who have completed the “30 For 30,” which challenges Outer Space customers to drink 30 different beers in 30 nights. Thanks to the ever-changing menu, this task is much easier than it may sound.
Our party of 11 ordered from all over the highly varied tap list, and also from the extensive bottle menu. I drank a Founder’s Dark Penance Double Black IPA (sweet chocolates and caramels chased by the right amount of bitterness), Brewer’s Reserve Hoppy Red Ale (smoothly drinkable), and Southern Tier 2x Presso Imperial Double Stout (yet another solid brew from Southern Tier, with coffee, toffee and lemon flavors).
Among the more memorable drinks ordered and shared among the group were a Downeast Cider House Cranberry Cider, Smuttynose Big A IPA, Lexington Brewing Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, and an Old Chub Nitro Scotch Ale by Oskar Blues Brewery.
The Outer Space can feel more like a small, diverse community than a bar. Everybody swaps stories and beers alike. Outside on the fenced-in patio, customers sat in metal chairs around a small fire pit, ordering pub food and craft beers from a busy-but-cheerful waitress. It’s that kind of place where you feel like you know everybody even if you don’t. And it’s the perfect spot for drinkers who want to expand or test their craft-beer palate.