Re-posted from my blog: Malted Musings.
Shebeen Brewing Company, opened since May of this year, first piqued my interest during Eli Cannon's Beerfest the other week. Featuring beer like Cannoli and Pineapple Wheat, Shebeen was serving up beer that was both eccentric and (slightly surprising to this jaded beer drinker) actually really well-balanced and flavorful. Wanting to know more about this newer brand, I drove out to Wolcott to see what was brewing. It would prove to be an evening of rather impressive surprises.
Located right along route 69 in Wolcott, right next to Sullivan Brother's Remodeling I found the signs pointing me along the way to Shebeen Brewing Company. Disoriented at first, I soon found that it was easy enough to follow the near-constant stream of people wearing smiles and carrying filled growlers to finally arrive at the tasting room of Shebeen Brewing Company. The tasting room itself was one of the first surprises. I had expected (from a brewery not even a year old yet) to be basically a sterile little tasting room, maybe with a bar, probably with card tables set up around a tapped keg. What I got instead was instant impression. The doors to the tasting room opened out on a deck overlooking trees and a plot of grass. Deck chairs were set up and filled with people enjoying their samples from the brewery. Through the wide open doors stood a clean, well-lit tasting space adorned with exposed wood girders, coordinated soft green wall tones, iron-wrought light fixtures, and a huge mural on the back wall that almost pulled you into a different part of the world (Galway, Ireland, as I learned later).
Rich Visco (the CEO/Head Brewer/Owner) came out to meet me right away and spared no time going into the specifics of the brand; we were also joined throughout the tour by Alan Bisaillon, who is new to the brand, but helps out with much of the brewing and most of the (as he put it) "plumbing work" with the brewing equipment. All the wood work was built out custom using reclaimed wood local from Connecticut. The bar itself was custom made by the Sullivan Brothers, who also seriously helped out with the whole build-out process. The mural of Galway was painted by a professional artist and serves to connect Rich (and all his beer customers) to his hometown. I commented on the fact that it was refreshing to see a more "realistic" or down-to-earth depiction of an Irish pub (as it seems like 'Irish Pubs' are a dime-a-dozen these days), but Rich was quick to point out that this was more the style of a shebeen. A shebeen, Rich went on, is a speak-easy or a dive-bar in Ireland. There's no polished brass fixtures and impressive metal work here: rather, a shebeen is a place where everyday Joes and Janes go at the end of the workday. It's a place of carved wood, simple stylings, and a homey atmosphere.
It's with this explanation that Rich demonstrated what would become a reoccurring theme throughout my visit: intention. That is, everything in the brewery is carefully constructed and planned out by Rich. The size and use of reclaimed materials in the tasting room? Intentional- Rich explains that a shebeen is all about the everyday community coming together, and so Shebeen Brewing Company will stay faithful to that template. When you go into the tasting room, you are in a room made from local CT materials and will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other folks, all enjoying the local beer: thus forming a (rather genuine) feeling of community. Apparently this feeling of community is taking hold, as the brewery has been slammed with people so far. The community loves it, all the paperwork has been progressing at top speed, and Rich says that they've received nothing but positive support so far. As if to prove his point, during my visit (on a Wednesday night) the tasting room was constantly filled with 8-12 people, constantly cycling in and out. On Fridays it's apparently standing room only.
Hop & grain samples. The barrel is also reclaimed: not Pier One.
After touring the tasting room, Rich brought me in the back for a glimpse behind the curtain. The motif of surprises continued for me for two reasons. One, the build-out themed look continued all the way through the back rooms, which were clean, lined with raw reclaimed wood, and setup for maximum visual exposure. Two, the place in back was huge. Clocking in at just about 20k square feet, to say Shebeen Brewing Company has room to grow is an understatement. Both of these facets were intentional, says Rich. He has had this vision of a brewery way back to the late 90's when he wrote a master's thesis on the opening and operation of a brewery. Waiting until the time was right, Rich has been biding his time and refining his brewing techniques in the meantime. The effort and vision is obvious.
At the time of the visit, Rich was still brewing off of a small pilot system, which (once again) was surprising. The system itself is good quality, but Rich jokes that some people come in saying that their homebrew system is bigger! Rich is ready to expand quickly though. He has 4 large scale fermentation tanks ready to go as soon as they are hooked up, a canning system that just needs to be unpacked, and (as previously mentioned) tons of space to grow into. This extra space includes an attached drive up loading dock/warehouse, and a space next to the tasting room that Rich wants to eventually make into a beer-garden-like family seating area.
The plan now is to open in stages. Like much of the rest of the facility, Rich has a concrete plan for the brand. He has the space, the beer, and now is just building up the customer base before he makes his next push. This shouldn't be too much of an issue, as Alan and Rich both are happily impressed with how far word of mouth has got them so far in terms of a customer base. The customers, to clarify, can largely only come to the brewery for beer (only a few area restaurants got Shebeen kegs, and they kick them really fast), and yet people still come out in droves. To expand the already loyal customer base, Rich (of course) has plans to make sure that even people driving by will know the Shebeen brand. There's the big sign on the front of the building, Rich and Alan plan to have the fermentation tanks lit up at night through the windows, and they are even dabbling with the idea of installing grain silos (branded with the logo) outside just so everyone can see and grow curious about the brewery.
In the close future, Rich wants to build more of an outdoor setting, including putting in tables, benches, and other places for people to relax outside. Rich also wants to eventually grow hops on the premise. Growing hops is a great way to have a farm-to-table (or glass) type business model, and is a great educational tool for people new to brewing. Also in the future (further out) Rich is dabbling with the ideas of making Shebeen into a brewpub. As he said (to which Alan agreed) Rich is always thinking, always working on some idea to move forward with.
While the brewery is still in various stages of rollout, the beer Rich pioneered and makes with Alan and the rest of the crew is solid. Rich says his vision is beer that doesn't reinvent the wheel: it's new beer that hasn't been done before. This is to bring something new to Connecticut. Rich and Alan went on to explain that the beer they make fits a profile, but is taken to extremes and then balanced carefully. Another hallmark of Shebeen beer is that they are socialized: that is they aren't massively high ABV. This is intentional (I told you 'surprise' and 'intention' were reoccurring!) to keep Shebeen as a beer that is sessionable and can be enjoyed without knocking you out flat. Despite the low ABV, the Shebeen beers are high in flavor.
As far as styles go, Shebeen has an array of varieties that all stand alone fairly well and are typically rather unique. I had the pleasure of sampling a few. First up there was the West Coast Pale Ale. This one was crisp, bright, and only slightly hoppy. Then there was the Rye Porter: a sessionable beer that is lightish with coffee overtones, a bright body, and a smooth pull. Then there was the Royal IPA. This IPA features 9 different hops which get balanced with infusions of flavor through 4 - 5 phases. The result is a complex, sweet and spicy beer that shockingly doesn't blow your socks off with too many bitters. The next IPA was the Black Hop IPA, one of my favorites of the night. This one is a cascade hop style beer that has a light-medium body, the color and tone of very dark chocolate and a hint of bitters to balance out the sweetness. The final beer was also my favorite of the evening: the Concord Grape Saison. This beer is large for Shebeen, at around 7% (due to the grapes). This beer is half saison, half more traditional beer, all brewed with real concord grapes. The fruit compliments the brightness of the saison and is all balanced with some dense sweetness. Kind of like a wine, but not really, and also not really strictly a saison: this interesting beer kept me going back for more- definitely a stand alone in a market already filled with saisons this year.
The styles being brewed currently (and so weren't on this night) were the Pineapple Wheat and the Cannoli beer. Future styles include the Double Rye Porter, Cucumber Wasabi (a Japanese rice style beer, brewed with ale yeast, so popular the test batch disappeared in a few days), Pumpkin Scotch, German Cervesa (another style not on that is immensely popular), and the Idaho IPA (a beer brewed with potato flakes- if anyone can do it, it's Rich!).
The beer is all solid (if not a bit shocking sounding at first) and, according to Rich, people are ready for the beer like this. Wolcott wanted a new brewery, and that's exactly why Rich chose this location. Location is only part of it though, to win over hearts Rich knows that he has to brew something different. According to Rich there are tons of breweries putting out good, traditional style beers. To really stand out, Rich says that there needs to be something new and enticing. Or, as Rich said, "You don't need to convince people (your beer is good), you just need to put out something better." For my personal taste Shebeen is on the cutting edge of CT beer right now. As far as I'm concerned their styles (as of now) embody what Rich wants: freshness, balance, and creativity. If you haven't tried any Shebeen yet, what are you waiting for? This is a brewery to watch, and you owe it to yourself to give Rich's crazy-good (literally) taste combinations a try! Follow me on on Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook for more brewery news, info, and beer ravings!