When Firefly Hollow Brewing Co. opened in October 2013 they were only the second brewery in the central region of the state. Relic Brewing in Plainville opened just the year before.
At that time there were approximately 12 to 15 breweries that were active in the state from 2012-2013, according to Dana Bourque, headbrewer at Firefly Hollow and president of the Connecticut Brewers Guild.
That soon quickly changed when state legislature amended the liquor laws in 2012 to allow breweries to serve beer on their premises. Prior to the new law, breweries could only give tastings and were required to obtain a liquor license in order to have a taproom.
“After that there was this cascade of breweries that started to open,” Bourque said.
According to 2016 data from the Brewers Association, the craft beer industry in Connecticut contributed $718 million to the economy. In 2016 there were 49 breweries that produced a combined 129,825 barrels of craft beer per year.
Today, there are currently 65 breweries operating throughout the state and another 49 breweries are either in the planning and construction phases or set to open shortly.
Why is craft beer so popular? Bourque thinks it’s quite simple.
“First of all craft beer is tasty. It’s also a lot of fun I think for people to be able to connect to something that is happening locally for them,” he said.
Location, location, location
While many craft breweries are located in major travel destinations like Denver, San Diego, Chicago and Boston, it’s reviving small urban cities and forgotten industrial towns.
The Associated Press in 2013 reported that the arrival of a craft brewery in urban cities were often a telltale sign a neighborhood is changing.
“From New England to the West Coast, new businesses bubbled up around breweries, drawing young people and creating a vibrant community where families could plant roots and small businesses could thrive,” Tali Arbel AP business writer wrote.
This is evident in multiple towns in Connecticut, including most notably, Bridgeport. For a number of years Bridgeport struggled with poverty and crime, even becoming national news when it declared bankruptcy before the turn of the 21st century.
Within the last several years the city has been able to turn itself around through redevelopment projects and more recently a craft brewery.
Brewport Brewing Co. opened in 2016 in a former newspaper distribution warehouse right off I-95 and is now the second largest brewery in the state - Two Roads Brewery in neighboring Stratford is the largest.
“The more establishments like this that start to pop up around the more it’s going to brighten up (the area),” Bourque said.
Due to the high costs of operating a brewery, brewers often seek inexpensive industrial spaces in close proximity to urban centers and residential districts. Proximity to major highways and routes are other factors breweries take into consideration.
“I think a huge part of it is breweries aren’t in big urban centers that are well developed already because cost of doing business in breweries is already really high so brewers are looking for these tucked away little spots where we can do our thing,” Bourque said.
Alvarium Beer Co. told The Herald in June they chose their location at John Downey Drive in New Britain because it was centrally located near the Berlin Turnpike and Route 9 as well as other breweries in nearby towns Bristol, Rocky Hill and Middletown.
Skygazer Brewing Co., a new brewery coming soon to 36 Triano Drive in Southington, chose that spot because it is centralized and has easy access from the highway in all directions, according to its websites.
In the book “Untapped: Exploring the Cultural Dimensions of Craft Beer,” Geoff Boeing, a co-author of a chapter, found that many cities have changed zoning codes and offer subsidies to make it easier to establish craft breweries.
In July, Southington Town Council approved a revision to its tax abatement policies to clear up language to enable breweries to take full advantage of coming into town.
New Britain’s Zoning Board of Appeals granted requests for variances and a special exception to four city zoning ordinances last year for Five Churches Brewery coming soon to 193 Arch Street.
When looking to establish a new brewery, owners intentionally cluster nearby other breweries, according to a recent study published in The Professional Geographer.
The collaborative environment and artisan nature of the industry creates “brewery districts,” which attracts more foot traffic and visitors who are looking to try a variety of beers.
“You see almost some craft beer pub crawls on a trail,” Bourque said. “There’s this incentive to move and see a lot of different folks.”
In 2015, MarketWatch - a financial information website - ranked Hartford/New Haven as one of 10 cities that love craft beer the most. Other cities included Portland (Oregon), Cleveland and Washington D.C.
“Since we’ve opened we’ve been getting people from New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and all over the country that come in,” Bourque said.
He said people who grew up in the area, but moved away before the brewery was in business will often stop in when they return home to visit family.
As new breweries are constantly being added in the state, some that have been around for awhile are not expanding to keep up with demand.
Last October Two Roads Brewing Company announced it will be opening a second location, - Area Two Experimental Brewing - adjacent to their main facility set to open in fall of this year. Earlier this month Stony Creek Brewery of Branford announced it will be opening a fully operational brewpub set to open in the summer at Foxwoods casino.
But it’s not just breweries that are contributing to the craze, more and more bars and restaurants specializing in local brews and beer festivals and gardens are popping up too.
On Friday the New Britain Museum of American Art held its fifth annual “Craft Sippin’ in New Britain” beer festival.
Last year the New Britain Bees stadium held a Beers in the Park event on a warm summer day before a game in August, and the city hosted the third Hops for Hope Beer Festival in September to raise money for the Smith-Magenis Syndrome Research Foundation.
In September, the Hop Knot, a bar specializing in craft beers and pretzels, opened its second location in Southington. Its first location is in Middletown.
The craft beer industry is unlike any other industry out there. Rather than competing with one another, local breweries share same goals of wanting to bring people together with delicious beer and improve the state’s economy.
“There are enough beer lovers to go around that we’re not trying to steal customers away from anybody else,” Austin Japs, headbrewer and partner at Five Churches, said.
Already established breweries also work with up and coming breweries to help fuel questions, concerns and anything else they might need.
“(The industry) is more of camaraderie than anything else,” Mike Barillaro, partner at Five Churches said.
As Five Churches was getting off the ground they received help from friends who work at different breweries across the state as well as nearby Alvarium Beer Co. who answered any questions the first-time brewery owners might have had.
“We got a lot of ‘anything you need, just let us know’ kind of thing. Not many other industries have that,” Barillaro said.
It’s not just a community atmosphere for the brewers, but also for the customers.
Breweries offer an endless array of events including live music, yoga classes, paint nights, networking opportunities, beer collaborations and tap takeovers with other breweries, stand-up comedy, game nights, charity fundraisers and more.
People are able to come together to take a break from social media and any stresses of everyday life and are able to experience more than just beer at these breweries.
“I think people are really starting to accept breweries now-a-days as more, in a sense like a community center. It’s a place where people are getting together,” Bourque said.