The invitation was a bottle of beer. Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, Ct., was hosting a preview day of their new experimental second facility called Area Two, and were sending shuttles to pick up guests in New York. The bottle came to Atlanta, but I was coincidentally scheduled to be visiting our New York studio this week and decided to make the journey. I was very glad I did.
Just over six years old, Two Roads has done well in some of our blind tastings, finishing in the Top 10 of Marzens and Top 20 of wheat beers. They’ve also grown into one of the largest breweries in America that was founded this decade, contract brewing for beloved partners like Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Evil Twin and Stillwater Artisinal, as well as their own impressive portfolio.
The beer started flowing as soon as we boarded our shuttle van with the aptly named Cruise Control, a Munich-style Helles lager with Hallertau hops and full-bodied malt. We also tasted a delicious Persian lime gose made with fresh-squeezed fruit juice from a local juicer, the Lil’ Heaven session IPA that packed a wallop of flavor into 4.8% and the Lil’ Juicy, which did the same at 5.2%.
Area Two is connected to the main brewery (“the mothership”) by three 1,100-ft. pipes that bring the wort from the original brewhouse, but the two locations couldn’t be more different. The brewery launched in an old steel factory dating back to the early 1900s. Area Two is a modern mixture of wood, steel and concrete. The new site is used for fermenting and aging.
Although the facility doesn’t open to the public until March 11, the five foudres and countless barrels were already full of liquid. Master brewer Phil Markowski pulled one of the new beers straight off one of the foudres for us—a delicious unnamed cherry sour made with four pounds of fruit per gallon and aging on French oak. Markowski has been brewing Old World styles and experimental beers for decades at places like New England Brewing Co. and Southampton Publick House; he’s also the author of a book on farmhouse ales.
The tap room had four finished beers: Table Terroir (a 3.7% Belgian-style table beer made with 100% Connecticut-grown ingredients), Whiskey Sour’d (a Bourbon-barrel-aged sour), Kombucha (made with Rooibos tea and sour cherry) and my favorite, Blood Peach (a fantastic lambic that I kept returning to throughout the day).
More beer showed up at lunch, including a tequila-barrel-aged version of the lime gose that took the margarita reference to the next level; Calva, a farmhouse ale aged on Calvados barrels; and a bourbon-barrel-aged cherry quad. My favorite beer of the day, though, was the Brett Noir, fermented with pinot noir grapes and Brett Bruxellensis and aged in both French Limousin oak and Napa Valley foudres. It was an exquisite blend of fruity and funky flavors that will be released in a limited run. We also opened up bottles of Urban Funk, brewed with yeasts captured during Hurricane Sandy, and Philsamic, a unique and very tasty ale aged on barrels with Balsamic vinegar added.
The pride and joy of Area Two is a 50-barrel coolship, housed in a room that opens out to the brewery’s wetland area, which will be home to exclusively native Connecticut flora. The wort will sit in the coolship, one of the largest in the country, spontaneously fermenting for two-to-five days during spring and fall months.
The founders and staff were downright giddy showing off their new toys and the types of beers they’ll be able to focus on, and rightfully so. It’s worth the journey about 90 minutes from Manhattan to experience both new innovations and old European traditions at a brewery with a love of both.