Located at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Hartford, City Steam Brewery may be the most versatile New England gastropub. On an overnight May ’12 jaunt, my wife and I (with dog, Roscoe, in tow) stayed across the river from the “Insurance Capital Of The World” in a cheaper, East Hartford hotel, traversing the one-mile Founders Bridge to once more peruse one of Connecticut’s finest craft beer havens.
Tucked inside the bustling metropolis next to the Constitution State’s Science Center and the Victorian-styled Old State House Square and just a few blocks from Mortensen River Front Plaza, City Steam has been a haven for local citizens and curious visitors since the mid-‘90s.
Brewer Ron Page has become a staple at this capacious three-level post. A flourishing Main Street hotspot in the architecturally Romanesque Cheney Building, the exquisite wood-furnished interior features a prim upstairs supper lounge, basement-level Brew Ha-Ha Comedy Club and a ground floor sports bar (with separate right side dining area, exposed ducts and multiple TV’s). A covered side deck offers further seating.
Besides boasting a terrific array of Page’s handcrafted elixirs, there are specialty drinks, fine wines, martinis, nicely priced appetizers and enticing salads and sandwiches available alongside tasty full course dinners. Stone baked pizzas, char-broiled burgers and beef entrees top the menu. Copper brew tanks are located behind the primary Z-shaped bar at the front window and the upscale casual cuisine goes well with the diversified beer selections.
During the latest half-hour stint in May, I got a chance to sample previously untried Uncle Dunkel, a busy German dunkelweiss with sharp hop toasting contrasting sugary brown chocolate sweetness, banana-chipped fig spicing and raisin-breaded molasses buttering to its mossy peat bottom.
On my family’s initial October ’05 visit, we sat at the upstairs lounge for lunch as Big Band music played in the background. The wide-ranging beer assortment included light Belgian White ‘clone’ White Rabbit (with its spritz-y lemon-grapefruit tartness and grassy backdrop), fizzy grapefruit-embittered, corn-husked, light-bodied Colt 46, caramelized, crystal-malted, Fuggle-hopped City Steam Ale, butterscotch-honeyed, citric-softened Export Golden Lager, and dry tea-like, fig-dashed Naughty Nurse English Pale Ale.
Over the last seven years I got to enjoy many of Page’s variegated libations. Stylistically, some of my favorites included peppery-hopped, honey-glazed, lemon-candied Blonde Lager, bitterly pine-hopped, grapefruit-peeled, lemon-dried, herbal-honeyed, apricot-soured Acapulco Gold American IPA and banana-clove-sweetened, lemon-herbed, German-styled Luscious Wheat.
Mild barley-roasted, black chocolate-soured, silken-spiced, coffee-finishing Poor Richard’s Porter and Scotch-tinged, peat-smoked, Band-Aid-tongued, honey-dripped, tobacco-dried The Flowers Of Edinburg suited more experimental tastes.
Highly recommended are bitterly high-hopped, red-fruited, floral-spiced, smoke-dashed Vampire Ale and delicately exquisite French-styled Bière De Garde—a creamy Scotch-licked cognac-warmed vanilla-maple-doused conqueror.
During a March ’09 sojourn, I met Ron Page at the ground level café. While chatting, I quaffed buttery, tropical-fruited, orange-peeled, currant-embittered Carpenter’s Ale (with its tertiary apple-pear-nectarine illusions). Next, grassy-hopped, wood-dried, floral-fruited, perfume-tinged City Steam Export and fig-sugared, gourd-backed City Steam Dark Lager sufficed. Lastly, black coffee-embittered, charcoal-ashen, black tea-sashayed Deirdre Does Dublin Irish Dry Stout maintained an aggressive hop char.
Other favorites over the years include dried-fruited, cocoa-buttered, vanilla-doused Hoopla Bock and Princess Of Darkness Dark Belgian-Style Ale, a convincing banana-bruised, apple-grape-prune-soured, Merlot-Chardonnay-burgundy-wined nightcap with stove-burnt coffee reminder.
On the dark side are chocolate-y cocoa-chalked, walnut-roasted City Steam Summer Stout and the more robust Baltic Imperial-styled Pugnacious Porter, a chocolate-sweet after dinner treat with dry coffee roast soaking pureed black cherry, maple oats, vanilla, and anise illusions.
During a lunchtime break between daughter Nicki’s college tour of University Of Connecticut (to the North) as well as Quinnipiac and Albertus Magnus (to the South), I had the opportunity to grab lunch at the Goliath-sized brewpub (August ’10). Going beyond stylistic alacrity, pine-lacquered, perfume-hopped, cereal-grained Export Golden Lager set the tone for ‘experimental Belgian-styled IPA,’ Busted In Brussels, where dry-smoked Scotch malting bled into orange-spiced oaken cherry tartness and tertiary peach-pear fruiting.
And I kept coming back for more. After Easter Sunday this year, I woke up on a breezy Monday to journey once more to City Steam. This time I quaffed six previously untried brews while chomping on a nacho platter with my wife at the ground level bar.
On the light side, White Wedding, an unfiltered Belgian-styled witbier, retained a citric-fizzed lemon spritz, recessive banana-clove sweetness and mild white-black peppering. Light in appearance but not in flavor, bold Blonde On Blonde American Pale Ale could be mistaken for a brisk IPA with its lemony grapefruit-peeled bittering, resinous piney bark dryness, sneaky juniper hop prickle and humble peach-apple-pear conflux.
Strangely less bitter than the aforementioned pale ale, approachable Innocence IPA had an English-styled earthen mossiness and dried fig mustiness deepening its caramel apple snip.
On the dark side were two fine choices. Black Silk Oatmeal Stout, with its coffee-burnt dark chocolate chalking, toasted oats-honeyed molasses sapping and setback walnut oiling, maintained a mild richness.
A barleywine-styled tribute to a Jazz master, Dexter Gordon English Strong Ale spread sweet whiskey, Belgian chocolate, black grape, black cherry, plum, bourbon, molasses and cola illusions atop coarse charcoal-singed hop charred bittering.
Easily one of Connecticut’s top beer-related establishments, City Steam is a real fine destination point for any New England bound traveler, whether they drink beer or not.
Just a few short miles south of Hartford is the garage-like Relic Brewing, a tiny nanobrewery centering an industrial mall in Plainville, CT. Opened around February 2012 by entrepreneurial spirit, Mark Sigman, Relic typically serves samplers and fills growlers on site during Friday evenings from 5 to 7 p.m. And that’s when I stopped in for a quick May sojourn.
A dozen local denizens wait on line as Sigman and a few female assistants keep busy pouring some well-done Anglo-American ales. These slightly hybridized elixirs have been making the rounds across the Constitution State in recent days and several regional festivals have featured Relic’s burgeoning lineup.
Arguably Relic’s best brew, Antiquity Old Ale brought molasses-sapped maple sugaring to fig-spiced raisin and plum illusions, leaving peat-y chocolate malts in its wake. Nearly as worthy, Houndstooth Traditional English Mild gathered similar dried fruiting (raisin, plum, fig) and peat malting for a softer toned alternative with light hazelnut and almond influences.
Approachable Shipwright British Strong Ale sweetened its candied IPA-derived peach, pineapple, grapefruit and tangerine tang with pastry-like caramel malting. A supposed adjunct lager, Whiting Street proved to be a brusque medium body contrasting its fizzy grassy-hopped prickle, tart lemon-peeled bittering and herbaceous vegetal tinge against pleasant sugary malts.
Look for 22 ounce bottles in local stores and tapped versions at various statewide gastropubs. Check out relicbeer.com for more information.
For a great selection of regional and national craft beers, try West Hartford’s diminutive Harvest Fine Wine And Spirits. I found local brews such as Cottrell Perry’s Revenge, Great New London American Blonde Ale, New England 668 Neighbor Of The Beast and Narragansett Bock on an April ’12 stopover.