You may have heard a brewmaster throw around the phrase, “beer is science just as much as it is art,” I for one am guilty of using the phrase myself. But if there is one brewery in Connecticut that embraces the science side just as much as the art, it’s the Aspetuck Brew Lab in Black Rock.
With a name like that you can see where I’m going with this, and just add the many framed depictions of beer styles with accompanying pictures and you’ll really catch my drift. But jokes aside, the Aspetuck taproom is one of the nicest we’ve encountered. Albeit small, the sleek interior design, crisp white bar top, and large windows invite a ton of natural light into the space so you can truly admire the color on that American Pale Ale.
The brains behind the Brew Lab are husband and wife team, Peter Cowles and Tara Kasaks Cowles. Peter comes from a prestigious home brewing background where he picked up medals in just about every major competition he could enter. With medals in over 18 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) categories, Peter got his big break in 2011 when his Black IPA, Sir Blackheart, was selected as Best-in-Show by Heartland Brewing Company and lead to a commercial brewing collaboration. Blackheart was picked up by two of Heartland’s New York City restaurants for a month.
Tara runs the day-to-day management side of things which is expected considering she has her MBA from Columbia Business School. Utilizing her experience in New York and Boston regarding brand strategy, advertising, package design, and retail environments, Tara brings her passion for local business to the brewery.
As far as the name “Aspetuck,” it can be traced back to the Algonquin language translating to “river originating at the high place.” The water that is used to brew the beer we enjoyed from the Brew Lab comes from the Aspetuck watershed, fed by the Aspetuck River in the hills of Redding and Easton, Connecticut. The river provides Peter with some of the cleanest water in the state, allowing him to produce the beer he makes with minimal pH tinkering.
We were excited to knock another brewery off our list and sample the offerings at the Aspetuck Brew Lab. We saddled up at the bar, buttoned our lab coats, strapped on our goggles, and began our research.
06605 Pale Ale was a SMASH beer, a term brewers use to describe a single-malt, single-hop combination. In this case, a standard Pale Ale malt and Mosaic hops were used to produce a tropical, citrus forward beer with a bready malt balance. Obviously a nod to the Bridgeport zip code where the brewery is found, we thought the 06605 was a fine leadoff beer. Laying a simple malt base down for Mosaic hops was a great call. These hops can really add a complexity to any beer they’re thrown into, whether during the boil or as dry-hopping aroma enhancers. In this case, the 06605 used them as a major player, which brought out notes of berry, tangerine, and a hint of pine.
The Southern Cross White IPA, a wheat based IPA featuring the Southern Cross hop variety breaks a lot of the stereotypes that White IPA’s have mapped out. Originally intended to be a winter seasonal beer, this White IPA toes the line and finds itself somewhere in the middle. It’s also refreshing to see breweries utilizing hops that are somewhat off the beaten path. It’s easy to feature Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, and Nelson because they seem to be the most popular at the moment. Breweries can slap “Citra Dry-Hopped” on a can of beer and it’ll sell no matter what, that’s just the way it is today. But what some people don’t realize, it’s that there are a multitude of different hops out there.
Southern Cross flies under the radar but features some of the same characteristics as its other New Zealand relatives. Bursting with lemon zest and spice, the Southern Cross White IPA is a smooth, well balanced beer that has the versatility to be enjoyed this holiday season as well as on the beach come summer time.
Pierce Ale, was an American Brown Ale brewed with 100% CT grown hops. Pioneer Hops of Connecticut in Morris has been the driving force behind almost every wet-hopped, or CT-hopped beer in the state. Breweries like Kent Falls, Black Hog, Shebeen, Pioneer, Back East, Hanging Hills, and many more have used Pioneer hops in their beers. The biggest perk about having a hop farm in your state is the ability to visit the farm, hand pick your hops, and cut down on cross-country shipping costs. In this case, Pierce Ale used wet-hopped Cascade hops meaning they were picked straight from the vine and thrown into the boil without being processed. This can only happen once per year during the harvest season, so getting the opportunity to enjoy Pierce in this form was a treat. Nutty, chocolatey, and rich, this Brown Ale was one we’d have again.
Empirical Evidence, a Double IPA was an absolute standout. Something we reference when sampling Double IPA’s is drinkability and juiciness. We’re fans of bold hop flavors that can be detected right from the start, and dry finishes that disguise the heavier ABV, Empirical Evidence does a fantastic job at both of these things. It’s very much a classic New-England style Double IPA when deconstructed. Huge citrus notes, soft mouthfeel, hazy appearance, and a lightning fast finish that leaves you wanting more. We also know that dialing in a beer like this is often overlooked, and some breweries are forces to scrap batches that don’t quite meet the standards of the hop-crazed public. Figuring all of those factors and going back for another sampler of EE, we decided to give it the Our Favorite distinction.
Pedro El Negro, a Cascadian Dark Ale / Black IPA was every part intricate as it was aggressive. With a pale malt base, the addition of specialty grains (to which their identities remain a mystery) were added to create a pitch-black appearance. Blended with several hop varieties and liberally dry-hopped, this dark IPA with a twist earned itself the Must Try distinction. Roasted notes from the grains but a blast of bitterness from the hops created a special kind of bend that we haven’t encountered much before. Weighing in over 7% ABV, Pedro El Negro pairs perfectly with your winter shoveling.
There you have it, beer crafted with science in mind, but with the creativity of an artist. The beer scene in Fairfield County has a lot to be proud of, and Aspetuck has a lot to do with it. Make sure to take advantage of the Groupon offer that’s going on before you visit. The package for two includes: two flights, two pint glasses, and one unfilled 32oz. squealer. Aspetuck’s taproom is open Thursday-Sunday for tastings, check their website for holiday hours.