BY HUGH BAILEY
Hearst Connecticut Media
It wasn’t long ago that Connecticut’s brewery scene amounted to a scattered handful of beer devotees.
Today, the numbers are rising and the popularity exploding, culminating in an event called BeerConn, to be held at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena on Saturday.
Up to 25 Connecticut breweries will be featured, with almost as many from out of state, in an event that celebrates local brewing with beer tastings, a seminar on the state of the industry and more. As many as 4,000 people are expected to attend.
“It will be much more than just people standing around drinking beer,” said Curt Cameron, who is president of Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. and leads the Connecticut Brewers Guild.
As recently as five years ago, fewer than 10 craft breweries existed in the state. That number has more than tripled, Cameron said, and BeerConn is designed in part to help promote the industry. “Connecticut is 33rd in the nation in breweries per capita,” Cameron said. “We were late to the game, but we’re coming on strong.”
Breweries around the state come in all sizes, he said. “They run the gamut, from Two Roads (in Stratford) with millions of dollars and a massive facility, and others that are more bootstrap, people saving their money to buy some equipment.
“Connecticut is starting to get some great respect, but you have to make good product consistently before the consumer says, ‘You know what? This is good stuff.'”
BeerConn will consist of two sessions, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets – $35 in advance or, if available, $45 at the door, plus taxes and fees – are sold separately for the two sessions. Go to beer-conn.com/tickets.html.
Parking is $10. No children or pets are allowed, and the event will end promptly at closing time. Food will be sold.
Designated-driver tickets are sold for $10. Those ticket holders will receive a bottle of water but are not permitted to sample any beer. Taxi service and public transit are also available.
Everyone paying regular price will receive a tasting glass to try 2-ounce samples of each beer. There also will be buckets available if the taste isn’t quite right.
“There will be a heck of a lot of beers,” Cameron said. “You’ll be able to try just about every kind of Connecticut beer out there. We hope people will say, ‘Hey, Connecticut, look at what’s being produced here at home.'”
Starfish Junction Productions is organizing the event, and owner Andy Calimano said a good turnout is expected. “It’s a little hard to predict since it’s the first festival, but the whole craft brewery community has been very supportive,” he said.
The festival will be in Bridgeport because of Webster Bank Arena’s connection to the New York Islanders hockey team.
“We were recruited by the venue because we had worked at Nassau Coliseum (home of the Islanders). After we put on a successful beer expo at the coliseum, we were invited up here,” Calimano said.
Planning has already started for BeerConn’s return next year, Calimano said.
“The Connecticut scene has really exploded,” he said. “This will be a celebration of how far the Connecticut craft beer industry has come.”