The latest addition to the county’s microbrewery scene has been an unexpectedly long time coming – but, its owners say, will be worth the wait.
“We started construction in April and said we’d be open by the end of the year. We should have known better,” laughed Mark Lennon, a partner in Newtown’s NewSylum Brewing Co. with Mark Tambascio and David Kingsley.
“We had to wait on permits, and then we had problems with this being an old building, like a leaky, creaky, 90-year-old floor that needed to be replaced.”
The brewery has taken over the 9,000-square-foot Stratford Hall at 36 Keating Farms Ave. in Fairfield Hills. The 185-acre campus was originally the site of a state psychiatric hospital, with Stratford Hall its library and executive dining hall. NewSylum is the first for-profit commercial tenant at Fairfield Hills, with First Selectman Dan Rosenthal hoping that others will follow.
Lennon said that, after promises that the 15-barrel brewery would be open in November, then February, it finally hopes to debut in mid-April.
A recent visit found much of the operation’s features in place. A pair of 20’ x 40’ rooms at either end of the 60’ x 44’ main area will probably serve as lounge/game rooms, with three restrooms more or less finished and many of the design elements – including two bars and a central pizza oven – already in place.
Lennon said NewSylum will have a capacity of about 100, with 75 seats scattered around the main room, whose arched 26-foot ceiling maintains something of a regal ambience. Five 6’ by 12’ palladian windows on each side keep things airy; Lennon said one of them will effectively serve as a kind of take-out window for patrons sitting on the outside patio and surrounding grounds.
Vermont Danby marble – and walls painted to approximate that look – is utilized throughout the building, with some of it and other building materials sourced from long-vacant buildings on the campus with the town’s blessing.
“Newtown and Dan have been very supportive of us,” Lennon said. “Even the permitting, which a lot of people say takes too long, went pretty smoothly.”
The town, which retains ownership of the property, spent about $180,000 through existing bond money on remediating and replacing the building’s original roof as well as providing utility connectivity and exterior window trim work. The brewery has a 30-year lease at the building.
As opposed to most area microbreweries, NewSylum will make and sell food – though that will be limited to 10-inch pizzas and large German pretzels baked in its Forza Forni wood-fired oven.
“Mark (Tambascio) has something like 30 years of pizza-making experience” at the family-owned My Place at 8 Queen St. and at Tambascio’s Italian Grill at 1 Dodgingtown Road, both in Newtown, Lennon noted. “We didn’t want to have a full kitchen, but we didn’t want to not take advantage of that. Plus pizza and beer go hand in hand.”
The connection between the three partners has overlapped for years: Kingsley’s DJ Kingsley Design/Build is the architect for the new space and helped build My Place’s beer bar, which Lennon oversees. Lennon’s cousin Dave Linari, who has been assistant brewer and woodworker at Oxford’s OEC Brewing, is joining NewSylum in both capacities, with John Watson serving as brewmaster.
Others contributing to NewSylum include painter Jerry Birdsall, design consultant Joe Viola, and local artists Paula Brinkman and Dave Brooker; the latter provided a signature “splatter paint” design for the pizza oven’s exterior and select tiles around the bar.
As for the all-important brews, Lennon said NewSylum will offer 12 at a time – six at a separate tap tower by the take-out window — in a range of varieties. With the mania for IPAs showing signs of slowing down, he said the output would include a number of lager variations, including Czech-style pilsners and German-style helles. “They have a clean, European finish,” Lennon said. “We want to have something that the everyday beer drinker would like.”
Besides what he called “constant questions from thirsty Newtowners about when we’re opening,” Lennon said the brewery’s name has also been a subject of curiosity. Originally called Asylum, the partners changed it to NewSylum after Asylum Brewing Co. of Anaheim got wind of their plans.
“They were really nice about it,” Lennon allowed. “But obviously we had to come up with something else. And we think this is a better name, because it refers both to Newtown and a new beginning.”
Both names raised the eyebrows of some locals who perceived a less-than-respectful attitude towards Fairfield Hills’ past, but Lennon said that was not the case.
“We don’t take the building’s history lightly,” he said. “But we’re also not running away from what this place was. ‘Asylum’ means ‘place of refuge’.”
He further said that the brewers discussed the name with the nonprofit Resiliency Center of Newtown, a community wellness nonprofit born in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, and REACH Newtown, a mentoring and tutoring academy, both of which gave their blessings to the moniker.
“We’ll probably set it up so that a portion of our proceeds will go to mental health advocates,” Lennon said. “It’s something we really believe in. And community is something we’re all about.”
NewSylum will be open Wednesdays through Sundays.