Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bike and Brew: Beer'd Brewing Company

The last time I did a Bike and Brew ride, it was just about the last day where temperatures were comfortable enough for casual biking. I was rewarded with a beer from the Outer Light Brewing Company and a massive hamstring cramp which announced itself at the dinner table.

During the beautiful sunny weather we got this past weekend, I decided it was a perfect time to do the first Bike and Brew of 2017. I had a choice of five remaining brewing destinations within a biking day trip of New London (four more are in the works). Once again I went east, this time with the goal of visiting the Beer'd Brewing Company in Stonington, Connecticut.

And once again, this required a trip over the Gold Star Bridge. It's still ugly, it still looks out over the less interesting part of the Thames River, and it's still too narrow to accommodate two bicyclists going in opposite directions. The bridge is slated for some major improvements over the next five years. The sidewalk will be open for much of the construction period, but apparently not subject to any upgrades.

On the plus side, the view north wasn't quite as dismal as it was on the gray day when I started this series. The Coast Guard Academy's sailing team was out and about during the crossing, and you could see up to the slowly blossoming hills of the river valley.

Somewhat counterintuitively, biking toward the shoreline requires you to head away from it when you first get off the bridge. Shoreline routes in this region hug the coast, lengthening the ride considerably. Plus, getting there would involve a scary ride down one of Groton's strip mall thruways.

It's easier to head through a quiet suburban neighborhood instead and hop onto Route 184. This road has a wide breakdown lane, is fairly flat, and offers a reasonably straightforward path to the Mystic/Stonington area. The only downside is that it's populated mostly with blocky business buildings and similarly blocky churches that apparently think aesthetically pleasing architecture is an affront to God.

First Baptist Church of This Used To Be A Linoleum Warehouse or Something

The suggested route continued along this highway, but it's much more rewarding to abandon it for the scenic route. I wound up taking some back roads past a small farm with enormous piles of firewood for sale as well as the trailhead for the Pequot Woods, a 140-acre parcel of preserved land not far from downtown Mystic.

Deviating from the suggested route also gives you an opportunity to check out Mystic, crown jewel of tourism in the region. If you hop off at Route 27 instead, you go past attractions such as the Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium, and the impressively misspelled Olde Mistick Village shopping center. The way I took led directly into downtown Mystic.

Mystic is actually one of the innumerable villages of Groton, at least until you get past the Mystic River. It's a pleasant stretch of shops, restaurants, and art galleries, all leaning heavily on the maritime theme. There were already some pretty big crowds out enjoying the sunny weather, and it's certainly a nice place to stop for a rest on an extended bike ride.

Getting off the bike in Mystic also avoids the hazard of riding over the famous Mystic River Bascule Bridge. The bridge will turn 100 in 2020, and is distinguished by enormous concrete counterweights on the western side. It looks like the steel deck would be a little jarring to ride across, and you'd be hemmed in by parked cars on either approach. It's more pleasant to walk your way across; you might even join the legions of people getting a cone at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream and enjoy it in nearby Mystic River Park.

The easiest way to get to Stonington from Mystic is to take Route 1. It quickly sheds its traffic lights and troublesome intersections, becoming an open highway with rolling hills and generous breakdown lanes. I was tempted to take a side road which crosses a causeway onto scenic Mason's Island and goes from there across another crossway to Ender's Island, but left those water views for another day

Stonington Borough is a skinny peninsula extending into Long Island Sound. The first time I went there, I came to the conclusion that it was exclusively populated with real estate offices, jewelers, and architects (and the occasional restaurant and plenty of expensive homes, of course). It hasn't really changed since. There isn't much room for cars and bikes to coexist, but the speed limit is low enough that drivers probably won't mind if you cruise along Main Street.

Getting to the tip of the peninsula rewards you with an expansive view of the sea as well as a monument recollecting Stonington's minor but proud role in the War of 1812. The town was able to repulse a bombardment by four British ships in the summer of 1814, holding out for four days with the modest defense offered by a pair of cannons. Artifacts related to this battle are displayed in the Stonington Historical Society, housed in a nearby lighthouse; the cannons are kept in the aptly named Cannon Square near the middle of the Borough.

The map shows an intriguing shortcut out of the Borough toward the Beer'd Brewing Company along Elm Street, although I trusted Google Maps' advice to take the long way around. Turns out the Elm Street way is a secluded walkway over the railroad tracks, which wouldn't be too fun to haul a bike over.

The Velvet Mill is a rambling brick structure located in a residential neighborhood in Stonington. The business got its start in the town because a malaria epidemic forced a Long Island company to look for other locations for its velvet weaving and dying operations. The mill once housed hundreds of looms and employed 450 people, but after its closure it became a haven for artists. It has now been subdivided into dozens of spaces housing businesses such as art galleries, photographers, metal workers, boutiques, and even an organ restorer.

While several breweries have started up or are underway in southeastern Connecticut today, there wasn't much of a scene as recently as five years ago. The Cottrell Brewing Company in Pawcatuck, a place I'll visit for a future entry, had been a mainstay since 1996. Aaren Simoncini apprenticed at Cottrell before opening the Beer'd Brewing Company in 2012 with partner Precious Putnam. The brewery had the misfortune of opening right after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, forcing them to rely on an emergency generator for their early batches. Luckily, Beer'd got past this initial hurdle and has been thriving ever since.

Before the taproom opens for the day, Beer'd hides behind a large sliding door with the company's logo, which features Simoncini's beard. The taproom occupies the front end of the room, with a scattering of individual tables and one family style tabletop in the center. The brewery is constantly whipping up new batches, and the bartenders are kind enough to give you a sample of whatever's on tap that day.

Beer'd posts its daily offerings on Facebook, and I was hoping to get a Nano-A-Nano, a Belgian style black IPA, but it had already sold out. Several other taps had kicked or were offered for growlers only, so my choices were fairly limited. I opted for a This Side of Paradise, a rather strong IPA (9.3 percent ABV) with a bitterness that was nicely balanced by the fruit notes.

For my return trip, I opted to stick with the directions that had been suggested on the route out. This once again took me away from the coast and through the small hamlet of Old Mystic. As with most New England villages, this involves a cluster of sites that are important to the community or at least were at one point. This picture of the general store cozying up to the post office about sums it up.

Most of the route back to New London was retracing the route along Route 184. I took this photo near the entrance of a small apartment complex, at about the time I was starting to feel the combined effects of the double IPA, treacherous westward winds, and a slowly increasing elevation. I eventually got a second wind and made it over the bridge, feeling quite rubber-legged by the time I got home but none the worse for wear.

Mileage total: 31.27 miles

Previous Bike and Brew outings:
Outer Light Brewing Company

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