Ben Braddock was born and raised in Connecticut, and back in 2008 if you told him he would be the founder and owner of his very own brewing company, he probably wouldn’t believe you. In fact, Braddock was hard at work in the corporate world when he felt he had a “now or never” type moment. He quit his job and began washing kegs, working his way to the top and never looking back.
Gaining valuable experience at each brewery he worked for, it all came to a boiling point four years ago when he decided to go out on his own. Now in 2016, he is the brewmaster brains behind Hog River Brewing Company in Hartford, CT. Our state’s capital has been fortunate enough to welcome two new breweries, the other being Hanging Hills Brewing Company which is located just 5 miles away. Bringing craft beer to Hartford was important to Braddock who plans to infuse an authentic and community-oriented beer experience to the Parkville neighborhood.
Stepping into the taproom is a spectacle. The space is huge, with a seating capacity up to 75, and standing room expanding only to the limits of your imagination. Picnic tables line the floor for comfortable lounging (they don’t call it Hartford’s living room for nothing), stainless steel tanks peek over the brewhouse walls, and perhaps the most eye-catching feature we’ve encountered yet, a 20-foot machine press that towers over everything stalks you from the back corner.
These machines were used to hammer parts for the first pneumatic tires manufactured for automobiles and bicycles in the country. They’re the last remaining parts from when the building served as the space for Hartford Rubber Works, and later Pope Manufacturing Company. Not only does it fit the aesthetic of this gently modernized industrial space, but it gives a nod to the city’s proud, but somewhat forgotten history.
Sure, machines used back in the 1800’s are cool, but you know what else is cool? Beer. Five beers pulsated through the taps at Hog River on the day of our visit, and here’s what we found.
1881 Copper Ale made its debut the day we arrived. Named after the founding year of Hartford Rubber Works, the newest addition to the Hog River brewing system came out with something to prove. Brewed with a mixture of malts (pale, crystal, and Munich) to give it some mild spice character, this beer was clean and gentle. Of all the German Altbiers (“alt” is German for old), Copper Ale’s don’t seem to make much of an appearance these days, let’s hope the 1881’s strong performance leads to a change in that trend.
Flight of Crow Imperial Stout is brewed with 7 different malts, which explains this beers complexity. It has the deep roasted flavors of a stout, but finishes with a bright, almost sweet flavor that was completely unexpected. This was a tremendous display of versatility considering this stout weighs in at 8% ABV. Those expecting to find the run of the mill Imperial Stout should think twice and enjoy the wonderfully balanced Flight of Crow.
Golden Messenger Kölsh-style Ale is a classic German Kölsh brewed with Cologne malt imported from Germany. We haven’t encountered too many beers of this style in Connecticut, especially one that is brewed with malts flown in from overseas for a truly authentic experience. This beer was sharp and bright, providing just enough flavor to dance on your tongue, all while escaping in an instant. Lightly hopped with Hallertau Mittlefruh and conditioned for 3 weeks, this refreshing selection is best enjoyed out of a Beer Stein surrounded by some of your closest friends. Considering it left us wanting more and more, the Golden Messenger earned the Must Try honor.
The Local 35 IPA – Volume 1 is a palatable IPA that is dry hopped with 7 lbs. of Simcoe and Chinook per barrel. Coming in at 6.3% ABV this IPA came across a bit softer on the palate than most. We attributed that to the three different malts and a minor dosage of oats for a desirable mouth feel, while Summit, Simcoe, and Chinook give it a nice hoppy kick. While this might not be the super hazy New England-style IPA that seems to be so desirable these days, it does pack enough hop juiciness to satisfy most. Seeing as it is labeled “Volume 1” we’re excited to see what Volume 2 has in store.
The last beer on the flight was 8th Ward Brown Ale, a rendition of a classic British Brown Ale. Named after the original Parkville section of Hartford, this Brown Ale may appear to look more like a stout. Almost pitch black in the glass, hints of granola, caramel malts, and chocolate all shine through. But we applauded 8th Ward for one thing in particular, its finish. It possesses everything that a Brown Ale should; that medium bodied malt bill, the slight bitterness, and some wonderful tasting notes, but the way this beer just melts in your mouth was an absolute treat. The secret is the German noble hops that provide that silky smooth finale. With an Imperial Stout and an IPA on tap, it was hard to think at the beginning of the day that 8th Ward would come out on top, but it did, taking home the Our Favorite distinction.
Hog River is Hartford’s newest craft beer destination. Come by their Parkville location and enjoy some delicious brews, but also kick back in one of the coolest taprooms we’ve been to in a while. Soaked in history and built on passion, Hog River will be a staple in the Hartford community and beyond for years to come.