Bring on the Cavalry!
[Update: 5/7/2014 – Cavalry has closed. This came as no surprise to me, despite my effusive description below. This was written back in 2010, when the CT craft beer landscape was infantile. Over time, Cavalry’s beers fell apart. I had very good experiences at Cavalry, and Mike helped out a charity event I did, and I wish him all the luck. Black Hog Brewing is moving into the space, and they’ve brought in the head brewer from Portsmouth to get things off the ground. RIP Cavalry.]
Oh, and if you’re interested in my reviews of their beers which no longer exist, go here.
Knowing a few things about how difficult Connecticut makes it on our local small brewers, I sort of put it out of my mind that new breweries would be popping up any time soon. So imagine my surprise when I found out about Cavalry Brewing out in Oxford, not too far off of I-84. I say that because as you’ll read, if you find yourself driving through the state on a Saturday, you should really stop in.
Just make sure you know exactly where you’re going, as it’s not exactly easy to find. Once you get to the office/warehouse park thing, go to the extreme left and then to the extreme back left building. You’ll be glad you did.
So how did this operation come about? Let’s ask founder and brewmaster, Mike McCreary (via the brewery’s website):
During the Great Recession of 2008 I became a casualty of company consolidation. Forced to redirect my life I decided to use my previous experiences and pursue a completely new avenue for a career path. I always loved beer. After all I am Irish so therefore it is innate. I combined my previous talents as salesperson, business manager with my background in biology, biochemistry and subsequent education in business and brewing beer seemed the logical option. I trained in Sunderland near the Scottish border in the UK and had the opportunity to work with several local breweries while training and establishing my own brewery. Cavalry Brewing came about because I wanted to tell a story about my experiences in the military and about the friends I served with in Iraq. I was on active duty for three years and in the Army reserves for 19 years before Uncle Sam thought it would be nice to send me to Iraq for a well deserved vacation in early 2003. My wife was 5 months pregnant and I was off to work as a Civil Affairs officer in Baghdad. I went over as a Major with some of my best friends. We all made it back alive despite many close calls. Please enjoy my first line of beers as a tribute to them and all soldiers who fight for this country.
I also met Mash the family dog and I’m glad for that: He kept Damian entertained for most of our visit. (You can see Damian waving to him through the door in the first picture.) Yes, that’s right – I had Damian with me to tour and taste at a brewery. What of it? Rest assured, we made the short drive over to Southford Falls afterwards and Damian had a grand ol’ time there. And so did I. Mike asked me if I would like to taste his beers and it was hard not to give a sarcastic “duh, yes,” as we made our way over to the world’s largest Keg-o-later.
A few taps poured out of the side of the fridge and I was given my first glass. All four of Cavalry’s brews pay homage to the soldiers who fought and are fighting in Iraq. I thanked him for his service and even toasted it, as I tasted my first – rather heavily poured – sample. Mike explained how his beers are all brewed in the English tradition as I drank the Hatch Plug Ale.
Hatch Plug is brewed in the India Pale ale style, but Mike admitted to me, “I’m not a hop head, so….” So yeah, this isn’t a very hoppy ale. It’s good, just not hoppy like it seems as though the entire industry is doing these days. I threw out the adjective “dry” and didn’t get anywhere with that, so I shut up and drank. The label for Hatch Plug says, “A happy tanker is a fat tanker and a real fat tanker is a Hatch Plug. This beer is named after a 1st Lieutenant that was traded for six M-16’s to another unit prior to departing for Iraq in early 2003. Hatch Plug went on to run the Baghdad airport and helped establish the telecommunications system in the region. Despite what we did to him he remains a good friend to this day.”
I’ll pretend to know what all that means and move on to tasting number two, the Dog Soldier Golden Ale. Golden ales are never “my thing,” but this one was nice and light and downright refreshing – and at only 4% ABV, safe to imbibe, which is good because once again Mike hooked me up with half a pint.
As the label says, “Dog Soldier covered the eastern Baghdad area of operations and was made famous by a reporter who published his disdain for those running the war. Despite his faux pas his performance was exemplary and he was instrumental in providing water and food to thousands of Iraqi’s in his AO. DSNQ”
AO? DSNQ? I have no idea, but that’s because I’ve been living the white collar corporate life in West Hartford and not baking in 110 degree desert heat and getting shot at for the last ten years. Regardless, you can sort of see Mike’s personal thoughts about the Iraq War a bit. I’ll let you figure out his feelings on your own. (Not that I could – or would – ever speak for him on the matter.)
Cavalry obviously doesn’t plan for little kids to wander their premises, as Damian (of course) found the GIANT stack of empty bottles. Oh man, that tower was NOT super stable and Damian was messing about all around it! If he knocked that over, I’d have owed a good chunk of money and would have had an absolutely terrified child on my hands – who might have gotten cut up in the process. From that point forward, of course I kept the boy far, far away from those bottles. (He had much more fun stepping in the sticky puddles at the bottom of the mash tanks anyway.)
I moved on to the Nomad Stout, which was simply awesome. Dry, malty and with discernible chocolate notes, I loved this stuff. I never planned on buying a growler of stout (thinking I’d go with something lighter), but there was no question that I’d be taking some of this home. I’m gonna say it… I have to say it… It… I can’t believe I’m saying it… It reminded me a bit of Guinness. Hush your mouth!
Okay, it wasn’t Guinness, because nothing but Guinness is Guinness, but they are both Irish stouts and there ARE some similarities. I’m telling you, it’s really, really good. The label? This one says, “Nomad is a good friend that led a team in eastern Baghdad with a base at the Al Rustimayah war college in southeastern Baghdad. He was the only officer in our group to be wounded and this came from an Iraqi ceiling fan. We promptly shot the fan and transported the wounded soldier to the aid station where he received three stitches.”
On the day I visited, they were down to their last keg of the Big Wally Porter. The porter was a hearty drink that Mike figured I’d like the best. I don’t know why he figured that, because I was stuck on that stout. The porter was good though and the label says, “Big Wally Porter is named after our commander in Iraq during operation Enduring Freedom/OIF 1. He was and still is an excellent leader that was even handed but, at times loud (hence the name). Through his leadership and concern for the soldier we managed to leave Iraq with many close calls but, no losses.”
I gathered up Damian and Mike filled my growler with the stout. I again thanked him for his service to our country and for his service to my refrigerator and with that, Damian and I had chalked up another Connecticut brewery.
I do believe Cavalry’s Nomad Stout is my favorite beer made in Connecticut. It was. While I still love it, this is no longer the case. Go read some other CT Brewing/beer pages.
[2014 Update: Eesh. Did I really write all that in 2011? Embarrassing. I still give Guinness props though. But as far as the Nomad Stout being one of CT’s best – keep in mind that was written at a time when New England’s Sea Hag sucked and the only other breweries around were Olde Burnside and their 2 beers at the time and Hooker. So there.]