Cambridge House Beer Company
Not in Granby, Not in Naugatuck, No longer in Holyoke, Now in Williamsburg, MA, Now…
[September 2014: I have a strong feeling this contract operation has thrown in the towel. But I have no direct evidence of such a thing. (Lots of circumstantial, like a disappeared facebook page, bargain carts of their beer at Crazy Bruce’s, and stuff like that.)]
Barrel Series, such as it was:
[Update to the below: So there I was, up at Cambridge House Brewpub the other day and on tap was the Cambridge House Beer Company’s Big Hoppy. So it’s quite apparent that whatever rifts there have been over the last few years between the brewpub’s owner and the bottling company’s owner have been smoothed over – IF there was even a rift to begin with. So as you read this page, keep in mind I’m dumb and have no ties to either entity at all. While I stand by what I’ve written, please know that there doesn’t seem to be ill will between the parties. And really, it kinda makes sense to have the contract brewer of the same name on tap… sort of.]
Hoo boy. Put your thinkin’ caps on, as this page requires a level of concentration heretofore unknown on these beer pages. This is a rather confusing situation – partly intentional and partly accidental. If you want to have some fun, go to your favorite search engine and type in various combinations of “Cambridge House Brewery Brewing Beer.”
That was fun, now wasn’t it? If you poked around, just on the first page of hits alone, you found no less than four different entities. It may have looked like just two or three, but no, it was four.
There is the Cambridge Brewing Company up in Massachusetts. They make and distribute beer.
Intimately related to them is the Cambridge Brewing Company brewpub.
Then, of course, we have the Cambridge House Brewpub in our very own Granby. A place I’ve enjoyed quite often as it isn’t too far from where I work in Windsor. Here is a page about my visit(s) there and here are a bunch of reviews of their beer.
If you read my page about the actual brewpub, you’ll start to glean that once we narrow our focus to just Connecticut, the picture does not become any more clear. Folks, we have a mess on our hands. That’s FIVE different websites for three different and distinct businesses with the same name, and we haven’t yet reached the Cambridge House Beer Company – about whom this page is about.
I am a professional researcher. It’s what I do. No, not for CTMQ as this site is (obviously) a purely recreational pursuit of mine. As such, I’m afforded the opportunity to form and publish my own unvarnished and untainted opinions of everything in the state on these electronic pages.
Okay. Follow me here… My name is Steve. The current owner of the Cambridge House Brewpub in Granby is Scott. A former owner of the CHB is also named Steve. You can drink CHB’s delicious Three Steve Stout at the brewpub owned by Scott or CH Beer Co’s Three Steve Stout in bottles from the company owned by Steve. CH Beer Co’s Steve IS one of the Three Steve Stout Steves – Steve Boucino. (The other two Steves are his father Steve and former brewmaster at the brewpub Steve Schmidt, who no longer works there, but whose recipes Steve Boucino owns.) You may be able to drink Three Steve Stout at the Backstage in Torrington, which used to be the Cambridge House Brewpub Torrington until Steve’s brother and he, to a degree, ran it into the ground through barroom brawling and tax avoidance. (The head brewer at the Torrington location was named… wait for it… Steve. Steve Luke.)
But I – this Steve – digress.
This part is important: Cambridge House Brewpub in Granby is not associated professionally in any capacity with Cambridge House Beer Company, despite the fact that the CH Beer Company co-opts much of the branding from the brewpub and sells a few beers that fans of the brewpub readily associate with the brewpub – the Kolsch and the aforementioned Three Steve Stout.
A real mess.
So, how did we get to this point? I’ll try to piece it together but can’t promise all this is 100% accurate. In my profession I work a lot with confidence levels and I never publish anything below a 95% confidence level. So let’s go with that.
Steve Boucino used to own Cambridge House Brewpub (with another Scott – Scott Scanlon) from the beginning in 2005. Boucino created a bit of a stir in 2007 when he took on the state’s archaic blue laws, pushing to allow brewpubs to package and sell their beer. Kudos to him.
[Interesting – I swear! – aside: If you poke around his company’s facebook page today, you’ll find him celebrating victory regarding this fight. And it was, and still is, a worthy victory. I just spent far too long sifting through the bill and its endless amendments here. Included was the provision that allowed our farm wineries to sell at farmer’s markets, if you care. But here we are, 6 years later, and none of our brewpubs actually sell bottles or cans of their own making at their brewpubs. I think this bill also allowed for them to finally sell growlers – up to 8 liters a day only though! In reality, City Steam contracts at Two Roads. SBC contracts at Hooker. Willibrew, who would make a killing, doesn’t do it it at all. And as you’ll read, Cambridge House, the very beer being celebrated as the beer that is bottling and selling, actually isn’t even involved in the CHB labeled bottles at all… despite the crowing. It’s all so weird to me.
Of course, brewpubs can’t devote space to bottling or canning lines, but get this, brewpubs can’t sell the beer they brew into kegs or logs anywhere but in their brewpub through their taps. City Steam is opening a restaurant near my house and I’ve been told straight up that unless the laws change, they absolutely cannot sell me their beer brewed in their Hartford brewpub – but they CAN sell me their beer in bottles and through their tap lines that they contract brew down in Stratford at Two Roads. Good times.
At least if and when you do enjoy a CHB bottle and notice the #7138 thing on their label, now you know what that means – it was House Bill 7138 that allowed brewpubs to sell their beer in bottles. Even if in reality none are actually doing that yet in 2013.]
He expanded the CHB empire west to Torrington in March 2008. By most accounts, the Torrington location was pretty terrible. Terrible service, terrible food, sketchy all around. This was perhaps due to Boucino’s issues back in Granby – and these weren’t small issues either. Keep reading.
One night in September 2009, Boucino’s brother Todd, who managed the Torrington joint, got a little goofy and sucker punched some other guy outside of the Torrington location and was arrested. You can read all about that here but it’s not really germane to this whole story. So perhaps it’s unfair to mention that Todd Boucino, who again really has nothing to do with the brewer(ies) these days, was arrested a couple other times for drugs and robberies and stuff in Hartford and Windsor Locks.
And it’s probably really unfair to bring up Todd’s 1997 classic “spectacularly unsuccessful” bank robbery in Miami Beach, Florida. My man attempted to rob a NationsBank branch, sticking his finger in his pocket to simulate the appearance of a gun. Taxi drivers refused to pick him up, in light of the commotion, and several off-duty police officers gave chase. The officers had plenty of reinforcements on hand, as the bank branch was within blocks of the local police headquarters.
Let’s hope he is turning it around. There are other articles and personal ads and stuff out there, but really, you get the point… such as it is.
A few months after Todd’s assault arrest, Steve Boucino sold the Granby location in December 2009. And whoops! tax records show that Boucino and the rest of the restaurant’s owners owed $272,237.03 in back taxes to Granby and the state of Connecticut. I have no idea how this got sorted out, or even if it HAS been sorted out.
Then things really fell apart and the Torrington location “unexpectedly” closed in late summer, 2010 – completely unannounced.
Around this time I started patronizing the Granby location and the new owner, Scott Riley, started peeling back the onion for me. I want to be clear here: Scott Riley never once ever disparaged Steve Boucino to me. (I’ve never actually spoken with him in person.) He merely wanted to set the record straight with me that the current owners of the CHB in Granby are not connected in any way to the old owners, one of whom sells the bottled beer. Once, after I mucked up the details of the above events on an earlier page, he commented on this very website, stating, “Please dig deeper, especially when listing the crimes of the previous owners and managers who have no current connections with the current operations.”
Certainly a fair request; I hope I’ve done that here.
Next question: Why the confusion about the name? Boucino owns the rights to the name. Fair enough. He’s doing all that he can with that name and label, doing everything he legally can to associate his bottled beer with the successful brewpub without explicitly saying he’s associated with the current brewpub. Props for tenacity, oh so close to mendacity, I guess.
If you care, the successful Granby brewpub is actually legally called Bradley Brew Pub LLC and no longer the Cambridge House Brewpub. I don’t know why they don’t just change the name… but I’m sure there are very valid and important reasons.
So Boucino marches onward. He’s done a great job of marketing and his Anheuser-Busch distribution network is pretty darn good. I picked up two bottles of his all the way down in Woodbridge. He airs ads on the radio, complete with dubious claims about being the most highly decorated brewery with medals at certain beer festivals and such. (I don’t care to check those claims out, because every brewery wins awards at those things and who knows what nuanced difference can be cited.)
And, like every contract brewer, Boucino says that he and his new partner are looking to build a brick and mortar brewing facility of their own in the next couple of years and have their sites set on their hometown of Naugatuck. Stony Creek, Charter Oak… All these guys say the same thing for some reason.
Boucino said, “If there was a redevelopment plan in Naugatuck that had some great backing with some of the great incentives that breweries in other areas such as Hartford are getting, then that is something we would definitely love to explore.”
Perhaps Naugy is aware that he once owed over a quarter million dollars to one of the previous towns he operated in? And what incentives is Hartford providing? Especially since there have been no new breweries there since forever? And the two of the three most recent brewpubs have ceased operations in Hartford. (The state has, of course, provided small business grants to a few breweries like Back East.)
Oh yeah, the beer he bottles follow the beer that the brewpub is most famous for – their kolsch and their oatmeal stout. The brewpub’s kolsch has won all sorts of awards, yeah, and I’m not sure if Boucino is following on THOSE awards when marketing his own kolsch? But legally, he probably can do that since I guess it’s the same recipe and he owns the recipes.
But I’m not done confusing you yet! When the bottles first started rolling out, with the Three Steve Stout and the Big Hoppy IPA, they were contract brewed at Paper City in Holyoke, MA in 2012. Now, the contracting operation has moved over to Opa Opa in Williamsburg, MA for 2013. Certainly a step up, that’s for sure.
Alright, there you have it. The whole sordid tale, told to the best of my (limited) ability. Over the last year or so, I’ve heard grumblings about the rift among the regulars at the bar in Granby. I’ve seen Boucino’s posts on facebook and the CT Beer Trail.
Again for clarity and for the skimmers: Cambridge House Brewpub in Granby has nothing in the world to do with the Cambridge House Beer Company bottles. The other two brewpubs who currently contract bottle their beer, SBC and City Steam, DO own their bottles. The Cambridge situation is a rather unique situation.
Steve Boucino’s brother’s actions are his brother’s actions. I don’t know enough about the tax evasion thing to really say anything pertinent about it. I don’t really know why he sold the Granby pub or why the Torrington location shut down out of the blue. He owns the CHB imprint and uses that legally for his own profit. I do quibble with the intentional attempts to portray his beer as being brewed at the brewpub, but anyone with a keen eye for labeling or an ear to the CT craft brew scene knows the score.
The bottom line is that the CH Beer Company currently sells four beers, and for the most part, they are pretty good. Boucino’s even doing some sort of thing with barrel aging in Knob Creek barrels and selling only at the two Liquor Depot locations. I find that compelling and will certainly do my best to score a bottle. Of course, if that gets publicity, it should certainly cause anyone who doesn’t know the story to question why his big single batch limited release is at a liquor store in New Britain and not “his” brewpub in Granby.
I have no ill will towards anyone mentioned on this page and I hope no one gets the idea that I do. Every once in a while I write a page that has never been written before, and I think this may be one of them. Lots of people knew little pieces of this story, but not many had put the whole thing together like this before.