Beer: Rack ‘Em Up!
The Beeracks, East Haven
Armada Brewing opened up a nearby second location on River Street in New Haven in 2022.
You’re just going to have to go with me here. The path from the original Overshores Brewing to today’s Beeracks brewing collective is a bit confusing and since I’m me, I’ll probably make it overly so. At one point the following was a contentious decision, but now I think it’s accepted: for my counting/listing purposes, I consider The Beeracks one Connecticut brewery.
The Beeracks was Connecticut’s first “Brewery Collective” in a very true sense. It appears to be going strong and survived the pandemic into 2022. How did we get from there to here? Was it luck? Smart business? Bad business? Let’s try to sort it out as accurately as we can, starting with my original visit to Overshores and going forward from there…
As you can guess, none of the specific Overshoresy stuff still applies but some has been kept for historical reasons.
“Over the Highway and Through the Crazy Intersection… To Overshores Brewing We Goooo.” Fact: Overshores is right off of I-95. Another fact: It is way more difficult to get to than you’d think.
So if you’ve never been, just be sure to have your GPS/map-app/brain and wits at the ready. I may be wrong here, but as I figure it, you have to sort of go away from the highway and the major road and through a little neighborhood in order to cross back over to the northern side of I-95 to get there. It’s weird. It’s East Haven. The weirdest of the Havens.
Regardless, it is worth your effort to get to the white building with nautical flags – as long as you are familiar with, and enjoy, Belgian beers. Because Overshores (in their first year anyway), only brews and serves Belgian style beers.
At the dimly lit bar, you are offered a rather impressive choice of Belgian beers from all over. You have your Overshores beers, of course, but they also have (or had during my first visit) NEBCO 668, Delirium Tremens, La Fin du Monde, Saison DuPont, Corsendunk, Hennepin, Maudite, Duvel, and more. Fantastic. Not too many breweries were serving other breweries’ beers in 2013.
Adding to the Belgian feel of this place, Overshores was playing some old timey French songs that seemed like they were straight out of the Jazz Age. As I said, the lights are dim. The art on the walls is a mix of nautical and European. This is an attractive little tap room – with the very attractive beer list I noted. They also bring in local jazz musicians on some nights to really Europeanize this place. Cool, Daddy-O.
I ordered and went with their Tripel Brun. Hoang, a creature of habit, took down a bottle of La Fin du Monde, which we both know and love. The other visitors all expected samples and/or taps. Nope. All Overshores beers are bottle conditioned, so you have to buy a bottle. I think they may change this situation though, if only because everyone expects samples. If you want my opinion, you can’t go wrong with the brewery’s own dark beers or the Belle Fermiere saison.
Here’s more about the brewery, from the brewery:
We love Belgian beer. We love strong beers. We like funky beers. Malty, smooth, rich, crisp, the beers we love take many forms, but they are all delicious and remind us that drinking beer is an act to savor, to contemplate, and to enjoy.
We love sharing beers. All our beers are available in 750ml bottles because we believe that beers should be shared with friends, family, or even friendly strangers.
We have our favorites, but we’re also inspired by others. Craft brewing in America is one of the most collaborative, supportive, encouraging, and inspiring communities in the world. The beer fans, the brewers, the specialty wholesalers and retailers all contribute to making America the world leader in brewing quality and creativity.
We are proud to enter into that tradition, to inspire others, to excite our community about beer, and to brew the beer we love.
Overshores Brewing Company is dedicated to the Belgian style of making beers. To be “Belgian” means to never compromise on taste, richness, strength of alcohol, and enjoy total freedom in choosing ingredients. If it makes the beer better and more interesting, put it in.
Y’know, re-reading this in 2022 is kind of interesting. Collaboration, live music, guest taps… it all sort of foreshadowed, completely coincidentally, the future of this space.
This little area east of New Haven suddenly has a brewery scene. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a superhero with you when you go.
By the way, the maritime flags that Overshores is branded with? I looked them up (of course I did) and they spell out what you’d expect: OBC – Overshores Brewing Company.
That all sounds good, right? Unfortunately, it seems as though launching a small all-Belgian brewery with no sampling perhaps wasn’t the greatest idea at the beginning of the All IPA All The Time epoch of American craft brewing.
Overshores was distributed and debuted in Washington DC for some weird reason in 2014. Which, for a short time, made Overshores the furthest distributed Connecticut brand. They were usurped by Shebeen’s weird foray into South Carolina a short time later. Spoiler alert: both Overshores and Shebeen are now part of two different “Brewery Collectives” at their original homes and are no longer available outside of Connecticut.
Lesson: Don’t try to distribute far away when you are small and rather unheralded in your home state.
During this short period, Overshores made some more missteps. They gained a reputation for screwing over brewfests and restaurants hosting beer dinners featuring their beer. One infamous incident had them cancel a sold out beer dinner somewhere, citing lack of beer, on the same day they Instagrammed a photo of a pallet of beer headed for Massachusetts distribution.
Personal note: They dropped out of our first Hops for Hope Brewfest fairly late in the game – the only brewery to drop out at any point of any fest I helped put on. They were not invited to subsequent efforts.
The industry was rapidly moving away from the bottled format and European styles at the same time. I’ve always liked Overshores’ beers, but I was but a lone sailor in the night. The brewery was failing in more ways than one.
And just as the beginning of the end was beginning, a little brewery named Armada was convinced to slide into the space and use some of Overshores’ equipment. It was a quiet entry, and a risky one for Armada. Surely they knew the Overshores situation. And if they didn’t, they were about to learn…
The brewery went off the rails in February 2017, before Armada had ever released a beer. In fact, I wrote their obituary around that time; ready to publish the day they announced. (You’d think I’d learned my lesson, but I did the same thing for Olde Burnside Brewing and had to wait several months until they officially hung It up.)
They were all done. Losing money and losing credibility, owner and brewer Christian Amport stroked out and sent a mass email titled, “UNLIMITED OVERSHORES BEER FOREVER.”
Yeah, for real. Check it out… It was like a long-form drunken tweet (original text and bolding theirs):
Ok folks. Our backs are up against a wall and its time to do some crazy sh!t.
We need some dough and we need it ASAP. We are offering unlimited Overshores 4 life to the first 100 people to take advantage of this deal.
It ain’t cheap but what you get will far outweigh the cost.
Package ALPHA: For $1,000 you get : (1) 32oz Overshores SAVIOR growler which can be filled an unlimited amount of times FOREVER and a Overshores SAVIOR id card that will allow you to drink free at Overshores bar and any future Overshores bars, beer gardens, and any place that Overshores owns now and in the future FOREVER plus free admission to all events FOREVER and a free bottle of any limited bottle release we do FOREVER.
Package BRAVO: For $2,000 you get (2) 32oz Overshores SAVIOR growlers, and a BLACK Overshores SAVIOR card which will allow you and two accomplices to drink free at Overshores bar and any future Overshores bars, beer gardens, and any place that Overshores owns now and in the future FOREVER plus three free admissions to all our events FOREVER and three free bottles of any limited bottle release we do FOREVER.
*Must be 21 to purchase.
Simply respond to this email with your name, email address, and specify ALPHA or BRAVO and we’ll send you a cc form to pay securely via Square.
That right there is a legendary part of Connecticut brewery history. I remember wondering if Christian was okay. Like, mentally okay. This deal was the very definition of insane and the slapdash way this email was written was a tad worrisome for me.
I have no idea if anyone tried to take them up on this offer. The glaring absence of any sort caveats likely scared off anyone with a love of Belgian beer and a grand or two lying around. “Hey, we’re on our last legs and will likely cease business any day now, but c’mon, give us a bunch of your money anyway.”
Like I said, crazy. If I remember correctly, the offer was rescinded fairly quickly and everyone was left scratching their heads. It was at that point I put the final touches on my Overshores obituary and was ready to hit publish at a moment’s notice.
But I never had to do that…
Overshores & Armada Brewing
Overshores’ savior didn’t come in the form of alcoholics with disposable income; no, it came in the form of the gypsy brewing outfit known as The Twelve Percent Project. I don’t know how this came about, but the brand responsible for beers from breweries like Omnipollo, Stillwater Artisanal, Evil Twin, and Decadent (among many, many others over the years) descended upon East Haven from on high and infused money into the joint.
They expanded the brewspace. Added tanks and everything. Overshores and Armada were saved!
The whole thing was pretty strange back in 2017. I heard all sorts of craziness, especially as it pertained to Decadent Brewing and how the guy from there would just throw whatever random fruit and pastry and crap into the mash without any sort of oversight or proper labeling or anything.
(To this day, Decadent makes some of the most asinine “beer” on earth. Cotton Candy IPA? Sure. To list all the stomach-churning varieties of “IPAs” here would take forever, but you can have a look for yourself. Oh yeah, they were nurtured by Twelve Percent and now have their own taproom where they sell 4 packs of Butter Pecan ice cream “beer” for 20 bucks. Just not something I ever want. Like diabetes.)
Things were apparently bonkers down there in East Haven, but Armada was now up and running, Twelve Percent were doing their thing, and Overshores sort of took a break from brewing its own beer for a while. After all, they had a circus to run.
Overshores & Armada Brewing
Late-2017 to Mid-2018
Let’s talk Armada. The brewer that sailed into town on his pirate ship was John Kraszewski, aka, Johnny Armada. It’s funny looking back… back when Johnny Armada was just John Kraszewski. A nice midwestern boy, a new father, quietly brewing high quality, mostly traditional beer to be sold in large format bottles.
He defended the large bottles in interviews and stuck to his traditional guns for a while. Respect. The rollout of his Armada brand was handled pretty well; as well as any tiny brand run by one guy was doing in those days.
I had some of his early beers and I was fairly impressed. Giant thick-glass bottles were already almost obsolete in America just as Armada started distributing giant thick-glass bottled IPAs and stouts.
Poor Johnny Armada.
But he had his gimmick; his beers told some George RR Martinesque tale of pirates and mythical sea creatures. Or something like that. And Armada the brand had Johnny the man. In spite of the bottles, the “midwestern traditionalism,” and being a tiny and new “brewery” stuffed into the Overshores corner by the Twelve Percent crew and their marshmallows and pineapples… Armada made a splash.
John Kraszewski became Johnny Armada. He was his brand. He won $5,000 from Brewbound basically because Johhny willed it. Armada wanted its own space, but held off as the brand grew. At some point, the bottles faded out and the 16 ounce cans appeared. The pirates and mermaids and sea monster theme also began to fade as Armada found its footing.
Overshores didn’t brew anything during this period and its beer simply disappeared. But everything was about to change.
Mid-2018 to 2021
Twelve Percent, being Twelve Percent, left Overshores as quickly as they had arrived. That’s right, they (and Johnny) added some brewing equipment, filled ’em with Little Debbie snacks and Trix, and they absconded to Thimble Island Brewery up the road.
Where they stayed for what? Like two months? Then Twelve Percent crossed the state to brew at Veracious (of all places) in Monroe. They took over a brewery on Long Island and one up in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Decadent opened its own place. East Hampton’s popular Fat Orange Cat joined the line-up and are now distributed all over the country. And… Twelve Percent opened its own place in North Haven in 2020 – at which they brew for tons of brands, many of whom make very good beer.
Okay, so those guys are gone and now it’s just Overshores who’s not even brewing and Armada who is pretty small. But they had friends. Friends who brewed. Friends like Justin at Erector Brewing and some others. A few breweries contracted at Overshores for a short spell and Armada released some collaboration beers with Erector and others.
Someone, somewhere in all of this mess said, “Hey, let’s all stay here and let’s all brew here using our own registered brands, and help each other and use the equipment that Twelve Percent left behind for some reason and become a so-called brewery collective.” Was it Twelve Percent’s influence that led to this decision? A brilliant idea hatched by Johnny Armada or Justin Erector or Christian Overshores? Was it the marijuana?
Speaking of marijuana, what’s up with Overshores’ “new” 2019 logo?
Is it a mussel? Lips? Or something else? (I know what it is because my friend told me – it’s Long Island Sound. Purposely cropped into a mussel shape? I’ve no clue.) Overshores brews once in a blue moon. They can beer now and they make IPAs. However, during my recent visit to The Beeracks, there were no Overshores beers on tap.
Which kind of stinks. Again, this whole Beeracks thing is actually Overshores letting a bunch of other brands brew in their space. Even Armada is, to this day in late 2019, not a truly independent brewery, free of their Overshores Overlord. But really, none of that matters at all – as long as we’re not their CPA or accountant.
The Beeracks is home to a slew of breweries, and the roster may very well have changed by the time you’re reading this. There’s Overshores and Armada, sure, but let’s run through them all, as of 2022:
The granddaddy of The Beeracks. I’m not sure I have to say any more about them at this point. But Overshores is a plucky survivor who rose from the dead in 2017 to oversee what I think is a pretty successful business model in the brewery it built. Beers are few are far between now, but that may change some day. Who knows.
The daddy of The Beeracks. I forget who came up with the “Beeracks” name, and I forget which of Johnny or Christian wasn’t really down with it, but whatever. It’s supposed to invoke “Barracks” and it’s one of those things people made fun of at the outset, but now “just is.” Like the iPad… without the billions in revenue.
Armada’s brand is strong. I’ve had probably a dozen different Armada offerings over the years and they’ve all been very good to great. Armada is big into collaborations too, most often with fellow Beeracks brands of course, and most often with Erector Brewing. Armada’s branding expanded beyond the swashbuckling, ocean-faring, pirates and sirens and mermaid stuff to a broader range of beer names. This was a smart move – just as the shift from the large bottle format to cans was.
I like Johnny Armada; he’s a good dude with a good heart. Armada stuck with Overshores through its near death experience, and I’m happy to see them now rewarded with what I perceive as success.
While The Beeracks is still home base, Armada opened a taproom and smaller experimental brewery in the Fair Haven section of New Haven in 2022.
Erector Brewing Collective
The normal uncle of The Beeracks. Odd coincidence that Erector has been calling itself a “brewing collective” years before they joined an actual collective, and years before they brewed anything anywhere. Erector is all over the place; brewing here, for a very short while at the Nolo restaurant over in New Haven, collaborating with Armada here, Front Porch there…
Erector tends to stay within the bounds of normal beers, and the few I’ve had have been pretty good.
The Nolo experiment didn’t work out and after a couple years elsewhere, Erector’s Justin Maturo opened Bank and Bridge Brewing in Stonington.
The absentee aunt of The Beeracks, Rhythm is an important beer brand because it is owned and operated by a black woman. Definitely the first brewery run by a woman of color in Connecticut, and possibly in all of New England. Hats off to Alisa Bowens-Mercado and congratulations. Alisa also owns a Latin dance studio in New Haven and is quite a busy woman.
Rhythm didn’t last at The Beeracks for too long, and now the lager-only brand is contracted elsewhere. I had a can once and it was fine. I wish her the best of luck breaking through the insular world of craft brewing.
Hull’s Brewing Company
The doddering stepfather of The Beeracks… Your grandfather’s brand has come back at the Beeracks. It’s funny, Hull’s relaunch (some guy bought the rights to the name) got a decent media push and the first beer, a lager, was a slightly updated version of the old school brew. A couple years later?
Hull’s is putting out beer that the original German brewers would probably commit murder over. NEIPAs, sure, but S’mores stouts and wacky fruited sours. The lager is a lager and the newer stuff I’ve never had. Hull’s predates my time in Connecticut, but it bums me out a little bit that the market doesn’t let them stick to the classics.
New Haven Nighthawk Brewing
The weirdly obsessive cousin of The Beeracks… Not a revived beer brand, but a revived hockey team brand. The Nighthawks played in the AHL from 1972 until 1992. The Coliseum is no longer even in the city, but you know how sports fans are… they love nostalgia. So some guy created a beer brand around the long forgotten team and released a few very average beers with the imprint.
Like Hull’s original, the beer is what your old uncle would drink… except it’s way overpriced for what it is. Props to the whole “I love this AHL team no one remembers” thing, and they now have a stout and an IPA in their portfolio, but… I can’t pretend to care. Sorry.
Until they do a Beast of New Haven beer anyway.
The wacky uncle of The Beeracks… True story: When Overshores was dead and Armada was adrift – and The Beeracks model was unannounced and only known to a few – Hoax started posting stuff on social media. And, get this, everyone thought it was a hoax. For real. Like, who were these guys, why are their posts so annoying, and Overshores is dead anyway so … no one got the joke.
Because it wasn’t a joke. Hoax was – and is – real. Even if half of the beers they make don’t seem like it. Yeah, Hoax is big into all the trendy beers (and “beers”) with half the of a Whole Foods aisle thrown in the mash.
So if you’re craving strawberry ale (the absolute worst thing brewers do) or an Arnold Palmer inspired sour ale with Fresh Lemon, Pear juice and a blend of black teas, Hoax is for you. Of course, this brewing path seems to have led to success. Furthermore, I had two Hoax beers during my recent visit and…
Both were really good! The barrel-aged Sleight of Hand, a Berliner Weisse loaded up with black currants and aged for 5 months in Zinfandel barrels, was excellent for what it was. Their Long Day, Low Pay pale ale offered an antidote; a straight up good pale with proper bittering hops. I can’t get on board with all that Hoax does, but I’ve no reason to believe they don’t do it all well.
Front Porch Brewing
The brother of The Beeracks… Front Porch has its own little brewery up in Wallingford. But they don’t have a canning line and perhaps not the capacity to brew enough to distribute. Welcome to The Beeracks! All are welcome!
Situated somewhere between Hoax’s lunacy and Erector’s normalcy, Front Porch makes some decent beer and some rather bad experimentals. They also love collaborating with fellow Beeracksters. I applaud their attempts at weird sour stouts and other stuff, but I’ve been left wondering how much of that sort of thing was purposeful.
And that’s not usually a good thing.
The Beeracks 2021 –
Damn, this page is long. Way too long. And, I guess, if I want to be diligent I’ll keep adding to it as other people slide into brewing at The Beeracks. I enjoyed my visits to Overshores back in the day and I enjoyed my visit to The Beeracks more recently. The collective seems to have weathered the pandemic storm and is still going strong.
In fact, if you’ve read this page, you know that Twelve Percent has their own successful home now up I-91 from the Beeracks. Erector Brewing’s founder now has his own brewery way east up I-95. Armada has a second home a few miles down 95 in Fair Haven. Rhythm has moved on and is still doing her thing elsewhere.
The Beeracks went through a fratty period on social media that was a bit annoying at the time, but has long been forgotten. The space itself has been undergoing a bit of a transformation to become a concert space as much as a brewery. Some shows are free, and some bands are big enough to require a cover charge.
A quick scan of the 2022 line-up is impressive. The Beeracks puts on eclectic shows and if I was younger and childless and all that, this would be a go-to place for me. It’s been a crazy time for many Connecticut breweries, none more than for little Overshores in East Haven. Which still somehow brews a Belgian beer or two every so often.