The taproom at New Park Brewing in West Hartford officially opens on March 25, 2017.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford officially welcomes its first craft brewery on March 25, with the long-awaited opening of New Park Brewing at 485 New Park Ave.
The launch of New Park Brewing marks the culmination of a journey that has been brewing – in more ways than one – for years. It’s been a years-long process for the Town of West Hartford as well as for New Park Brewing co-founder John Doyle who has a “day job” in the financial services industry but has wanted to own a brewery for at least five years.
It took an amendment to a zoning ordinance, the right space, and the right team – and of course the right beer.
In September 2015, the West Hartford Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance change permitting craft breweries in industrial zones, paving the way for Doyle’s plans to progress. Doyle said that Zoning Enforcement Officer Brian Pudlik has been very helpful as everyone is learning together what it takes to open and operate a brewery in West Hartford.
The beer was the “easy” part.
Doyle said that he met Alex Dee about three years ago when a friend who works at Max Burger contacted him and said, “This kid brought in some samples. You should meet.”
Dee, who had just finished a master’s program in biomedical science at UConn, was beginning work on his PhD. He was also brewing 5-gallon batches of beer on the stove in his own kitchen using a home brewing kit he bought at Brew & Wine Hobby in East Hartford.
Doyle tasted Dee’s honey IPA. “It was fantastic, amazing,” he said. Dee is now head brewer and also a co-founder of New Park Brewing, and the honey IPA recipe has become New Park’s “Hopiary,” the brewery’s double IPA that features “”flavors of toasty oats, floral honey, tropical fruit, and pine needles.”
“I had fallen in love with brewing,” Dee said. Once the two decided to start the brewery, Dee dropped out of the PhD program, and went to work at Hooker to learn about bigger brewing systems than what he was doing on the stovetop. He was up front with Hooker management about his apprenticeship status, Dee said.
“We started entering the beer into competitions,” Doyle said, and it was well-received. Cloudbreak, New Park Brewing’s hoppy IPA brewed with flaked and malted wheat, that includes “notes of grapefruit and cantaloupe,” has been a competition winner and is very easy to drink, said Doyle.
Tom Atkins, the brewery’s third co-founder, joined the team about a year after Doyle and Dee met. “I was looking to bring in another partner, and Tom was a huge beer guy,” said Doyle. “He’s a natural host, and passionate about beer. We’re all big fans of New England IPAs.” Like Doyle, Atkins also has a day job in financial services. Dee is now committed full time to New Park Brewing.
A logo, business plan, and financing were put together.
“The hardest part was finding a location,” said Doyle. It needed to be in an industrial zone, with high ceilings, and have enough parking. It took two years to find the right space.
“We put in offers to buy two different buildings, and looked at about 30 to rent,” said Doyle.
“Being in West Hartford, that was one of the non-negotiable points.” Doyle, Atkins, and Dee all live in town, have kids in the schools, and were committed to West Hartford. The lease for the 485 New Park Ave. space was finally signed in September 2016.
Set in a former ball bearing factory, New Park Brewing’s setting has an industrial vibe that’s the perfect accompaniment for the beer. In addition to Cloudbreak and Hopiary, New Park Brewing will initially be pouring a hoppy and easy-to-drink American pale ale called “Foliation” (flavored with lime zest, passion fruit, and orange juice). They also have an oatmeal porter, “Carbon,” which is brewed with “flaked oats, munich, caramel, and roasted malts,” and contains notes of “Belgian chocolate, coffee, toasted oats, and a hint of dark cherry.”
Dee said he soon wants to start doing some barrel aging – “to coax the complex flavors out of the beer.”
The interior of New Park Brewing comfortably seats 80 – with standing room for plenty more – at a combination of counter-height “gathering tables” and 16-seat communal tables. All are finished in deep yet warm wood tones, and the taproom also includes plenty of brass and other metallic accents.
The 23-foot bar is made from a solid piece of American Chestnut – a tree which doesn’t even grow in the U.S. anymore. It was salvaged from a barn in Massachusetts and crafted by Strout Millworks in Broadbrook, CT, a business that specializes in reclaimed wood.
At the end of the bar where the taps are located is a wood mosaic that covers the sides of the walk-in refrigerator that holds the kegs. It’s also made from reclaimed wood – kiln-dried end pieces. Carpenter Nick Bronitskiy designed and built the mosaic.
The building was constructed in the late 1800s and the original concrete floor has been retained – although it’s now buffed to a shine and sealed, sparkling with natural metallic flecks.
As preparations for the opening are finalized the white walls are still bare, but Doyle said that plenty of art will soon be in place. Some of the other businesses at 485 New Park, like Blaze & Bloom and Old Crow Vintage, are helping source just-right pieces for the space.
Doyle said that the space required plenty of infrastructure upgrades to prepare to house the brewery. New Park Brewing redid the restrooms in the entryway, built two additional exits, and added all new plumbing and electrical systems. The plumbing work involved digging up a section of the floor from one end of the 2,500 square foot space to the other to accommodate a new drain.
Once the weather warms up a 400 square foot outdoor patio will be completed and add another 30 seats. The parking area is being re-striped so that spaces won’t be lost to the patio.
Beginning at noon on Saturday, March 25, patrons can sample the first batches New Park Brewing’s beers in 12- and 16-oz. glasses. The grand opening, which will be both Saturday (noon-10 p.m.) and Sunday (noon-5 p.m.), will also feature food provided by renowned local food trucks Mercado and Yardbird & Co.
Patrons will also be able to take some beer home in 34-oz. flip-top growlers. Doyle said they considered larger growlers, “but for the types of beer we make – that are very hoppy – it’s important to drink them fresh.” Once a growler is opened, it should be finished the same day. Additional packaging options will be added once the business is more established, Doyle said.
New Park Brewing will initially be open Fridays (4-10 p.m.), Saturdays (noon-10 p.m.), and Sundays (noon-5 p.m.). Hours may eventually be expanded.
They will often have food trucks on site, and Doyle said he has interest from a number of food trucks including West Hartford-based Iron & Grain. Serving food is not a requirement under the zoning ordinance, and patrons are also welcome to bring their own food onto the premises at any time.
Although only those who are 21 and older can sample the beers, Doyle said the taproom is family friendly and kids are welcome.
The brewery is designed so that it can be expanded, but for now the capacity is limited to what the fermenters can hold. The multi-step process begins with the hot liquor, moves to the mash tun, then to the boil kettle, and then to the fermenter where it sits for about 10 days to two weeks, depending on the type of beer. The beer then moves to the brite tank – and gets carbonated (which takes about four hours) – before being poured into kegs.
The brewery is a “7-barrel system,” Doyle said, translating into roughly 210 gallons or 14 half-kegs that can be brewed at once. “It’s very small for a commercial brewery, but it allows us to use the best ingredients,” he said.
Doyle said New Park Brewing will also be part of a CSA with Sub Edge farm, with sign-ups taking place in the next few weeks. The farm basket will include two growlers, produce from Sub Edge, bread from Sweet Acre, and cheese from Mystic Cheese. Pick-ups will be at New Park for nine weeks this summer.
New Park also plans to give back to the community. They already partnered with Savoy for a donation to the Journey Home Gala, and plan a donation to the JDRF gala as well. The space can be used for to host fundraisers as well.
“What’s cool about this type of business is it’s a real, tangible thing. People are excited about it,” said Doyle. That excitement even extended to the UPS driver who dropped off a box New Park Brewing car magnets during the interview. In addition to magnets, there will also be hats for sale.
“Breweries are becoming a community gathering spot. They fill a void that often gets lost these days with social media,” said Doyle.
“We named this New Park Brewing because we would drive up and down this corridor looking for a space,” Doyle said, and the name is ideal for the location in West Hartford’s up-and-coming neighborhood. He’s looking forward to plans for upgrading the corridor’s sidewalks, pedestrian and bicycle access, and mass transit. The Flatbush Avenue CTFastrak station is directly across the street.
Town Planner Todd Dumais worked on the ordinance change in 2015. “I’m so excited to see the Town Council efforts from about two years ago finally coming to fruition with the opening of the first brewery in town,” he said.
For more information about New Park Brewing, follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@newparkbrewing).
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!