O ver in East Haven, young upstart Overshores Brewing Company is doing things a little differently. Actually, a lot differently: it’s Connecticut’s first and only Belgian-style brewery.
Not many people “have a context,” founder and president Christian Amport says, for assessing Belgian beers. But he wants them to, because then they’ll understand how Overshores fits into that tradition, and how good its contributions are. That’s why the brewery’s taproom offers a strong selection of other Belgian beers in addition to its own. Comparing is encouraged; not only does it spark interest in Belgian-style beers, Amport thinks, but it also makes it easier to make sense of Overshores’s own concoctions. Also: “Other people’s beers make me happy,” he says, and offer “a reminder that I want to make beer that makes other people happy.”
A native of Madison, Connecticut—“Overshores” refers to an outcropping of rocks along the coastline there—Amport moved around the country for undergraduate and graduate degrees, experiencing different beer communities along the way. He noticed that in Vermont it’s “all Vermont beers all of the time,” and that the same was true, respectively, of New York and Seattle. Missing home and wanting to help create that kind of beer culture in Connecticut, Amport began to meticulously plan for his beery venture. Because as fun as running a brewery sounds, doing it well requires heavy knowledge, skill and capital. On the latter score, in Overshores’s case, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in equipment alone.
The bottles filled, capped and labeled by some of that equipment are bulbous, with dark amber-colored glass to keep out UV light. Depicted on each are three maritime flags, once used as a way to communicate vital messages from one ship to another, now used to communicate “OBC.” The shoreline theme is enjoyably matched in the taproom, which has a dark wood bartop, replica lighthouses on tables and paintings of sailboats on the walls. The company’s three maritime flags can also be found on the chalice-style glasses used to serve the good stuff.
“Beer should be delicious,” says Amport, and he feels motivated to make it “better than any wine or cocktail” that someone could just as easily choose to buy while sidled up to a bar. And that means engaging with the science behind Belgian beers. Unlike most styles of brew, Amport says, “where the yeast is just there, in the background,” with flavor muted and hidden because the yeast they’ve used is not all that pleasant, just the opposite is true of a Belgian. Fermented at higher temperatures, the yeast, typically a premium strain, is worked much harder—made to “sweat,” as Amport puts it, releasing more of its flavor into the final product.
As lead brewer Brian Cox puts it, “We’re as much a yeast factory as we are a beer factory.” Since the beginning, Cox has been using a singular yeast strain, the cells replicated during the brewing process thousands of times, to make each batch. Now it’s evolved. No longer infused with the “bubblegummy” notes found in the commercially available Belgian yeast they began with, it now has a fruitier, pleasantly acerbic profile akin, in Cox’s words, to a “citrus melon ball.”
And yet, it has a “dry finish”—and is not, as Cox puts it, “a ball of malt or sugar left over in your mouth”—that ties OBC’s beer varieties together. The Blanc de Blanche is a Belgian white with orange peel, ginger and coriander. Light and balanced, it still manages an ABV of 6.4%. It’s impressively easy drinking, finishing with a dry, sparkling-but-rounded tang (not to be confused with the hop-infused dry pucker of an IPA). The Belle Fermiere is quite memorable as well. Light in color and 6.6% alcohol, it’s a bright saison and was the first beer in Overshores’s growing lineup. It’s estery (fruity) profile and sparkling mouthfeel are due not only to the quality of the yeast, but also to an extra round of fermentation.
For the unfiltered Overshores brews, this last step is crucial. In an earlier round, each beer was left in the brewery’s fermenter for two to six weeks. (The Simpel, an IPA with a comparatively lower ABV, enjoys the shortest stretch.) After all the “flocculation”—coagulated yeast that’s settled on the bottom—is removed, the beer is then sent into the brewery’s “bright” tank for another dose of sugar and fermentation. That provides food for the remaining yeast to eat even after bottling, leaving the beer to self-carbonate and continue developing in flavor—to age, like wine.
That’s why, regarding Overshores’s 750-milliliter bottles of the Belgique du Noir and the Tripel Brun, Amport recommends buying four—“one for now, one for next year and so on.” If cellared properly—that is, kept in a cool, dry location out of the sun—the taste will improve as the sugar and yeast interact over time. The Belgique and Tripel are both rich, sweeter beers that Amport and Cox have crafted into having lighter drinking bodies than their strong-ale reputations and 9.5% ABVs would suggest.
Thirsty yet? Drop by during the brewery’s taproom hours Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays between 1 and 5. (There’s also an official, free-to-attend grand opening celebration on Saturday, December 13, promising food trucks, live music and prizes.) Tours of the brewery floor are available those hours, too, though appointments are preferred. According to Cox, tour leaders “play to the audience,” meaning that a casual group looking for basic beer knowledge is just as welcome as a clan of home-brewing experts.
With a huge warehouse-style space containing room for up to 18 more fermentation vats, Overshores has an eye on the horizon, and with secret, dry-hopped one-offs soon to be available on-site, New Haven’s beer lovers should keep an eye trained eastward.
Overshores Brewing Company
250 Bradley St, East Haven (map)
Taproom and tour hours: Thurs-Fri 4-8pm, Sat-Sun 1-5pm
Takeout hours: 10am-4pm daily
Written by Jared Emerling. Photographed by Dan Mims.