Holy Resurrection

I n New Haven, you can find endless lagers, ales, stouts, porters, sours, ciders. You can find ABVs in the double-digits. You can find house brews not served anywhere else. You can find beers aged in used wine and bourbon barrels. You can find flavors of black cherry or melon, coffee or caramel, even grass or smoke.

And now you can find Hull’s—solid, straight-ahead Hull’s—thanks to a revival of the historic local brand by New Haven native Chuck DelVecchio, an accountant-turned-entrepreneur. “Tastes like beer,” my companion said between swigs last weekend at Three Sheets (where it launched on Friday), and she was so right. With balanced hops and malt and without any bell-and-whistle flavors, the new Hull’s, available just in lager form for now, is a refreshment that’s refreshing in a beerscape gone bananas, sometimes literally.

The beerscape was just the opposite in 1977, when the original Hull’s, founded in New Haven in 1872, went out of business. In the decades after Prohibition, which had killed many breweries in its own right, homogenizing national brands like Anheuser-Busch used expensive mass-market campaigns and, by some accounts, shady on-the-ground tactics to muscle out regional and local breweries. Connecticut’s were no exception; indeed, Hull’s spent its final 24 years as the state’s sole brewer. In an advertorial supplement to the New Haven Register on November 5, 1972, the business marked both its centennial and its rarity: an industry that had once numbered more than 2,000 breweries nationally, the company noted, had shrunk to less than 100.

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Today there are more than 60 in Connecticut alone. One of them, East Haven’s Overshores Brewery, is where DelVecchio decided to contract-brew his new version of Hull’s. The stuff of family lore, he says he grew up hearing how “Easter isn’t the same without Hull’s Bock” and “The St. Patrick’s Day Parade isn’t the same without Hull’s Export.”

Contrary to rumor, DelVecchio says he didn’t purchase either the trademark or the original lager recipe. Instead, he snapped up the trademark after it fell into the public domain and hired a beer historian to help reconstruct the lager—what was then known simply as Hull’s Export—“with the appropriate grain build, hops, malt.” At 36, DelVecchio is too young to have ever tasted the original article, but he says his family has given the new version the Hull’s-lover’s seal of approval.

Sitting next to local historian Robert Greenberg, whose collection of thousands of New Haven artifacts has a nice Hull’s contingent, and retired NHPD detective Fred Hurley, who enjoyed plenty of Hull’s back in the day, Tommy Sullivan—now the owner of Tommy Sullivan’s Cafe, a quintessential Irish pub in Branford opened in 1978—disagrees, but not disagreeably. Of the new Hull’s, he says it’s hoppier than the old, not that that’s a serious problem. “I like it. I think it’ll [sell]… In my mind, in my memory, it’ll never be the same [as the old Hull’s]. But I’m very glad they’re doing it.” He says he intends to serve it in his bar whenever it becomes available on draft.

Sullivan has a special degree of authority, because he actually worked for Hull’s from roughly 1965 to 1974. Starting when he was just 15 years old, he’d be there during summers and other school vacations, “working on the draft side” or making deliveries to old joints like Chick Sullivan’s on State Street, where he remembers a sort of Abbott and Costello routine playing out between new customers and barkeeps: “What do you have on draft?” “Hull’s.” “What do you have in bottles?” “Hull’s.” “What other kinds of beer do you have?” “Hull’s.” Then there was “the triangle,” a set of three Hull’s-heavy bars near Chapel and Park Streets “where all the kids used to go”: Jocko Sullivan’s, McTriff’s and Old Heidelberg, where a good-sized mug of Hull’s ran about $0.30.

Back on the brewery floor, which was located in a large factory at 800-820 Congress Avenue, “Everybody was a character,” Sullivan says. He describes a staff full of “old-country” Irishmen and a fraternal camaraderie. There was a private tap room where Hull’s employees would drink together and invite honored guests like cops, firemen and postal workers to join them. The old-timers might break out into song, singing Irish folk tunes Sullivan says transported the room back to the Emerald Isle.

When Hull’s closed in ’77, two friends and colleagues, Richie Cahill and longtime Hull’s brewmaster James Reynolds, helped Sullivan salvage the tap room’s keg cooler, which would spend the next “25 or 30 years” in Sullivan’s pub. An artifact that remains unaccounted-for is a large statue of Gambrinus—the mythical patron saint of beer, head crowned and feet bare, holding aloft an overflowing chalice—that famously graced the top of the Congress Avenue factory. Sullivan remembers it being removed with a crane and loaded onto a flatbed, destination unknown. Greenberg says he’s eager to find it and hopes a Daily Nutmeg reader can supply a lead.

Less of a mystery is where to buy the new Hull’s. Retailers include Amity Wine & Spirits, Coastal Wine & Spirits, Pan’s Package, Paramount Liquor, Temple Wine & Liquor and both locations of the Wine Thief. For the moment, it’s only available in cans, with six-packs costing a fairly standard $10.99 at retail.

Though it’s meant to approximate the old Hull’s Export, DelVecchio says the new one offers something special in the marketplace today. Using chemistry to make his case, he says national-brand lagers typically contain somewhere between seven and 12 IBUs—International Bitterness Units, which measure the presence of certain bitterness-imparting compounds—while IPAs weigh in around “50, 60, 70.” But new Hull’s has about 32—“so it actually has a great full-bodied beer flavor, but it doesn’t linger in your mouth like an IPA does, so it’s great with food.”

My own foodless taste-testing suggests it’s worth trying new Hull’s a few different ways. Straight from the can, it’s reasonably hoppy, with a subtle malty finish. Poured into a regular pint glass, it’s a little less hoppy, a little more malty. Poured into a pilsner flute—which is how a couple of old promo materials in Greenberg’s stash depict it—it’s smoother and sweeter still.

You might find you prefer it one way or another, or you might find, as I have, that it’s pretty darn likable any which way.

Hull’s Brewing Company
Contract-brewed by Overshores Brewing Company – 250 Bradley St, East Haven
hullsbeer@gmail.com
www.hullsbrewingcompany.com

Written by Dan Mims. Images 1, 2 and 5 photographed by Dan Mims. Images 3 and 4, depicting items in the Robert S. Greenberg Made in New Haven Collection, photographed by Robert Greenberg. Image 2 depicts Tommy and Maeve Sullivan inside Tommy Sullivan’s Cafe. Image 5 depicts six-packs of old Hull’s and new.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories, helped very much by a small team of dedicated contributors.

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