Anchors Down, Bottoms Up

Anchors Down, Bottoms Up

Armada Brewing is on a quest. After five years docked at The Beeracks, a collaborative brewery in East Haven, the company has found new harbor at 190 River Street, in part of the historic Bigelow boiler factory. Armada’s commander, owner John Kraszewski, spent years checking listings, visiting facilities and, upon landing on River, battling tempests—the lingering pandemic, a slowed-down bureaucracy, the reclamation of a decayed building, heavy inflation—with his crew. They finally opened in April with a hall-style taproom at ground level and, for weekends and special events, a lounge-style space above. But the quest continues. Kraszewski now aims to spearhead a transformation of the surrounding industrial block into a bustling arts and commercial district.

In the meantime, attracting visitors is up to Armada’s pale ales, lagers and sours, among other options, plus a robust supply of board games. The games play into Kraszewski’s longtime love of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, as do the beers. Each of the latter is named for a figure or artifact in a sweeping fantasy backstory inspired by ancient mythology, with matching artwork and—if your imagination is as active as Kraszewski’s—corresponding tastes.

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Take Sacred Throne, one of the brewery’s most popular offerings. “I wanted a glistening, light beer—what everyone idolizes” Kraszewski says, hoping to capture the sanctity of the ruler of his brand’s universe. He calls it “bready, crispy, even biscuity”; to my less refined palate, it simply tasted mild and refreshing, something you could keep coming back to. On the other hand, it took just one taste to know what the Immortal Prince is about: pure power. A triple IPA clocking in at 10% ABV, it was potent enough to back up its claim to immortality. Meanwhile, Neptune’s Dagger, one of my favorites, is a “toned-down IPA,” Kraszewski says, explaining that while the god’s sharpest tool is the trident, his dagger, like the beer, is a subtler weapon. Armada’s draft list offers 12 options in all, some of which rotate, ranging from light to dark, fruity to creamy, sour to crisp to bittersweet.

The fantasy narrative is infectious, and it infuses the place with an open, inviting quality. So do the seasonally open industrial-sized garage doors on either end of the building, drawing in breezes from the nearby Mill and Quinnipiac Rivers. Edison-bulb light fixtures, high ceilings, communal tables and shelves full of games transform the former Bigelow Boiler Factory building into a bright, summery haven for old friends and maybe new. “A beer hall should have beer hall-style tables,” Kraszewski thinks, which encourage visitors to put down their phones and connect. To that end, Armada hosts Tabletop Tuesdays for board gaming and trivia nights on Wednesdays. (Kraszewski hopes to organize Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, too.) In the back, where a small portion of the brewing occurs, cornhole is always set up, and stringy lights adorn an outdoor seating area with picnic tables for those hoping to soak up the sun.

Born in West Haven and living in Morris Cove, Kraszewski homed in on River Street not just for its fitting name but also because it was a historical manufacturing area of the city with great potential in its proximity to the water—even as the stretch of abandoned buildings and overgrown lots was, he says, “very blighted.” He envisions the area as a “vibing, urban manufacturing zone” that will develop into an authentic New Haven arts district, hoping Armada serves as a “catalyst” for “redeveloping the Fair Haven riverfront.”

The contrast between his vision and the reality of River Street—where there’s currently no pedestrian foot traffic to be seen—confirms that Kraszewski is a dreamer. But the quality of the beer, the comfort and vibe of the taproom and the spirit of the team behind it are here and now, and they’re no fantasy.

Armada Brewing
190 River St, New Haven (map)
Tues & Wed 3-9pm, Thurs noon-9pm, Fri & Sat noon-10pm, Sun noon-7pm

Written and photographed by Steven Rome.

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