Beers by East Rock Brewing Company


A banner advertising the new East Rock Brewing Company has had neighbors buzzing all summer, waiting for greater New Haven’s newest zymurgists to open for business on Nicoll Street. Now East Rock Brewing’s bottled pilsner, weisse bier and hopfen lager are on the market, available in dozens of local and regional package stores as well as several local restaurants and bars, and its beer hall is set to open later this month.

Head brewer Tim Wilson, who co-owns the business with his brother Shaun, says one of the pair’s aims is to craft “traditional and more inspired German lagers and wheat beers” using “time-honored methods.” In order to ensure that quality, Wilson says, they’re importing all of their malt and much of their hops from Germany. “We’re not limiting ourselves to traditional styles,” he says, “but we’re using a lot of ingredients and process techniques from those styles and from German brewing more generally to kind of make modern interpretations.”

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Wilson wants East Rock Brewing to run counter to what he calls the “wine-ification” of beer. Beer is “not necessarily meant to be an overly complicated beverage,” he says. “To me, beer is something that’s just… meant to accompany a social occasion and meant to be enjoyed… It was always meant to be the liquid bread for the people, and the price point was historically approachable.”

To that end, East Rock’s half-liter pours, not including the foam, will be in the $6 to $7 range. Its first three offerings are all “brewed to be fairly dry, crisp and easy drinking,” Wilson says, and they’re all under 5.4% ABV (alcohol by volume). In addition to those three, which are already available by the bottle, on tap soon will be an Oktoberfest, a German-style helles (or “bright”) lager and another beer that’s the Wilson brothers’ version of an IPA, made with lager yeast and cold-fermented.

That colder fermentation is among the attributes that distinguish German beer from its American craft counterparts. “The colder you ferment the beer, in general, the longer it takes to both ferment and mature,” Wilson explains—about twice as long as many American craft ales and lagers. “I’m a fan of fermenting beer at a colder temperature because the end result is just a super clean, very bright, very crisp beer that otherwise can’t really be achieved with a warmer fermentation,” he says. “Hopefully people will appreciate the difference.”

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Another German process adopted by East Rock is allowing the beer to become naturally carbonated during the fermentation process rather than injecting CO2 later, before packaging. Natural carbonation produces smaller bubbles, and the aromatics can be enjoyed more because the head, where they’re captured, lasts longer, Wilson says. “It makes for a better overall beer-drinking experience.”

If you couldn’t already tell, Wilson is no neophyte. Following an apprenticeship at a small Vermont brew pub, he attended brew school in Chicago at Siebel Institute of Technology, which included study in Germany focusing on traditional German brewing. He followed that up with jobs at three Boston brew pubs, where he “wore many hats,” including head brewer. Knowing that there’s more to running a beer hall than the beer, he went on to earn his MBA. His brother Shaun contributes his own knowledge, with a PhD in chemistry from Yale and a graduate degree in management.

Before opening day, Tim took me behind the scenes of the beer hall, designed by New Haven architect Craig Newick. The building, dating back to the first World War, previously housed ammunition and then wire and cable manufacturing companies. Now it houses a sparkling 30-barrel brewhouse and several pairs of cone-shaped steel fermentation tanks. Stacks of cardboard boxes awaited packing, and the brand new bottling machine was idle for the time being, with a clutch of brown bottles crowding its conveyor belt, awaiting labels designed by New Haven firm Design Monsters. A 600-square-foot cold room was stacked with plastic-sheathed cases, awaiting the delivery truck’s maiden voyage to New Haven County beverage purveyors. Out front, brand new employees were clustered around the bar, learning the ropes.

Meanwhile, I learned the beers. The pilsner (no fancy names here—just the type of beer), which Wilson calls a “very traditional take on a German pilsner,” was refreshing and citrusy. The weisse bier is best enjoyed, Wilson says, using a particular pouring technique: As you get toward the bottom of the bottle, pause to swirl and dislodge the yeast sediment, which will contribute some flavor, then pour the rest. This unfiltered beer was surprisingly light, with the sweet aroma of banana and a pleasingly complex follow-through. But my personal favorite was the amber hopfen lager, East Rock’s “German-inspired interpretation of a pale ale.” This lager uses hops from both Germany and the Pacific Northwest for a smooth, beautifully balanced beer with a grapefruity flavor.

East Rock’s beer hall will truly be a beer hall; the only food will be warm pretzels made by New Haven’s G Café Bakery. Now all that’s missing is the customers, who will no doubt come pouring through.

East Rock Brewing Company
285 Nicoll St, New Haven (map)
Future Hours: Wed-Thurs 3-10pm, Fri-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-8pm
(475) 234-6176 |

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 2 shows Tim Wilson pouring a weisse bier.

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