Stony Creek Brewery

A Rare Bird

Located near rail, freeway and river, Stony Creek Brewery receives visitors every which way: train, car and boat (also kayak and paddle board). Inside, the brewery’s slogan, looking freshly painted, gives visitors a sense of the place: “Aggressively Laid-Back.”

Opened to the public this past March, the brewery is assertively sized and impeccably polished, but it’s dressed in easygoing Cape Cod stylings. Down in the game pit, which is paved with granite pebbles from the Stony Creek Quarry, visitors congregate over cornhole boards and a bocce court of crushed oyster shell, while a large patio offers languid views of the Branford River’s drift, the masts of a nearby marina bobbing just downstream.

But it’s the beer that catches the primary drift of the company’s slogan, pinging the brewery’s fusion of west-coast and east-coast approaches. The west, generally stereotyped for its laid-back demeanor, is ironically known for its “aggressive” beer, says Stony Creek’s director of operations Manuel Rodriguez. “You take an IPA out on the west coast, it smacks you in the face.” And while east coast culture is generally considered more intense in most ways, it’s also, Rodriguez says, known for its more “laid-back” beers.

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Of the five options being served on tap the day we visited, the Nitro Pale was the most aggressive of a mostly breezy bunch, and that had a lot to do with its entrancing cascade of milky carbonate foam and determinedly creamy body, which stayed silky-smooth past the head all the way to the bottom of the glass. We also liked the Cranky, which really wasn’t such a grump. In fact it was a smooth, fairly sessionable IPA.

“Most people think the name is an attitude thing,” says Rodriguez, and while the website makes it clear that the brewery’s embraced that interpretation, Rodriguez says it actually comes from a colloquialism for Stony Creek’s emblem avian: the Great Blue Heron, nicknamed the “Big Cranky.” Actually, Stony Creek makes a Big Cranky, a double-IPA clocking in at 9.5% ABV to regular Cranky’s 6.8%, and a Little Cranky, dubbed a “session IPA” at 4.5%.

Birds of a feather, all the beers we tried had an even, mild flavor, giving smoothness-seekers a whole flock to choose from. The Brewery’s “Flip The Bird” series flies further afield, described on their site as “a series of limited release brews that raise a middle feather to convention.” A forthcoming entrant in the series is the Reposado Negro: a “jet black” wheat wine aged in tequila barrels that’s scheduled for a pre-Thanksgiving release.

While Stony Creek is keen on trying new things, it takes consistency seriously. “If you’re buying the Cranky, it’s the same Cranky each time,” Rodriguez says, ensured via quality-control measures like tasting batches over time and employing a full-time microbiologist to make sure it’s yeast, and nothing else, that’s munching away within the brewery’s big silver vats.

The brewery floor itself is large and airy. Very airy. There’s too much space, by design. Leaving itself room to grow, Rodriguez says, demand has been such that the brewery is already making plans to triple production, several years ahead of initial projections.

Tours of the brewery run on weekends for $5 a piece plus tax, tasting included. Or you can simply watch the brewers at work through glass windowing on the way into the taproom, which holds the glass mug-decorated bar and leads to the outdoor patio, where crew often hang out with a drink in hand at the end of the day.

The patio is ideal for picnicking, and while the only in-house food item served is a $3 pretzel, sometimes food trucks show up to help. Meantime, bringing outside food with you is perfectly acceptable, as is ordering wine instead of beer, though it’s still poured out through taps. And with no TVs to distract, you’ve got to focus on the people with whom you’re seated, at the bar or around plentiful wooden tables.

Most seats were already occupied when we arrived on a warm Thursday afternoon, and watching visitors taking their drinks down to the game pit to send bocce balls and beanbags flying, or sitting out on the deck and letting the breeze blow traces of foam atop pint and flight glasses into bubbly spirals, it’s pretty darn easy to see why.

Stony Creek Brewery
5 Indian Neck Ave, Branford (map)
Visiting: Tues-Thurs 3-8pm, Fri 3-9pm, Sat 12-9pm, Sun 12-7pm
Tours: Sat-Sun 1:30, 3:30 & 5:30pm
(203) 433-4545

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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