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Monday, December 13, 2010

Olde Burnside Brewing Co.

"The craft beer business is just exploding now," states Bob McClellan, owner and founder of East Hartford, CT's Olde Burnside Brewing Company.  "I don't think it's ever gonna crash."

That statement is a promising prospect for Olde Burnside, whose signature Ten Penny Ale was crafted on the concept that great beer truly is worth the cost.  The story goes that during McClellan's youth, his grandfather would reminisce about the great beer produced by local breweries, which cost about five pennies a pint.  Occasionally, his grandfather would mention, the brewers would produce extra high quality ales that cost ten pennies a pint.

Since 2000, McClellan has been producing the type of beer he envisioned his grandfather speaking of.  Ten Penny Ale is, as McClellan describes it, an unfiltered and unpasteurized, amber-colored Scottish "real ale," with a slightly stronger-than-traditional malt base and a touch more of a roasty/smokey flavor.  And, in actuality, it isn't too expensive at all when compared to other craft beers out there.

The brewery also boasts seasonals and special releases, such as Dirty Penny, which is Ten Penny mixed with stout as an homage to the "black 'n tan" style.  Their witbier (which is a Belgian-style light wheat ale) called Penny Weiz is brewed with orange peel, as is traditional for the style.  However, instead of spicing it with the traditional addition of coriander, Olde Burnside adds the herb heather to add a distinctly floral taste.  The brewery also has a winter warmer style beer called Father Christmas Highland Ale, perfect for frosty cold days such as the Thursday afternoon when we visited the brewery.  Of course, we can't discuss their beers without mentioning Ten Penny Reserve, a 10% ABV "wee heavy" style strong Scottish ale which is available year round.

So, the brewery nods to Scottish heritage, and they brew an amber ale, a black 'n tan, a witbier, a winter warmer, and a wee heavy.  Okay, that's not the most common kind of a line-up in today's craft beer world, but other breweries try to produce some similar stuff.  But what really sets Olde Burnside apart from other craft breweries (other than the fact that they almost strictly sell beer in large growlers)?

For McClellan, this is an easy answer: "The water."  Since Olde Burnside started off as an ice-manufacturing company, they've had water spigots in front of their location for locals to fill up at fifty cents a gallon.  In the 1990s, when McClellan noticed that a few of the same people were filling up copious amounts of water, he couldn't help but ask them what they were using it for.  They told him the water was great for brewing beer.

His curiosity got the best of him, and McClellan got the water tested.  Results came back stating that his water had the right mineral content and pH for brewing beer.  What was most fascinating, however, was the fact that his water, apparently, was almost identical to the water found in Burton-on-Trent, a large town in England in which some of the best English ales are brewed.

Bob McClellan with outdoor fermenters
So, after a few years and a business plan later, after acquiring some equipment from a defunct brewery in Wyoming, Olde Burnside Brewing Company opened up.  Currently, McClellan states, the brewery is expanding about 20%-30% a year, with distribution to southern Maine, Vermont, Massachussetts, Rhode Island, part of New York, and of course, all over Connecticut.  They brew five days a week and usually twice a day just to keep up with demand.

Connecticut craft beer drinkers, continue to be proud.

Photos by Jean Geoghegan.  Top picture is a photo taken from a poster at the brewery.

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