Welcome To The Land on the Long Tidal River
We’re headed to coastal Connecticut, Tippler Nation! One of the original 13 colonies, the name itself comes from the Algonquian phrase for the long river. There is so much boozy history in this state (and a lot of it is rich, delicious, and seafood based!). I’ve spent summers with my family in southeastern costal Connecticut for my entire life and I’ve gotta tell ya, there’s so much to enjoy as an adult of legal drinking age. In the last decade, so many craft breweries, distilleries, wineries, and fantastic cocktail bars have opened all along the coast. The Connecticut coast is also the setting for some iconic films and home to some artist legends. It’s just a hop, skip, and quick train ride from NYC so get your ticket and show up hungry!
Mystic and More: A “Slice of Heaven”
Did you come to Connecticut hungry? Perhaps a certain 1988 film with a young Julia Roberts piqued your interest and prompted a road trip down (or up) the Connecticut coast. Fun fact: I was supposed to be a child extra in Mystic Pizza but then I got sick, and yes, I am still sad about it. While we will never know just “what the hell Leona put in that pizza,” you can in fact go to the restaurant that inspired the film!
If that’s your goal, take a stroll over the Mystic Drawbridge (also featured in the film), do some shopping, grab an ice cream, peruse decadent pastries at Sift before popping upstairs to Mix for a local beer and bite, or go for a doughnut at Young Buns.
Mystic is also chock full of amazing bars and restaurants serving fab food and drink. For amazing cocktails, a stellar wine and craft beer list, along with coastal, seasonal fare, hit up Oyster Club. If you happen to visit in the summer, I recommend doing one of their farm dinners at Stoneacres, I went to the tomato festival one year and loved it.
However, if pizza is your quest: you are in the wrong town…
You, dear reader, want to follow another fictional Connecticut female by the name of Rory Gilmore all the way to New Haven: home to one of the oldest pizza joints in the country.
In 2020 Frank Pepe’s (opened in 1925) took the top spot in the top 101 pizzas in the country. Their specialty is their white clam pie and I gotta tell ya, it may sound weird to some of you but it’s totally worth the calories.
You could make a day of it and hit up all the great ‘za spots in New Haven! I also love Sally’s, pair it with their collab beer from NEBCO, and Modern Apizza also makes my go-to list. Take the pressure of planning out of the equation by doing a pizza tour or the pizza trail.
“This [Pizza] Is Making Me Thirsty”
Yes, Tippler Nation, we are in desperate need of local craft beer! I’ve been steadily ticking off stops on the Connecticut Beer Trail, pretty sure I’ll never get to the end as more keep opening shop! I’m going to leave the coastal region for a few of these, I think they are worth the excursion.
For funky farmhouse and expiremental small batch brews, check out nanobrewery Barley Head in Mystic. It’s super tiny and super cute, and they also have a hot pretzel that might make you well, thirsty.
If unfiltered NEIPA is your jam, Beer’d Brewing is for you! We’ve featured Beer’d before on our IG, as I am a long time fan of their cans (and growlers and pints). They are located in the Velvet Mill, which has great vintage shopping (I’ve scored awesome barware), and one of my hands-down fave restuarants: White Crest.
If you happen to be near the Westerly border, take a quick stroll over to Greysail Brewing. Ok, no they are not in CT, but you can literally cross state lines on foot. Greysail was built in an old macaroni factory and their tasting room is half Victorian house, half kitchy garden with a pizza oven. They did a rad collab with Stonigton Kelp Co. for New England Kelp Harvest Week a few years ago that I still think about and I used their Hazy IPA to make a Crafty Cask cocktail!
Connecticut is known for some stunning scenery, especially when the foliage turns. Take advantage of some leaf peeping with your pint at Foxfarm Brewing. They take reservations for their serene tasting room (shout out to my uncle John, who helped build it, prompting me to bring up craft beer and why it’s so important for the communities as he sipped his pint of domestic…sigh…I try).
Named for the largest group of islands in the state, Thimble Island Brewing is also worth a visit. Their octopus mural at the tasting room and on their bottles is fantastic.
One of the best non-alcoholic breweries in the game hails from CT too! Athletic Brewing has really changed the game when it comes to non alcoholic beers not…well..sucking. Their offerings are tasty and satisfying and won’t make you feel bad the next day!
And, of course, don’t miss out on one of the true CT craft breer OGs, New England Beer Co better known as NEBCO to locals. Not only are their beers great, but if you chat up your bartender each beer name and associated art on the can tells a fun story, often rich with CT history.
Ever wonder what a brewery would look like if our founder created it?
Suzanne’s dream brewery is also in the Constitution State: OEC. Their name stands for Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores…which loosely translated means The Order of the Eccentric Boilers (or Brewers). This brew crew is doing everyting from solera to amphora to in house smoking and more. Let’s get weird!
Towers, tunnels, and stone structures oh my! When it comes to booze, Southeastern Connecticut has a very tipsy history.
Let’s start with tunnels. In 1902, steel mogul Charles S. Guthrie commissioned and built Meadowcourt, a sprawling estate on the Long Island Sound. Meadowcourt attracted the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Both are said to have enjoyed the landscaping, designed by a Mr. Fredrick Law Olmstead. Maybe you’re familiar with his other work, Manhattan’s Central Park. The mansion’s proximity to the water, private beaches, and all around opulence meant the booze was ever present. But my oh my, how to get booze when the country was going dry? Meadowcourt was built with a tunnel route directly to the sound, maybe with contraband in mind or, perhaps, a private passage for famous friends. Mr. Guthrie passed, his wife sold the property and in 1927 it became The Lighthouse Inn. After years of disrepair, the historic landmark inn is once again open with dining and drinking! No, there are no tours of the tunnels but you can view them on Ghost Hunters. Didn’t I mention it’s haunted?
There are many scenic hikes in Connecticut, if you’re sticking to the coast, the Barn Island Nature Preserve is lovely post summer (RIP mosquitoes). Harkness is also great for a stroll and is a jaw dropping wedding venue. But if an incline is what you’re after, one of my go-to trails leads straight up Talcott Mountain and into Heublein Tower. Name sound familiar? Heublein was a producer and distributor of spirits! The family got in the biz in the 1860s, they distilled and brewed and created wildly popular RTD cocktails (so ahead of their time!). They also acquired the rights to things like A-1 Steak Sauce and a little known (at the time) Russian vodka: Smirnoff. One entire room in the tower is dedicated to the creation story of the Moscow Mule, yeah the family was part of that, too.
Southeastern Connecticut is great for boating! If you happen to be so lucky as to find yourself on a sea worthy vessel with a cooler full of local craft beer, take a quick jaunt to Sandy Point and raise your can (no glass on the boat!) to the Rhodes’ Folly! An odd, lopsided, stone structure that is used today as a diving board for local beach-goers, The Folly was a warehouse originally built to circumvent the law. Built in a location that once crossed THREE state lines (CT, RI, NY), Rhodes would move the cargo to a different spot inside to avoid paying taxes to each state’s taxman. Cute move, but yeah, he totally got caught.
Interested In More CT Distilleries?
Check out a couple while you’re on the coast or head inland for some
more sipping and savoring!
Bar Hoppin’ Coastal Connecticut Style!
Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.
Are you ready to go bar hopping, Tippler Nation? For a large dose of history with your pint, I recommend the Daniel Packer Inn. DPI carries local wine and beer, their food is phenomenal and they have music nights. I’ve been known to take a chowder to-go on the train back to the city, pro tip.
Another historic and award winning locale, The Griswold Inn was established in 1776. It was also recently awarded a Wine Spectator Award Of Excellence for the 14th year in a row. The “Gris” also hosts music nights and every Wednesday is “Wine Women Wednesday” with half price glasses for the gals.
Seasonal, local, and creative your jam? Shipwright’s Daughter and White Crest are can’t miss for delcious food and top notch cocktails. Also the newly opened Port of Call was just named one of Esquire’s Top 24 Bars in America. They also put on a killer drag show.
Craving dive vibes? Go check out the craft beer line up at The Oasis Pub and catch a band! While you’re in New London, swing by the historic Dutch Tavern (used for storage during prohibition). If you happen to visit during one of the Hygenic Gallery’s many events, you’ll also get a nice dose of art!
Lobster for breakfast, lobster for lunch.
Swing by a local farmstand for fresh produce to go with your catch and don’t forget the cider donuts for breakfast!
Want something a little less DIY but still BYOB? Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock is the spot! Lobster rolls (hot or cold) and all the oceanic delights with plenty of picnic tables and shade. It is open seasonally since it is an outdoor venue.
Less Boozy Endeavors
We’ve established that there are many notable places to eat and drink in Southeastern Connecticut, but what about other activities?
You all know our love of books here at The Crafty Cask and I’m going to let you in on my favorite place to find them. The Book Barn is a mecca for book nerds! Three locations of stacks and stacks of used books! There are also cats and goats at the main barn, while downtown is home to several guinea pigs.
Have you always wanted to meet a penguin? Check out the Mystic Aquarium! My sister booked me a penguin meeting for Christmas one year and I am still smiling.
While we’re discussing encounters, perhaps you’d like to walk with dinosaurs? Gaze upon fossilized Dino-prints while walking through the Dinosaur State Park or take a stroll with a T-rex at the Dinosaur Place (he dresses up for every holiday).
Craving theatre? The Eugene O’Neil Theatre Center puts on shows throughout the summer season!
A Quick Trip To The Connecticut Coast!
Whether you’re driving down to the shore or taking the train in from the city for a long weekend, Southeastern Connecticut has something for every craft booze lover to enjoy! As someone who grew up frequenting the region, I’m so excited by all of the craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries that have blossomed in the last few years. I’m also frequently blown away by the food and cocktails, and you all know I have a discerning palate!
What are your favorite things to do in the Nutmeg State?
Let us know some of your favorites we may have missed in the comments below! For more travel tips and all things craft alcohol, follow us on Instagram!
Jena is an event host & contributing writer for The Crafty Cask, as well as an award-winning bartender, cocktail educator, Cicerone Certified Beer Server, and Executive American Whiskey Steward. Based in NYC, Jena has been working in the craft alcohol world for the last 15 years with recipes appearing in Manhattan restaurant/bars & multiple publications. She is the 2019 Nikka Perfect Serve Global Runner Up and a 2020 Cognac Connection winner.