‘Capitol Connection’ – Supporting Local Business

February 1, 2012

In recent weeks, I have been touring local businesses to talk with owners and employees about the state’s economy and how legislators can help improve their ability to succeed, expand and hire new employees. Among the many successful businesses in our area are a number of thriving breweries and brewpubs. Part of a growing industry nationwide, these companies have the opportunity to grow in both production and sales in a time of economic uncertainty. For this reason, I believe it is important to understand how these businesses work and to learn how we can assist their operations through legislation.

From start to finish, the production of beer is a science. First, grains are malted in a process that starts converting starches into sugars. These grains, usually barley or wheat, are then fed into a large grinder. Next, the milled grains are placed into a ‘mash tun’ where they are mixed with water and heat, resulting in the precursor to beer called ‘wort.’ After separating the liquid from the remaining grains, the wort is sent to a boiler. The used grains are oftentimes saved for farmers who feed their cattle or pigs. Boiling sterilizes the wort, and hops are added to provide flavor and aroma. The next step is fermentation where yeast is added, converting sugar into ethanol and releasing carbon dioxide. At this point, beer becomes quite recognizable by alcohol content and carbonation. It is then filtered and packaged for sale.

On Thursday, January 19th, I visited the Cambridge House Brew Pub located on Salmon Brook Road in Granby. If you are not familiar with the term, a brewpub is a restaurant that produces its own beer. As I drove into the parking lot, I first noticed the large metallic containers featured prominently in the front windows. Walking inside, I was warmly greeted by the owner Scott Riley. After touring the brewing room, filled with large copper and stainless steel tanks and other equipment, Scott took me to the basement, pointing out bags of grain and holding tanks for the beer on tap. Scott told me about the brewing process and history of his brewpub, and I learned a lot. At the end of the tour, we tasted some of the local favorites, including Stonehenge Ale and Farmer’s Daughter. I certainly recommend a visit for food, drinks and live music. For more information on this great local brewpub and restaurants, please visit their website at www.cbhgranby.com.

 Senator Kevin Witkos, left, tours the Thomas Hooker Brewing Company with President Curt Cameron, right.

Senator Kevin Witkos, left, tours the Thomas Hooker Brewing Company with President Curt Cameron, right.

On Wednesday, January 25th, I toured the Thomas Hooker Brewing Company located in Bloomfield. As seen on Tobey Road, the quiet industrial building hides an impressive operation. Over the past few years, the company has grown in production capability, increased exports to neighboring states and hired more employees. In fact, I have a unique connection to this brewery. President Curt Cameron and I attended and graduated from the same high school in Granby. Explaining the functions of the bottling machine, boiler and fermenters, Curt was very optimistic of the future of his business. We also tried some samples, including the popular American Pale Ale and a new Chocolate Truffle Stout. With weekend tastings, the brewery is a great place to spend time with some friends in support of local industry. For information about tours or purchasing a growler, please visit their website at www.hookerbeer.com.

Across the state and nation, craft beer is a growing industry. Along with increased interest in organic or local food options, small breweries have seen their patronage expand as tastes evolve for new and unique types of beer. According to the Brewers Association, craft brewers recently increased their annual nationwide sales by nearly one million barrels. The trade group estimates that 9,951,956 barrels worth about $7.6 billion were sold in 2010, growing from the 8,934,446 barrels worth $7 billion sold in 2009. For reference, one barrel equals 31 gallons. We can only expect that this affinity for new and innovative styles of local beer will continue to grow as well.

In recent years, legislators have played a role in aiding the industry. Last year, the General Assembly established a Connecticut Brewery Trail allowing breweries and brewpubs to design, produce and purchase signs for placement in their area. This marketing tool will ultimately help draw more customers. These visits allowed me to understand what we can do to help, including freeing up their ability to sell directly to customers or allowing breweries to also operate restaurants on their premises. These proposals are worth considering as we promote greater economic growth in our state. Meeting with local business owners is an essential responsibility for elected officials. I look forward to sharing these ideas with my colleagues during the upcoming legislative session.

Sen. Witkos (www.SenatorWitkos.com) represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at [email protected]