BRANFORD — As I sipped a refreshing, cloudy New England IPA on an unrelentingly rainy Friday afternoon, a group of younger moms enjoyed beer and snacks at a table nearby, complete with a baby and a stroller. Over at the bar, guys casually dressed in jeans were scarfing down pizza (from the food truck outside) and beer, as were other patrons who looked like they were taking a break from work to grab a quick brew.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of a crowd on a weekday excursion to Stony Creek Brewery, a pristine facility established in 2015 and overlooking the serene Branford River. But the tasting room, despite crummy weather, was well stocked with patrons enjoying the dynamic offerings of Stony Creek: four wines on tap, Foxon Park soda from nearby East Haven and, of course, 12 to 16 beers on draft each day.

Laura Weiss, my colleague, who photographed the trip, sampled an assortment of red and white wines and was partial to the Pinot Noir.

Norm MacDonald, the tap room general manager, poured me a flight of four beers: La Garza Mexicali Lager, Ruffled Feathers (a New England-style IPA), Jay’s “922” (an export stout) and a Stony Joe (a golden, mocha stout).

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Stony Creek Brewery

5 Indian Neck Ave., Branford


Open Monday to Thursday from noon to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Brewery tours are Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 4 p.m. The $5 cost includes a sampling.

I enjoyed all four, but was particularly struck by the Ruffled Feathers because it produced a delicious balance of light mango and citrus juiciness with some bitterness resulting in a solid IPA, perfect for drinking outside under the summer sun. The bright, hazy glow of the liquid added to the appeal.

Initially skeptical about whether I would like the Stony Joe, an amber-color brew with hints of cocoa nibs and Guatemalan coffee, it turned out to be an interesting flavor that, as a coffee lover, resonated with me.

“Our tagline is ‘aggressively laid-back beer,’” said Ed Crowley Jr., the brewery’s owner. The slogan comes from brewmaster Andy Schwartz’ style of brewing, which fuses clean, bold, aggressive West Coast flavors with East Coast balance and drinkability. Schwartz, a California native, has been a professional brewer since 1995, with experience on both coasts, including his most recent stint before coming to Stony Creek at Redhook Brewery in New Hampshire.

“(The tagline) also speaks to what we’ve built here. We’re aggressive in our ambitions, but we’re all just laid-back chill, drinking a beer by the water, playing bocce,” Crowley told me, a La Garza in hand.

Underscoring the importance of the quality of beer it produces, Stony Creek is one of only two breweries in the state (the other being Two Roads) with a microbiologist and a lab on site. They test every batch of beer they brew. In the summer, Stony Creek produces about 900 half-barrels per week for distributors.

MacDonald guided us through a tour, showing us the 30-barrel brewhouse in the midst of brewing Cranky IPA. Every time it brews, Stony Creek produces 60 half-barrels, each half barrel containing 15.5 gallons of beer. All brewing and packaging is done onsite.

“We brew the beer; we keg the beer and we also can the beer here, as well,” MacDonald said.

The sound was intense as cans were being filled, labeled and boxed at a rapid rate. We also got to check out the hops they use, mostly from Washington state and New Zealand.

When Crowley decided to start the brewery with his parents, Ed Crowley Sr. (a former beer distributor) and Peggy Crowley, they developed the land, which was fallow for 40 years, on the site of a former iron mill factory.

The brewery’s emblem is a tribute to the great blue heron, which can be found in and around the Branford River, as well as across Connecticut. Nicknamed “The Big Cranky,” the bird also serves as the inspiration for its line of IPAs: Little Cranky (a session IPA with 4.5 percent alcohol by volume), Cranky (an IPA, with 6.8 percent ABV) and the “crankiest” of them all, the Big Cranky (a double IPA with 9.5 percent ABV). Packing a significant punch, the Big Cranky includes seven different hops that create a flavorful IPA, which is surprisingly easy to drink.

Although full meals are not available at the brewery, a rotating food truck is positioned outside and people are allowed to bring food into the facility to enjoy their meal with a beer. We grabbed a couple lobster rolls and a plate of clams at the Lobster Shack across the river. With both offerings slathered in butter and made fresh, I would highly recommend taking a walk over there.

It is important to note the brewery was built with accommodating families in mind.

“We firmly believe in having families. Parents have to have a good time, too,” Crowley said.

Raul and Krysta Cariboni — huge fans of Ruffled Feathers — came down from Ellington and brought their 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, along for a day trip. Fans of the beer, they wanted to check out the brewery that made it, but first made sure they could bring their daughter.

“We did look ahead of time to see that it was kid-friendly and saw that it was, so we were like ‘Let’s do it,’” Krysta Cariboni said.

“Bring your family, bring your friends. We’re open to everybody,” said bartender Krista Richardson.


Adventures close to home | Trip 4