Strawberries, squash and sage aren't just the stuff of local farm stands. You'll find them all inside the beer at one of our state's newest craft breweries.
Connecticut has been tapping into the craft beer movement for some time now, but one might say it's "bubbling over," and latest addition is Black Hog Brewing Company in Oxford.
Black Hog Brewing uses local ingredients for its beers while also giving back to the farming community.
"Local is huge," says head brewer Tyler Jones.
Black Hog's "strawberry gose" German wheat beer features fresh organic berries from Massaro Farms in Woodbridge. Hops are grown out front and herbs like sage and rosemary are grown in the back. A portion of the proceeds from the "Farmland Series" of brews goes toward the "Working Lands Alliance," a coalition fighting to preserve Connecticut farmland.
"We're giving to the Working Lands Alliance, which deems farmland, farmland in perpetuity," says co-owner Jason Sobocinski.
At the brewery staple varieties, including the "Ginga' Ninja," "Easy Rye' Da" and "Granola Brown Ale," are expected to be a big hit this fall.
"Connecticut has just been this kind of skip over state for many years and it's slowly chaining for the better where you have all these new local breweries opening up," said Jones.
While northern New England breweries may have dominated in the past and shipped straight to New York, Connecticut is now in the game and no longer just a "skip over state."
Hooker, BackEast, Two Roads and City Steam are just some of the more established breweries in the state.
But Black Hog is one of the burgeoning newcomers. Others include Lost Elm Artisinal Ales, Black Pond Brewing, No Worries Brewing, Witchdoctor Brewing Co. and Hog River Brewing Company.
"Lots of different styles of beer with a little unique twist and lots of local ingredients," Tom Sobocinski said.
He's describing how Black Hog separates itself from the compeition.
The brewery is owned by Tom, Jason and Tyler.
"The challenge right now is that there are a lot of new breweries. There's a ton of beer available on the market so that's where it becomes important to do something different and stand out," said Tom Sobocinski.
He and his brother, Jason, are both New Haven natives who handle the business side, while Tyler puts his years of brewing experience and master brewers certificate to use by crafting the beer hands-on.
"The craft beer market has gone extreme for so many years--where it's like 'imperial smoked guava-pitted something or other'--you knok, like they're great to enjoy a few sips but do you really want that second pint?" said Jones.
While Black Hog has some radical flavors, and the hope is that they aren't overpowering. The aim is to have lower alcohol content and truly enjoyable flavor.
"I come from the brew-pup scene so I love brewing seasonally, using local ingredients, love being able to get different flavors out of different things that aren't necessarily hops," said Jones.
The cooler is the final stop for all the brews before they head out to bars and restaurants across the state, and while Black Hog's only been on the market for a month, they're already in 150 locations statewide. For now it's just available as a draft in bars and restaurants or in "squealer" bottles at the brewery.
But there are plans for cans by wintertime.
"I'm just excited to be part of that, being able to bring that local craft beer to the Connecticut scene," said Jones.
Black Hog may just be hopping into the market, but its hoping to brand itself as a quirky favorite among Connecticut beer-drinkers and beyond.
"Connecticut's going to be on the map for beer, very soon," said Jason Sobocinski.
Black Hog is launching its tasting room on Saturday, August 30 at 1 p.m. in Oxford with a hog roast and tastings.
For more information visit blackhogbrewing.com.