The Festival Life – New Haven Craft Brew Races

Festivals are good, but beer-related festivals can be downright epic. Recently, an opportunity to represent The Mass Brew Bus at the Craft Brew Races festival in New Haven, Connecticut was presented to me. Due to a last-minute scheduling snafu, I found myself with fewer than 24 hours to prepare for the trip. The few details I was able to gather were very basic: it was to be an overnight operation, the weather forecast called for hot and humid conditions with a 90% chance of rain, and most importantly, there would be beer. Challenge gladly accepted!

Hitting the Road
Since I live in the great beer city of Portland, Maine (aka Beercationland), and New Haven is over 200 miles away, I had to get up at the crack of dawn for our ridiculously early departure time. Before hitting the highway, my road team partner Don and I refilled our coffees, fueled up the bus, and entered our destination into Waze, our handy navigation app. It turned out that the weather forecast was 100% correct, and despite passing through some severe downpours en route, the clouds parted and the temperature soared as we arrived at the festival venue.

Getting Hyped and Hydrated
Since the festival centered around a 5k race, we knew that the participating runners would surely be thirsty. Even though Don and I didn’t run, we were ready to wet our own whistles and explore the event after setting up our tent. With approximately 40 breweries pouring, it was a great opportunity to sample some brews that are difficult to obtain up in our neck of the woods. Properly hydrated, we returned to our tent as the first wave of runners were completing the course.

At first, the most popular tents were those offering adult beverages. As the imbibing slowed to a more sustainable pace, the attendees began seeking out other activities. Music played, frisbees were tossed, and a line formed for a chance to spin The Wheel of Brew Trivia. Each contestant would spin the wheel, then try to correctly answer two alcohol-related trivia questions in the categories of science, math, history, geography, and vocabulary. The grand prize for winning  included a beer koozie, stickers, discounts for Mass Brew Bus tours, and the simple satisfaction of spinning a wheel.

A Well-Brewed Event
It’s a huge undertaking to organize an event that involves lots of people, and lots of beer, but this festival was extremely well-orchestrated. We had some really fun interactions with everybody who came out to the Craft Brew Races, and ended the day with smiles on our faces. As the event drew to a close, we packed up our belongings and set out to see what else the city of New Haven had in store.

After Hours Adventures
Our hotel was downtown, just blocks from the historic New Haven Green. After checking in and refreshing ourselves, we compared notes on the numerous nightlife suggestions we were given at the festival. It was decided that our first stop would be Cask Republic. Don and I befriended our bartender immediately. He was happy to suggest some great local IPAs and Belgian-style beers from New England Brewing Company, No Worries, and Counter Weight. While we enjoyed our beers, we struck up conversation with some of the other patrons. The local couple sitting to our left asked us all kinds of questions about the Mass Brew Bus gear we were wearing, and the pair of women to our right had just come from the race. We all decided to head around the corner together to our next stop: Barcade.

A giant of an Irishman welcomed us to Barcade from behind a multitude of tap handles. I opted for a Sly Fox Grisette, in an effort to moderate my alcohol intake. Don remained on the IPA train. The women we met at Cask Republic challenged us to a rousing round of Pac-Man Battle Royale, a 4-player version of the classic arcade game that pits the players against each other. I decided to spice things up with a Sriracha Blonde Ale from Harpoon as we continued depositing quarters into the machines. Barcade also offered such classic video games as Frogger, Dig-Dug, Joust, Punch-Out, NBA Jam, and Tapper, on which Don demonstrated his mastery of pixelated beer pouring. We bid adieu to our new friends, and headed back to the streets of New Haven.

A Bite of New Haven
Our insider intel indicated that we would encounter a number of amazing eateries and bars on Crown Street. Right up our alley, we found a brewery/nightclub called BAR. Not only did we enjoy some of their tasty house beers, but we learned about a regional delicacy: New Haven-style pizza, or “apizza” as it’s locally known. I was told that their white clam pie is a best-seller. Around 10 PM, the space transformed into a nightclub with a no-hats policy, so we decided it was time to relocate.

Right across the street from BAR is Louis’ Lunch, the birthplace of the modern American hamburger, established in 1895. Louis’ was closed, so we walked just a few blocks to Miya’s, which came highly recommended. Miya’s is a sushi restaurant known for its commitment to sustainable harvesting practices with a number of plant-based options, as well as fantastic cocktails. Sidewalk seating was an option, so we were able to take full advantage of the coolness of the downtown night. We thoroughly enjoyed our sushi rolls, and finished the night with a specialty “firecracker” sake bomb.

Good ‘Til the Last Sip
We made it back to the hotel safely, and departed early the next morning with plenty of reasons to return. My take-aways from this impromptu adventure are that New Haven is a beautiful city with a rich history and a thriving cultural life. The fantastic beers being brewed in Connecticut are reason alone to return, but I’ve already got a list of things I’m excited to do the next time I find myself in this part of the world. Clearly, my decision to join The Mass Brew Bus road team on Operation: Craft Brew Races – New Haven was the correct one.

Check back for more beer adventures soon. Cheers!

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