Like oncoming headlights appearing out of a foggy night, genetics are indicators which don't tell the whole story. Heredity may lay out a path, but time and observation tell where it leads. Phil Markowski helped launch New England Brewing Company in 1989, and decades later did the same as the master brewer at Two Roads. In the last Froth I talked about how NEBCo's dandelion head was spreading seeds all over Connecticut - from new beers under their current brewer, to Counter Weight Brewing in Hamden from his predecessor, and a tip about the inaugural tapping of beers from Tribus in Milford, the newest offspring of the ancestor brewery. This week, for the first time anywhere, we'll take a look at Tribus and its beers to see where this is all headed.
Not far from the Housatonic River in Milford, on the edge of New Haven county, your nav will take you through neighborhoods with neat little lawns among which it's hard to imagine seeing one of the post-industrial, 19th century brick behemoths now inhabited and saved from dereliction by so many Connecticut breweries. And you won't. Beyond the neighborhoods, and suddenly, is a road lined with anodyne rectangles of commercial space where you'll find Tribus between, of all things, a dirt motocross track, and a tiny soccer field.
The name Tribus comes from its having three founders: Sean O'Neill, and ex-NEBCo brewing pair Matt Weichner and Sabastian D'Agostino.
"The three of us live in Milford, so it was nice to keep it close to home," said D'Agostino. "But we looked all up and down the coast in different cities. We were adamant about having a big tasting room, plenty of parking, and outdoor seating." The trio found the space (plus investment partner Tom Milgiaccio), and have building it out ever since. Tribus holds their official opening to the public tomorrow: Saturday, August 11th.
Tribus faces away from the road in the back of their building, where patrons enter next to the covered and lit patio. Inside the tasting room a large crescent shaped bar surrounds wall mounted taps. Brewhouse facing stools, tables, and a few couches don't quite fill up the space, which can hold over 120 people, with an additional 70 or so outside where drinkers can sit in the shade on the requisite picnic tables and Adirondack chairs. The walls are immediately attention grabbing, filigreed all over with art by John Tarka which spins from horizontal to vertical beginning at the front doors.
Chances are your eyes will scan across the wall to land squarely on marquee lettering spelling "MILFORD" in lights hung with vines beside the bar.
"We wanted to be part of the community," D'Agostino told me. "We wanted people to come to Milford. Beer people tend to travel from brewery to brewery, and there was a big hole between Two Roads in Stratford, and the group of breweries further up toward New Haven."
The tasting room experience was given a good deal of thought by the crew at Tribus. Shuffleboard, darts, and board games are all on hand and, in something of a rarity in the business, Tribus will show sports on multiple televisions, just without sound. The triumvirate will also launch a series of webisodes called "The Pour" to discuss what's going on at the brewery.
"We want people to already have a little bit of a relationship with us when they come into the brewery and see us working here."
Wine, cider, and coffee are available to those somehow gravitationally impervious to fermented grain.
And now, the important part.
The air was north of 90 degrees and approximately 90% steam earlier this week when I visited Tribus, and one of the surest antidotes to that kind of weather is a cold pilsner. Suddenly, as if by magic, and after only several strong hints and a single pointed question, one appeared before me. #blessed
Tribus Biër pils pours the standard straw colored SRM under a good, frothy head that stays. Total respect has been payed to tradition with this beer, and it's reflected in the classic aroma of pilsner malt under Hellertauer and Saaz hops, and fresh, bready flavor. There is a little cloudiness since it's an unfiltered beer, like everything currently being brewed at Tribus, but there is absolutely nothing to put the brakes on pouring a crisp pint down your neck.
"We wanted our flagship beer to be an approachable, easy drinking IPA," said Sebastian, as he poured their single, 6.5% IPA, Fix. Unfiltered, yet completely clear (the yeast drops out while the beer is holding in the brite tank), Fix is honey colored with a thick durable head sticking to the glass.
This IPA's name continues the growth from NEBCo's roots, stemming from a friend of the brewers who said she still needed her Sea Hag fix if the boys were going to open a new place. The art above the tap looks like a chalkboard where an obsessive has scrawled the word "Fix" over and over again. A juicy aroma of Mosaic hops floats off this beer and permeates the flavor, intermingled with a dry, classic west coast IPA bitterness and a mid weight body which never feels obtrusive or palate wrecking. It's a simple trick to think of Fix in terms of 64oz growler fills and eventual six packs. It's that kind of ready made fridge beer for fans of classic American style IPAs.
Modern IPA purists can get their own fix via Blank Check, an 8+% DIPA on a rotating hop schedule, currently Citra and Mosaic, and Flow DIPA, which weighs in at 8.2% within its hazy body, shot through with Galaxy and Mosaic hops. Flow has a sweet citrus flower aroma as the glass nears your face, and its big body, all barley, is remarkably smooth. All that booze and late-stage hopping hides a respectable amount of bitterness with none of the yeast burn which can sometimes accompany beers like this. Flow is just a well done example of the hazy IPA genus.
Funk Man Funk Man is an all Brettanomyces ale which hoves into view in a thick haze under a huge, rocky head. The aroma is all grass and fresh hay from the White Labs Brett blend used in fermentation, and some pineapple comes through in the flavor with a mid-tongue sharpness adding to the beer's drinkability. It's an accomplished effort in a manner I've certainly had before, but I still appreciate a good Brett like found money every time
Tribus opened with five 7 barrel fermenters and one 15bbl, plus a 15bbl brite tank, with tons of room to expand. I wasn't able to try everything on tap, or those still in their stainless steel cocoons, like Surgo kolsch, Freshie session IPA, or That Good Good, an upcoming IPA featuring Citra, Ekuanot, and Hellertau Blanc hops, but I had to, must, needed to have some Called Quest porter, tropical heat be damned.
Tribus Called Quest (and high five for that name), weighs in at 7%, and poured short, dark, and handsome, all that and then some, in the 8oz. taster glass.
"We wanted it to be strong, but drinkable," said D'Agostino. "Something like Smuttynose Robust porter" he said, name checking one of my favorite beers. I'd say they about hit the bullseye with their first dart. Marris Otter, chocolate malt and more gather under a thin ring of head and deliver a deep, silken roast with a tinge of coffee, the alcohol completely hidden in the darkness. Called Quest is good enough that I can recommend drinking it this summer, even if it's to print bold letters in your memory to be recalled this winter.
This brewery's breeding told us the opening of its story, the beers tell me it's one to keep an eye on in the future.