I love taking people to the tasting room at Two Roads for the first time and showing them all the history you can touch in the place. Feel how the wooden floor is worn down here? This is where decades of workers had to walk to get between the machines of the factory. Look and you can see some of the machines they built and used, just off from the giant mash tuns which rise up through the floor behind the glass. The wooden floor they cut out for the tuns got chopped into pucks and laid down as the bar surface we're leaning on now. Cool, right? The building next door, Two Roads' 25,000 square foot, $15 million dollar expansion, Area Two, is brand new - but it already has plenty of stories to tell.
Area Two will open to the public on Monday, March 11. The new facility is a short walk across the hop yard from the mothership brewery, on the same side of the street. The focus of Area Two is the production of wild, sour, and spontaneously fermented beers. These darlings of the American craft beer scene express the aromatic and flavor profiles of wild yeasts, airborne microbial terroir, and the wooden vessels in which their characters slowly take shape. The philosophy of the beers even carries over into the building's architecture.
"It's like walking into a giant barrel," brewmaster Phil Markowski says, sweeping a hand overhead and drawing attention to the arcing wooden ceiling. We're standing on the catwalk which leads from Area Two's front entrance to the new brewery's tasting room. High above is the barrel vaulted roof, and below on either side are the steel fermenters, racks of barrels, and the wooden fermenters known as foudres - basically huge barrels - in which most of the Area Two's beer will take final form.
"None of the brewing equipment is in here," Phil said. "All the wort is produced in the brewery, and 1,100-foot pipes over the hop trellises bring wort here for fermentation. We're really more like a winery here than a brewery." The foudres themselves - American and French oak - came from wineries in Calfornia and France. One of them was used in the production of calvados.
"That one's actually full of a metric ton of cherries and lambic now," Markowski grins at us. When we sampled this kriek, straight from the foudre and far from being ready, the slight acidity in the bright pink beer was buried under mounds of cherry pie sweetness.
Huge windows everywhere let in a wide beams of sunlight, and the new tasting room in back features floor to ceiling windows overlooking both the production floor and the woods and wetlands behind the building. Multilevel decks extend from the back of Area Two and, some time this summer, a raised wooden walkway will allow visitors to walk out over the water and under the leaves. A wetlands architect was hired to clear invasive species and create a pond. Above, a rooftop deck offers even wider views. There's something to see at Area Two everywhere you look.
The second floor tasting room, like the atrium entrance, is decorated with art resembling what you might see looking at one of the Area Two beers under a microscope. The back wall of the bar resembles a living wall of moss, faced with Area Two's yin-yang logo in steel. The beautifully finished wooden tap handles were crafted by former City Steam head brewer Ron Page. The tasting tables tables are made from wood reclaimed from a circa 1860 church in Westerly, RI. The tops of the stools are wooden planks recovered from Connecticut tobacco barns. Everything has a story.
"We're into reusing everything, every chance we get," said Two Roads co-founder Brad Hittle. "The materials in the building, the barrels and foudres, our yeasts were isolated from strains we found in the hop yard and ones we got from the air during super storm Sandy. We have underground cisterns to collect rainwater we'll use for outdoor watering."
The first sip of Area Two beer I had was their Table Terroir house ale made from 100% Connecticut grown ingredients. This clean, 3.7% ABV Belgian style golden is made to be the facilty's house beer, available at the tasting room only. It's more rich than might be expected at that ABV, but easy drinking, and crystal clear. It will be a snap to have several of these, especially when paired with the cheese and charcuterie plates which will be available at the tasting room.
Elsewhere on the tasting room menu is a nearly alcohol-free kombucha made from Rooibos tea and sour cherries. It has the ruddy color of rooibos, but with a distinct, leathery cherry funk on the nose. That funk is kept to a minimum in the flavor, which is tremendously smooth. Most people will want some booze in the experience, though, and Area Two offers that in grades ranging from "foolproof" to "WHAT YEAR IS IT."
Blood peach lambic (7% ABV) looks like pink grapefruit juice in a glass, but gives off a sharp, acidic nose with hints of hay. It's sweet and tart like a bite of peach with plenty of skin, and the fruit smoothness keeps each sip from being too dry. All this leads to a surprisingly clean finish which manages to retain some tannic oak at the end. The wort is fermented and matured in wood for two years before the fruit is added at the final stage. It's actually the same wort used in the Whiskey Sour'd lambic (8.8% ABV), before that one is rested in fresh bourbon barrels.
Two Roads produced a whopping 144,000 barrels of beer in 2018. (A barrel is a unit of measure in brewing, equivalent to two "full" aluminum kegs so, yeah - that's a LOT for a six year old brewery.) Area Two's added capacity will account for only 4-5% of Two Roads' total production volume. During the high season in the summer, Area Two can take the strain off of Two Roads main facility, using some of its steel vessels to ferment beer and pipe it back to the mothership for packaging. The building uses LED lighting to save energy, and has been architecturally optimized for future solar power plans.
One of those Two Roads beers is the Persian Lime Gose from the Tanker Truck Sour Series, actually made just outside the building using former milk tanker trucks (another of Markowski's brainstorms). Persian Lime has been out a year or two, but Area Two adds a spin by aging it in tequila barrels, straight from Jalisco, Mexico. Gose, made with a bit of salt, lime, and tequila - a perfect combination. The sweet lime will be familiar to anyone who's had the gose before, isn't flattened out at all from its añejo rest, but picks up spicy tequila undertones and an oaky depth. The effects are subtle, but pleasing enough I'd rather drink this new version than the original from here on out.
Hittle took a vacation to Italy last year, which included a visit to Castiglione de Bosco and its associated winery. While there, and why not, he picked up 36 barrels used in making the winery's Drago brunello. They share rack space with barrels of a dozen heritages.
Brett Noir is made with the addition of pinot noir grapes, and refermented using Brett Bruxellensis wild yeast. The beer spends time split between French limosin and American oak foudres, working its way up to 6.5% alcohol and into your glass. Brett Noir arrives the cloudy dun color of fresh apple cider, and you can smell the acidity, grapes, and oak immediately. This is a bit of a trick, however, because it drinks super bright and sparkly - although tart, yes, and very dry. Barely sweet, and enthusiastically bubbly, the experience is is all new champagne and old oak.
Starting with the same wort, but divergent as siblings can be, Area Two Calva's path leads back to the foudre which gave forth apple brandy calvados in a previous life. Secondary fermentation of this beer includes an addition of apple juice and brettanomyces yeast. A rich golden color like late afternoon sunlight, a ring of head coats the glass, while the barnyard funk of Brett C lifts off the surface. Ahead of the peach lambic, this instantaneously became my favorite of the day. Calva is all soft, round juice, pierced by funk-tipped darts.Only mildly tart, it doesn't dry the tongue, but just lightly drags its claws on the way down. Magnificent.
Try the bourbon barrel aged Cherry Quad at 13% ABV, and feel the sensation of a velvet wrapped claw machine descending from heaven to grab you by the skull. You'll land... somewhere. Eventually.
The centerpiece of the Area Two is almost certainly its coolship. Crudely: a giant metal pan, coolships were the medieval solution to chilling hot wort's temperature down. Area Two's coolship sits within a brick and wood windowed box with a roof like a viking ship turned inside out. Every bit of this is for a reason, and has its own story.
"It's no coincidence the coolship is angled towards the wetlands," Markowski said, leading the way inside. "The louvers in the sides open up to let air pass through, bringing in all the local native microflora. The windows open 40 degrees for the same reason, and they'll let out steam when the coolship is working, in full view of the tasting room windows."
The ceiling of the coolship room is made from raw, unfinished Douglas fir, the better to absorb steam, and the purpose of the roof's curious shape becomes apparent in a long ridge where two curves meet to drip condensation back into the wort in the coolship, further boosting its unique, hyperlocal microbiological signature. Airborne yeasts and other flora waft in and settle into the wort, creating spontaneous fermentation. The air, the land, the plants and trees, they all create the future beer. From here, the fermenting wort will be piped into barrels and foudres to continue the process and develop further complexities. Phil designed the whole thing. Because it's a natural process, the coolship will only be used when the temperature is right, in the not-too-warm but not-too-cool shoulder seasons on either end of summer.
Connecticut brewers have been producing some of the better beers in the copiously innovative, crowded, ingenious American craft beer industry. Even taking this fact into account, Area Two is a tremendously significant addition not just here in the Constitution State, but nationally. We can all look forward to seeing what roads the brewers will travel in this new playground.
Area Two at Two Roads Brewing Company; 1700 Stratford Ave., Stratford; 203 335 2010; tworoadsbrewing.com