Lily Belle Poling, Contributing Photographer

The New Haven area is home to a score of young, growing breweries, including Overshores Brewing Co., Rhythm Brewing Co and Armada Brewing. 

In addition to the COVID-19-related complications faced by small businesses across Connecticut, these breweries also must reckon with challenges specifically tied to the production and distribution of alcohol. 

Overshores Brewing Co.

Overshores Brewing Co. opened in 2014 in East Haven as Connecticut’s first and only Belgian-style brewery. 

“This is a highly regulated industry,” said President and Founder of Overshores Brewing Co. Christian Amport. “Not every business has to deal with all that.

Amport, a Connecticut native, has lived in other places with much more developed beer scenes and noticed there were only about half a dozen breweries in the state.

Given the flourishing food scene in Connecticut and the lack of local breweries, Amport thought that there was an opportunity to develop a beer scene in Connecticut and decided to open Overshores. 

“Connecticut is a place with a sort of passion for local business,” Amport told the News. “We were just kind of in need of catching up.”

Armada Brewing

Another local brewery, Armada Brewing — located right on the New Haven harbor — was founded by John Kraszewski, also a Connecticut native, in 2017. 

While living in Chicago with his wife Alexandra, Kraszewski decided he wanted to open a brewery in 2014. However, given that the beer scene in Chicago was already fully developed, Kraszewski knew he had to look elsewhere.

Inspiration struck during a trip home to Connecticut; Kraszewski, like Amport, noted that there were very few breweries in Connecticut. 

“We decided that the opportunity to open up in a state that’s developing rather than a state or city that has a lot going on, a lot of breweries, would be a better opportunity for us,” Kraszewski said.

After a few years of contract brewing — brewing using the equipment and facilities of other companies — Kraszewski opened the doors to Armada’s current location in 2021. 

“It was just that passion of making beer that started off on my kitchen stovetop” that motivated Kraszewski to open Armada Brewing, he told the News. 

Rhythm Brewing Co.

Rhythm Brewing Co., founded by Alisa Bowens-Mercado, opened in New Haven in 2018. 

It made history as Connecticut’s first beer company to be owned by a woman of color and as the first brewing company to offer a craft, unfiltered lager. Rhythm currently operates as a contract brewing company. 

“We wanted to make sure that people could have something different with the lager style that wasn’t really popular in Connecticut,” said Bowens-Mercado.

Being the first company to offer a craft lager in Connecticut, Rhythm Brewing has taken off in popularity, drawing fans from New Haven and beyond. Rhythm beers can be found in stores all over the state.

Bowens-Mercado found it most challenging to get money behind her brand for marketing and manufacturing. However, she believes that awareness and consumer engagement will be the key to growth.

“The support, the excitement and the enthusiasm behind what we’re building is how we will continue to grow,” said Bowens-Mercado. “We want everyone over 21 who drinks beer to find their Rhythm.”

Bowens-Mercado said that Rhythm Brewing is continuing to see tremendous growth in the craft beer market. 

Associated challenges

Kraszewski told the News that the most challenging part of opening his own brewery was doing so during the pandemic. 

“We budgeted for pre-pandemic prices,” he said, and then “the cost of everything was just quadruple what we expected. So that was extremely tough.”

Running a brewery is more than just owning a restaurant-style business.

These breweries are also the manufacturers of the goods they’re distributing, which Amport believes is not always ideal in Connecticut, where costs of utilities are particularly high. 

“We’re constantly fighting legislation changes that hurt us, like Connecticut doubling the cost of electricity,” Amport told the News. “All kinds of things that happen from a policy standpoint that we don’t have control over directly affect our business and our ability to make money.”

Being both a business owner and brewer, Amport is directly affected by both the typical challenges of owning small businesses and the production challenges that come with running a factory. 

With the increase in prices of goods across the board, Amport has noticed that his brewery is getting fewer visits from people with discretionary money who go out to get a beer for fun. Kraszewski also noted that getting awareness out about his brewery was also difficult during the pandemic.

“When my costs go up, my profit disappears, and profit to a small business is what I pay myself. So when my profit goes away, I come to work and I work for free,” said Amport. 

Amport believes the root of the problem is policymakers who do not understand how business works. 

And as breweries around the state go out of business, Amport believes that Connecticut is not looking out for the interests of small businesses.

“You can’t nickel and dime us and change how much our permits cost,” Amport said. “As a blue collar company with blue collar employees doing blue collar work in a liberal state that wants everyone to be tech workers, policy does not necessarily align with the reality of being a manufacturer in this state.”

Despite the challenges that local brewery owners face, the beer scene in the New Haven area has seen significant growth over the last few years with the arrival of so many new breweries. 

Kraszewski believes his company has “grown to something awesome.” 

Armada Brewing partners with local vendors, allowing them to come to the brewery, set up and sell their goods. They also collaborate with Paradise Alley Pro Wrestling on frequent “Bash at the Brewery” events that feature entertaining wrestling matches in the Armada parking lot.

Rhythm Brewing Co. plans to open its own taproom this coming summer.

Lily Belle Poling covers climate and the environment. Originally from Montgomery, Alabama, she is a first year in Branford College majoring in Global Affairs and English.