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    City Steam, Hartford CT
    Posted under The New England Beer Reviews by Avery Glasser ( on Monday July 02 2001 @ 08:42PM CEST

    City Steam Brewery Cafe
    Hartford, CT

    When one thinks about the meccas for locally brewed beer in the United States, a number of cities come to mind: Portland, OR (which has the highest breweries-to-adults ratio in the US); Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA and Denver/Boulder, CO all have multiple brewpubs/local breweries within their city limits. Nobody would ever think to include Hartford, CT in that list, but maybe people should...

    There are three brewpubs in Hartford proper: Hartford Brewery, Trout Brook Brewing Company and City Steam Brewery Cafe. Considering that Hartford has a population of under 140,000 residents, the beer to adult ratio is significantly higher than San Francisco, Denver and possibly even Seattle... and the beer here is pretty damn tasty too, if I do say so myself.

    If you have read my review of Hartford Brewery, you already know that I hold their beer in high regard. I had first sampled their wares in December of 1998 when Janet and I made a trip out to Connecticut to visit relatives. We also stopped at City Steam during that trip and I was less than enamored with their beers.

    At that point, my analysis of City Steam was harsh: the beers were lacking inspiration, and the few times they tried to be creative, it failed miserably. When I was there last December, I sampled three beers: a thin stout that had cinnamon and/or nutmeg added to the mix (with a recommendation to throw in a shot of Kahlua for an extra kick), a Belgian style triple bock with juniper in the mix (which would have made any native Belgie take up arms) and a rye beer with cumin thrown into the mix. Ok, just to be honest and diplomatic, the rye beer was fantastic. The cumin gave the beer a warm, earthy note that complimented the sharp rye taste... it was a perfect cold-weather beer.

    So, even though I have been here for over two months, I never made a point to visit City Steam again. Usually, I give any brewery a couple of chances before casting final judgment, but the Belgian triple debacle just turned me off so much that I decided it was better just to go to Hartford Brewing, as I am fond of their English-style beers.

    However, when Janet came home with a report from an early-evening decompression session with her coworkers at City Steam, I decided that it was fair time to give the brewery a second chance... and on Saturday night, we did just that.

    The night started for me with a pint of their IPA entitled The Rollickin' Rabbi, while Janet decided to kick the night off with a City Steam Ale. The Rollickin' Rabbi was a nice, British-style IPA: a definite hoppy/floral nose balanced with a mildly hoppy taste and a clean finish. It's a real IPA, not the Pacific Northwestern over-the-top interpretation. Janet's City Steam Ale was a classic nut-brown beer with a strong yeasty smell and a delicate chocolate finish.

    I moved on from there, grabbing a Naughty Nurse, a pale ale that used a broad selection of hops to give it a more bitter taste than the Rollickin' Rabbi, as well as a more complex aroma. I'm glad I grabbed the nurse, because it's one of the finest brewpub-made-beers I've ever sampled.

    Janet and I then retired from the dining area and went down to the bar to sample more of the bar's libations. Janet grabbed a Twin Peaks, a mild golden lager that was appropriately light in color, aroma and flavor. The Twin Peaks was the beer that Janet first had at the decompression session a day earlier and what she based her recommendation that I re-try the City Steam on... and I can't thank her enough for recommending that I give it a second chance!

    Even though I had a bad experience with their stouts in the past, I decided to give their Czars and Girls Russian Imperial Stout a try. I'm extremely critical of Imperial Stouts, as they are one of my favorite beer types, so I already had my expectations set high for the Czars. However, this stout surpassed all of my expectations... ranking a close second to North Coast's Rasputin Imperial Stout. Imperial Stouts are categorized as being very high in alcohol, extremely malty and roasted in taste. This beer met all of those classifications... being very strong, full bodied (almost to the point of being "chewy" due to its syrupy thickness) and the malts were roasted to release a chocolate/espresso taste.

    Even though we were warned by the bartender that the Hugh Unfiltered Hefeweisen and the Blackberry Lemon Wheat were thin and probably not to our taste, we decided to get a pair of samplers so we could try them. The bartender was right. Unfortunately, many brewers think that wheat beers should be light and tasteless. For brewers under this misconception, I suggest that they re-educate themselves by having a bottle of Julius Echter or Schneider Weisse, two of the great German wheat beers. Wheat beers are a perfect medium for showing off a brewer's talent of developing yeast strains, but both of these beers lacked any significant yeast taste. When it comes to American wheat beers, my expectations were set low based on my previous experiences of microbrewed/brewpub wheat beers and unfortunately City Steam fell solidly in the bad American wheat beer camp. The blackberry and lemon flavors were so muted that they didn't even overpower the practically non-existent wheat taste, creating a taste more appropriate for sugary children's drinks like Hi-C or Kool Aid.

    My final analysis of City Steam has changed since my first visit nine months ago. Now, when asked, I can honestly say: City Steam is a solid brewpub that is maturing well as it nears the end of their second year... just avoid the funky stuff and the wheat beers and you'll be fine.

    (Avery Glasser)

    Copyright 2000, Avery and Janet Glasser
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