Local Brewery Has Me Steamed
City Steam Brewery
Hartford, CT


One fateful night earlier this month, a few of us decided to go out, grab some food and toss back a few beers. We started at the Hartford Brewery. In the past I have had some good beer there, and the food is always pretty good. Sadly on that particular night, nothing about the Hartford Brewery was very special. Mind you, nothing was bad, it was just not superior in anyway.

Being unimpressed we decided to stroll over to City Steam. I had heard mixed reviews of the place but had not yet ventured inside. With my hopes set high, we braved the cold, deserted streets of Hartford and headed that way. If you have not been to City Steam, it is located in the old Brown Thompson building. The space itself has always been interesting and I think it is an ideal place for a brewpub. The bar was not very crowded and we found a nice little table in the corner. Our waitress came by and gave us the list. Along with their regular offering of ales, they offered a Belgian Tripel. Belgian beers are notoriously difficult to brew, so I was excited about giving it a try. Sadly, that expectation would be as good as this visit was going to get.

I asked our waitress if any of the ales were cask conditioned. Cask conditioned beers provide a more complex and interesting profile of flavors then the same beer served in a traditional fashion. Cask conditioned ales are served via a hand pump directly from the cask in which they were fermented. In the old days wooden firkins were used to store beer. The rotating of the kegs, the tapping and the pumping of firkins is an almost lost art form. In todays brew pups superior containers and more efficient hand pumps make serving cask conditioned ales much easier. Most brewpubs offer a cask-conditioned ale. Our waitress, whose grasp of English was fleeting at best, said, All of the beers are in kegs sir. I decided on a different tact.

Are any of the beers hand pumped?
Yes sir, all of the beers are served using the hand spout!
Failure, absolute and total.

I decided to just go ahead and get a sampler, substituting the Belgian Tripel for the Colt 46 light beer they offer. Several minutes later, the samples arrived. I stared at the table and could not believe what I was seeing: five beers, arranged according to color, in teensy tiny mugs. How can you adequately taste a beer with 2 ounces to consume and served in glasses so small that all nasal components of the beer are undetectable? Sample glasses should be about 4 ounces and served in small brandy glasses or some other glass that allows you to smell the beer. You cannot taste without smell! Nonetheless I reached for the beers and found them lacking as much as the service.

INNOCENCE ALE: As it turned out, this IS a cask-conditioned ale. And an India Pale Ale to boot. IPAs are one of my favorite beer styles. This beer is dispensed using nitrogen. That is unusual and not traditional dispensing method. Nitrogen is typically used in dispensing certain stouts. The City Steam version had the right color, a deep gold almost amber. Typically, IPAs have a strong hop aroma and flavor. They also have medium body. However, this beer was a little thin and lacked any real hop aroma. The sample sheet said it was dry hopped, but I could not tell. This beer was also under hopped. This beer is more a standard pale ale than an IPA. Disappointing. GRADE: C

NAUGHTY NURSE PALE ALE: Billed as a classic English Pale Ale but really more of an American style Pale Ale. Hop level was good, but again there was no nose to speak of. Overall, a rather thin and bland version of a classic style. GRADE: C

HUGH HEFE WEIZEN: The Sampler sheet says that this beer is as good a wheat beer we can get this side of Germany. They are wrong. Although this is one of the better beers offered, it still suffers from the same thing all the other beers lack: Body and Nose. Weizens are typically very aromatic. This brew was not!

CITY STEAM ALE: Their signature beer. By the name I was expecting a Steam Beer, amber and bitter as hell. In fact, the beer is a classic English mild and is by far the best beer served. Good body and a bitterness level that matches the style. Good malt after taste probably provided by extract instead of grain. Low alcohol and a mild finish. Very Drinkable. GRADE: B+

STOUT: (I don't recall the name and I neglected to right it down) This is a big beer, like a stout ought to be. More a sweet stout than a dry stout. Both the body and the sweetness indicate that original gravity was fortified by extract. The beer may be virtually all extract. Almost no taste of chocolate or roasted barley typical of the style. The beer is horribly under-hopped. The finish is sticky, typical of high extract beers. I had a stout like this once before, from a Beer in a Bag homebrew kit.

BELGIUM TRIPEL: This beer is advertised as a high gravity, high alcohol beer served only in 7 oz glass because of its power. The beer was correctly served in a bell shaped glass (probably by accident). Normally, these are big beers, full-bodied, huge nose and strong taste of alcohol. The peculiar flavors imparted by the Belgian Yeast create a unique flavor. Brewing this beer is ambitious. It is also completely beyond City Steams ability. This beer had NO NOSE!!! A Belgian Beer with no nose is like a porn star with 2" penis. This beer was thin, oddly flavored and nowhere near the strength advertised. An absolutely shameful brew! GRADE: F-

Not reviewed was the Colt 46. I refuse to pay money for Budweiser grade beer. Also not reviewed was the Barley Wine. Being another one of my favorite styles, you don't want to know my opinion of what this brewer called Barley Wine.

Overall, this is one of the absolutely worst brewpubs I have ever been to. I had to think very hard to remember a less satisfying beer experience. Almost insulting, really.


Great location and space
Hey, its still alcohol!

The beer
The service (ignorant of beer, and too lazy to come around often)
The brewer