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RIDGEFIELD — The idea for David Kaye’s Nod Hill Brewery was fermenting for years before he and his fiance Sarah Zitnay met up with head brewer Kyle Acenowr and found their ultimately cool taproom space at 137 Ethan Allen Highway (Route 7) in the Branchville section of Ridgefield.
But the inspiration for the many of the draft nectars they create and serve up to their thirsty patrons is centuries old.
“We’re kind of focused on brewing very soft, kind of drinkable, hoppier beers, some in the Belgian tradition,” Mr Kaye said. “There are tons of breweries doing Belgian styles, but we are particularly inspired by the Trappist breweries that brew that style of beers.”
In fact, Mr Kaye said, one of Nod Hill Brewery’s most popular creations is called “Ace of Wands.”
“It’s been extremely popular since we opened. It’s a Belgian single, which is the kind the Trappist monasteries brew for their own monks to drink,” he said. “It’s a lower alcohol — 5 percent — everyday drinking beer with a broad appeal. And not a lot of breweries make it, so this one really sets us apart in the region.”
What also sets Nod Hill apart to some degree is the fact that most of the growing population of microbreweries and related tap rooms in Connecticut are concentrated in and around New Haven, and in the central region of the state.
“There just aren’t a lot of operations like this in northern Fairfield County,” he said.
As evidence, a dreary and foggy evening visit to the taproom one recent Friday evening saw almost every seat in the place filled with 20- to 40-ish looking patrons, many of whom apparently came with friends by virtue of their boisterous and animated conversations — probably about beer.
For newbies to the world of microbrews, Mr Kaye, Ms Zitnay, Mr Acenowr, and all the Nod Hill servers are happy to walk inexperienced patrons through the basics.
“What we brew is a wide range of styles of beers, at a high quality level, with a lot of flavor,” he said. “We do a lot of IPAs and pale ales that are really aromatic and not overly bitter. And our Belgian styles are more yeast-driven, rather than hop-driven. Those incorporate a whole range of spicy, herbal kind of flavors.”
It’s In The Hops
One of the brews Mr Kaye offered had a smooth citrus flavor to it, but no fruit was harmed in the making of this sample.
“The citrus flavor actually comes from our hops,” he said. “We use a nice variety of high quality American hops from the Pacific Northwest, as well as hops grown in the southern Pacific region like New Zealand. Those are the locations where we get most of our hops. A lot of those hops throw citrus flavor as well as tropical fruit flavors like mango, papaya, and nectarine and other fruity flavors.”
All Nod Hill’s hybrid hops are bred and selected to produce those flavor compounds, he added.
Those who may want to try a Nod Hill offering, or two, or three before venturing down to the Branchville tap room only need to go as far as My Place, and the Red Rooster Pub. Both currently offer Mr Kaye’s creations while supplies last.
Which brings us around to the subject of limited supply. Mr Kaye operates in a culled-out section of what is otherwise a commercial fence company, so right now he is limited to brewing only ten, 200-gallon selections at a time.
That means the beer that is here today could be gone tomorrow — however temporarily. And Mr Kaye and Ms Zitnay are excited to be branching out even further in the coming weeks.
“We are starting to brew sour beers, and you are probably the first media outlet we’re telling about it,” he said. “We’re going to add a oak aging vessel pretty soon to begin storing Belgian sour varieties.”
That not only requires a lot of time to accomplish, but creates an exclusive and highly sought-after selection that will go fast because of its limited quantities per batch.
“The brewing process for these sour beers is very time-consuming,” Mr Kaye said. “It can take four months to several years to age these to their very best flavor potential. And that will be the kind of beer we’ll bottle as opposed to offering it on tap.”
Nod Hill is working on expanding its availability of “packaged” beers, and just ramped up its beer canning operations last month.
Interestingly, this new local brewery and tap room is not just out to attract beer lovers.
Ms Zitnay is also making her mark on the operation by hosting and leading biweekly vinyasa yoga classes. The next two are set for Sundays, February 11 and 18.
And Mr Kaye, himself a musician, is occasionally inviting live players. The duo of Dan Carlucci and Bob Csugie will be performing Thursday, February 8, from 6 to 8 pm; and the five-piece bluegrass extravaganza Hitch & the Giddyup are scheduled for Saturday, March 3, from 7 to 9 pm.
Meet The Brewer
The couple actually placed an ad and met their brewer Mr Acenowr about a year ago when he was working with an operation in Endicott, N.Y., and immediately struck up a friendship. Mr Kaye said they began exploring and creating various formulas for the eventual opening of Nod Hill Brewery months in advance.
“This was so early in the process that we were creating some of these beers in a modified home brewing set up,” Mr Kaye said. “So he’s had a lot of time to think about the process for most of these recipes, we were able to sample a lot of ingredients so we could choose the hops and things we wanted to use.”
Another important relationship that helped turn an idea into a bricks and mortar operation is the love of beers shared between Mr Kaye and his dad, Robert. Dave and Rob Kaye had a vision of opening a brewery for many years, with different inspirations and experiences informing it along the way.
From keeping and serving cask ale in London, to spending nights drinking monk-brewed Märzen beer in Salzburg, to batch after batch of experimental homebrews, the father/son team were inspired to one day create a venue that reflected their love of beer.
Nod Hill benefits from solid branding, thanks to designer Brian Steely, who created all Nod Hill’s visual design, including the brewery’s logo and can artwork. The unique style and feel of the taproom are attributed to Matt and Sarah Rink of New Antiquity, who designed and built all the tables, bar tops, cabinetry, and contributed to many other elements of its decor.
The taproom is open to the public for tasting flights, full pours, and growler fills to-go on Thursdays from 4 to 8 pm; Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 9 pm; and Sundays from noon to 5 pm. Six beers are always available on draft in addition to regular cask offerings and special can releases.
Besides selling their own growlers in both 32-ounce and 2-liter sizes, they also fill other brewery’s growlers as long as they are brought in clean and dry. And on busy night at the bar, Nod Hill opens its separate growler fill bar located in the brewery area.
Nod Hill is planning a chocolate and beer pairing event before Valentine’s Day, and Mr Kaye recently struck up a partnership with 109 Cheese & Wine and is offering various cheese and charcuterie plates along with bagged snacks and jerky.
Hungrier patrons are more than welcome to bring their own food from home, order delivery, or grab some takeout and bring it to the taproom as there is no kitchen facility onsite.
Designated drivers can steer toward the Rise Cold Brew coffee and San Pellegrino Aranciata, while those (gasp!) who are not beer lovers are invited to enjoy Wild Tonic Kombucha — a delicious 5.6 percent ABV, gluten-free, honey- and tea-based fermented beverage.
The tap room is available for rental outside of normal business hours, and there are plenty of Nod Hill-branded shirts, glasses, hats, and merch for every taste along with available gift cards.
Like the campfire depicted in their logo, Nod Hill Brewery is a welcoming gathering place for friends to meet, relax, and enjoy fresh beer. Stop in or visit online at nodhillbrewery.com