To say that Willimantic Brewing Co. is a bit off the beaten path is, well, a bit understated. Though, I've never been there before, so who knows? Especially, given that Eastern Connecticut State University is just blocks away and the much larger University of Connecticut is just a few miles away. As I moseyed along route 32 from interstate 84, I certainly got the feeling of "over the river and through the woods." When finally arriving in the middle of Willimantic, some 30-odd miles east of Hartford, the brewpub is not hard to spot. It is located in a former post office building. From the outside, it is an impressive structure with streetside dining. With a modest amount of parking on the side quickly filled after work, I found a parking meter across the street. Once inside, you can certainly feel how the bar and restaurant have been set into the former postal operation. This is especially evident, for example, at the bar where wine bottles are inserted into what appear to be former post office boxes. The brewpub, with its soaring ceilings, is adorned with interesting tap handles, posters, coasters, and artwork that add to the visual appeal. The ample dining room is situated around the bar and provides plenty of room to sit and enjoy their decent food menu. I chose, as I often do ;-) to belly up to the bar for dinner and a couple of brews. The idea here at Willimantic is that they have around a dozen of their beers on tap as well close to 20 other high quality brews from around the country and world. Quite ambitious indeed, but they do appear to pull it off well enough. The bartender on this particular Thursday evening was quite pleasant and willing to help me make the right choices based on my limited available time. I began with the RoadenZok, which is a very nice Belgian-style red and a bit aggressive, with just enough tart flavor to get your attention without being overwhelming. This was quite an impressive beginning. Then, my crabcake appetizer (excellent) came as I finished the tasty sour treat. Next, I chose the Autobahn Mail altbier as an accompaniment. Another nicely crafted beer with a decent malty backbone. Then, just for good measure, I needed to try one of the Sterling Nugget IPAs before I headed out for the last 4 hours of my drive home. This went down quite nicely with the flank steak entree that I ordered. Probably worth noting that you certainly get great value for your food bill. Along with the entree comes a decent size salad. By the way, I have not mentioned yet that my plan here was to check out Willimantic, of which I had formerly heard good things. Since I was driving home from Boston to Philadelphia during rush hour, I thought the plan would be good to wait out the New York metro area rush hour by making a new beer discovery. Well, the environment was decent, the food was good, and the beer was even better. Needless to say, I did not leave Willimantic until a little after 7pm. Plenty of time to miss rush hour traffic, for sure. Yikes, late night getting home. But, well worth it. Next time that you are in the Hartford, CT area or driving north towards Boston, you will want to be sure to check out City Steam in downtown Hartford. But, if you have the time, be sure to make the extra trip out to Willimantic, for the food and for the beer. You will be glad you did. p.s. You will want to check out the growlers as well. Unfortunately, they were experiencing problems with their current growlers....something about a tendency for the bottoms to fall out. They are looking to replace them. You will definitely want to think about making arrangements to get some of this great beer home.
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