If you keep up with Connecticut Beer, then chances are you follow Will Siss in some form or another. Whether it’s his monthly “Beer Snob” column in the RepublicanAmerican, or via his blog beersnobwrites.com, he’s dropping beer knowledge bombs left and right. But, he’s added a new way to share about beer and his uberly descriptive reviews: a brand new book.
If you don’t own Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing by now, you’ll need to definitely pick up a copy at a local store, Amazon, or at some of the local events that He will be attending. We have a list below that Will shared with us, so read on for that. And, if you really needed a reason besides our love and admiration of this book, let’s drop some bombs of our own.
Connecticut Beer starts off with an impressive history of beer in CT, sharing things we both had no idea about (what? there’s a restaurant here that used to be a speakeasy?) From there, Will takes the reader through all the CT breweries that were in production before publication. And, each brewery section includes a history of the brewery, a run through of the beer offered, and a quick Q&A from the brewer or owner. He then wraps the book up with some breweries close to opening and a great guide to restaurants in the state that are known for having a stellar brew selection.
We’re very excited to help spread the word about Will’s book and think it’s perfect for the person who wants to learn more about CT beer, wants a guide to the expanding CT beer scene, or just wants to get drunk off of words.
Well, enough from us . . . let’s hear from Will Siss himself, why he wanted to write Connecticut Beer, how he found out so much, his approach to writing a book, new adventures, surprises along the way, and plans for the future.
Why was writing Connecticut Beer important to you?
Writing the book was a milestone for me. I’d written a beer column for the Waterbury Republican-American for 10 years and toyed with the idea of writing a book of my columns. When I was approached by The History Press, the idea of writing about Connecticut breweries for a larger audience was very appealing to my ego, as well as that journalist in me that was so used to writing the “first draft of history,” and wanted a crack at the second draft. I also think writing Connecticut Beer was important to me because I wanted people outside of the “beer scene” to learn about the great people that make a living creating beer in our state. It’s been very rewarding to have conversations with people who haven’t had a local beer before, or with people who didn’t know so many breweries existed. It was also a challenge to go back and revisit breweries to write all new stories.
We can’t imagine the amount of research that went into the book, especially when you dug deep into CT Beer history. What were some of the most challenging aspects of your research?
I was very intimidated about the research portion of the book when it pertained to the history of Connecticut brewing. In my mind’s eye it was always the HISTORY OF CONNECTICUT BREWING, with the important-looking capital letters. It took me about a year and a half from assignment to deadline, and I think I used up pretty much every minute of it. (It’s odd to see a book so relatively thin when you think about the time you put into it.) I used local museums like the New Haven and Hartford museums; I used the Hartford and Bridgeport public libraries; and I also combed through back issues at the New Haven Register and Hartford Courant, along with other papers I could find online. Outside of a few books on New England brewing (which I mention in the bibliography), there wasn’t much I could find in terms of secondary sources. I did use Charles L. Brooks’ helpful master’s thesis on Connecticut during Prohibition. I took my responsibility to heart and tried very hard not to put in anything that I couldn’t verify in a few sources. Looking at it now (especially compared to the Capitol Brewing book about Washington, DC), I see that there is a long way to go to get more detailed history of brewing. But I played my part.
Was it difficult to shift from shorter pieces of writing to writing a book?
I don’t think it was that difficult shifting from shorter pieces to writing a book, mostly because I broke up my chapters and gave myself assignments just like any editor would to his or her writer. As a teacher, I’m blessed with summers off, so I spent a lot of last summer structuring how to put the chapters together and slowly gathering the necessary information. I had a lot of face-to-face interviews to do, and those were sometimes tough to transcribe (especially if I was sampling the merchandise during the interview), but I figured out a method. In the end I came out with a product that was a collection of short pieces that when put together reads longer.
Were there any breweries that you visited in your travels and research that you hadn’t been to before?
Yes, there were breweries I’d never been to before. Embarrassing to say, I’d never been to Cottrell Brewing in Pawcatuck before, and they’re considered a “old-timer” in the Connecticut scene. I’d never been to Beer’d in nearby Stonington either, and that’s also due to the fact that I’m in Litchfield County. I’d never been to any of the Southport Brewing locations before writing the book, and writing the book also took me to Stamford to see Half Full for the first time. I’m grateful for the pressure it took to get me on the road and to meet such wonderful, hard-working people.
What was something surprising that you discovered that you never knew before you began the process of writing your book?
I certainly thought that writing a book was going to be easier than it turned out to be, so that surprised me. When you write an article, you have maybe three or four sources and a focus that blossoms from your interviews. Now multiply that by 26. I thought that perhaps it was going to go much faster because I’d already profiled many breweries before, but I found that there was so much new to discover. For example, I did not know a lot about the brewers’ backgrounds, and that always led to deeper discussions that sometimes changed the focus of my chapters. Another example of something surprising I discovered was how repetitive I can get. I ended up combing through my beer and brewery descriptions and finding some of the same words, usually because it had been months between writing those chapters. This forced me to get more creative and specific.
Do you have any plans to create a follow-up that adds in the new breweries that have started operations after your publishing or are in the works?
I do not have any plans to create a follow up in terms of writing another book. If The History Press wants to pursue another look at Connecticut beer a few years down the line, I’m game. However, I still have my monthly column to update readers on new breweries (like Steady Habit, Outer Light, Kent Falls, and Veracious). I also have my blog, beersnobwrites.com. I hope to use whatever leverage I can manage from this book to write more freelance articles for national publications, and let the world know about Connecticut beer.
If you’d like to get your own copy of the book, meet Will, and grill him like we just did, there are plenty of chances that we’ve listed down below. Copies of his book are $22 and he’ll even sign a copy for you. ;)
July 30 Book talk, 6:30 pm Torrington Public Library
Aug. 2 Book talk/tasting, 4 pm New Haven Museum, Pardee-Morris House, with beer from Erector Brewing Collective
Aug. 4 Book talk/tasting 7pm Darien Library, with Half Full Brewing
Aug. 20 Book signing, “Torrington Marketplace,” 7-9PM Torrington, Franklin Street, after my band The Pollinators plays from 5-7
Aug. 22 Taste of the Shoreline, book signing, 1-3 Guilford Fairgrounds, Lovers Lane, Guilford
Aug. 22 Summer Social Happy Hour, 4-7 Griswold Inn Gift Shop, Essex
Other visits on the horizon include Harwinton Public Library (Sept. 28), New Canaan Library (Oct. 1), Stony Creek Brewery (Oct. 6), Booth & Dimock Memorial Library in Coventry (Oct. 13), Woodbury Public Library (Oct. 15), Groton Public Library (Oct. 17), and the Litchfield Historical Society (Nov. 19).