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OEC Brewing: Creating Sour and Wild Ales For Adventurous Taste Buds

OEC Brewing's team understands that tart, acidic and funky sour beers may not be for everyone. Even assistant brewer Tony Pellino admits he didn't fall in love with the style at first taste.

"The first time I ever had a sour beer, I hated it. And now I've dedicated my entire life to them," he said. "If you've never had one, chances are you're not going to love your first sour. You need to have a few tastes and come back."

OEC, or Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores (Order of the Eccentric Boilers, in grammatically incorrect Latin) just celebrated its third anniversary in Oxford. The brewery was founded in 2014 by Ben Neidhart, in connection with its sister company, international beverage importer B United. Neidhart, his wife Jie Yu, brewers Pellino and Dave Linari, and cellarmaster Clark Johnson make up OEC's core team.

OEC specializes in sour and wild ales, in which wild yeast or bacteria is intentionally introduced or allowed to inoculate the beer. Sour beers have come into vogue in recent years, but the tradition is centuries-old — prior to pasteurization, all beers had some element of sour to them, Pellino said. As recently as a decade ago, the style was much more European-dominated, and difficult to find among American producers.

It's still rare to see American breweries like OEC that are dedicated to sours, Pellino said, as operations typically require specific equipment and a significant investment of time. Most of OEC's beers are aged for six months, or longer, in used wine barrels.

"We made a commitment to doing what we do," he said. "Sometimes we don't have quite enough beer, which is tough, but it's OK, we wait, and when it's ready, it's ready. It's not up to us."

FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY BEERS: OEC's products are wide-ranging and often changing, but Pellino said Tempus, a sour blended spiced saison, is the brewery's flagship. Tempus is brewed and blended with various other barrel-aged product, and OEC notes that no two blends "will ever taste the same." The seventh Tempus blend was released in January; an Oud Tempus blend was released in June, and Pellino says Blend #8 may debut later this summer or fall.

OEC recently featured its Albus, its historic interpretation of a white ale brewed with ginger root and lemon balm fresh from the brewery's on-site gardens, and the II (pronounced as "two") Citra, a blend of a young pale ale brewed only using citra hops, pale ale aged in wine barrels for at least six months and spontaneously fermented sour ale fermented in barrels for 12 months.

OEC's special Experimentalis series features only fresh fruits grown in the property's citrus greenhouse and fruit orchards, including gooseberries, raspberries, Meyer lemons, limes and peaches. A recent Experimentalis bottle release, timed for the brewery's anniversary on June 10, was fruited with kumquats.

Exclusive bottle releases, in extremely limited quantities, are "intense," Pellino said, as eager collectors often arrive before dawn and camp out for hours. Visitors will grill food and share beers as they wait for bottle sales to begin.

TASTING ROOM HOURS, AMENITIES: OEC welcomes visitors every Saturday from noon to 7 p.m., and on the last Tuesday of every month from 4 to 8 p.m. Customers can also contact the brewery to buy bottles and pre-filled growlers during the week.

Beers are served in 4-, 6- and 12-ounce pours, and guests can design their own flights by choosing their own number of 4-ounce glasses with a la carte pricing.

"When people come in, I want to chat with you a little bit," Pellino said. "I want to get a vibe for you and your palate to see what kind of journey I can send you on." If someone is unfamiliar with sours, he often offers a small taste before the visitor commits to a flight or glass.

OEC does often serve "guest" beers to accommodate visitors who would prefer more traditional brew styles, as well as non-alcoholic options. The tasting room has indoor seating for about 36, along with expanded outdoor seating.

Pellino says he encourages guests to walk around the property and take in the scenery. "We think it's beautiful."

FOOD OPTIONS: OEC welcomes food trucks on an occasional basis, mostly for special events like major bottle releases. Guests are welcome to bring their own food to the tasting room.

An on-site bakery, which debuted in the summer of 2016, is open about once or twice a month, offering housemade sourdough with a culture based on OEC's brewing yeast. Bread is often produced using old-school rustic grains, Pellino said, and recipes use no water — just wort, the liquid extracted from the mashing process. Visitors will soon find weekend panini specials in the tasting room.

PRICING: For drafts, pricing ranges from $2 to $4 for 4-ounce samples up to $6 to $12 for a 12-ounce pour. Bottles in 500- and 750-milliliter sizes range in price from $10 to $18 for core beers, and $14 to $22 for specialty releases.

Pellino urges visitors to broaden their horizons when they visit. "If it's outside of your wheelhouse, if it's not something you're familiar with, come in with an open mind. Throw all of your preconceived notions out the window. Be willing to have an interesting experience. Whether you love it or hate it, you won't be indifferent. It will make you feel something one way or another."

OEC Brewing is at 7 Fox Hollow Road, Unit B, in Oxford. 203-295-2831, oecbrewing.com.

If it seems like a new brewery opens in Connecticut every week, that's not far off — the state's beer scene continues to grow at a rapid clip, with nearly 50 operational breweries and dozens more in planning and development.

We're planning to tell the stories behind these local breweries and what you'll find when you visit: core beers, specialty brews and sought-after releases; tasting room amenities, food trucks, special events and more.

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