In 2008, Connecticut native Benjamin Braddock was an insurance professional, feeling wholly unsatisfied with his career. He found himself looking for the perfect job, he said, hoping to follow in the footsteps of entrepreneurs in his family.
Home brewing was something that really stoked his passion, and he considered making a go of it as a vocation, looking toward opening a brewery someday.
His wife, Joy, supported the goal, but urged him to learn the ropes professionally before he made the leap.
"[I said,] you need to get industry experience; not only just for the knowledge, but for the connections," she said.
Braddock escaped the corporate cubicle and spent four years climbing the ladder from "keg cleaner to brewer" at Bloomfield's Thomas Hooker Brewery, also completing a brewing science and technology certificate at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. While later working as head brewer at Willimantic Brewing Company, Braddock spent his free time planning his dream: a business of his very own.
On Saturday, Aug. 20, more than three years after officially putting pen to paper to write a business plan, Benjamin and Joy will open Hog River Brewing Company in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood. The 3,700 square-foot brewery and taproom is in the former Hartford Rubber Works building at 1429 Park Street, which is also home to several other small businesses, including Design Source CT, reSET and Caral Restaurant & Lounge. The building also features dozens of apartments.
"It was always a big thing for us to [build] in one of these historic spaces," Braddock said, noting that he had previously looked at other locations in Parkville. Hog River's name pays homage to the city's subterranean river.
The brewery reflects its building's origins as a raw, industrial space, including two remaining 30-foot machine presses and an exposed former elevator shaft. Seating is available for 75 guests at a long, polished bar and handcrafted tables, with standing room for another 150 people.
The 7-barrel brewing system will produce several rotating beers, starting with a core of five for the opening weekend. These include Hog River's Gentle Giant summer blond ale, the Behind the Rocks smoked red ale with a hint of Beechwood smoked malt, the 8th Ward brown ale and two IPAs: River Run Rye with "an array of German malts and a slight hand of Amarillo and Palisade hops" and From the Ashes, with Centennial and Columbus hops. Braddock soon plans to have a house beer, a German Kölsch-style ale, which will have a permanent spot on the brewery's tap lines.
"My favorite styles of beer are more traditional German-style beers," Braddock said, adding that he may also experiment with barrel-aging and sours. An imperial stout will also debut soon.
Visitors will be able to purchase the beer in pints, samplers and 64-ounce growlers. Braddock aims to sell most of Hog River's beer directly from the taproom, with the possibility of distributing kegs to restaurants and bars, but he doesn't have plans to bottle or can the beer yet, he said.
The Braddocks hope that Hog River will become a gathering spot for the community, modeling the taproom setup after other breweries they've visited across the country.
"We're dubbing ourselves 'Hartford's living room,'" Benjamin said. "We want people to come in and have a chill, relaxed experience."
Joy Braddock emphasized that the taproom wouldn't be a bar, but more of a family-friendly hangout.
"I'm hoping, in our location, we get a cross of different communities, different types of people coming together," she said. "I just think it's all about having people come here, feel comfortable and conversate."
In his near-decade of brewing experience, Benjamin Braddock has witnessed the rapid upward trajectory of the Connecticut beer scene. When he first started with Thomas Hooker Brewery, the state only had a handful of breweries, and now there are about 35, with several more due to open this calendar year. With increasing competition, every brewery has had to "pick their game up," he said. "There's really no room for error."
"It was hard though, because you're behind the scenes planning your vision and seeing all these people popping up so quickly," said Joy Braddock. "We've just been in planning for so long. But we're thankful that we thought it through so carefully."
Opening day at Hog River Brewing runs from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, featuring three food trucks: the chicken-focused Yardbird & Co.; Whey Station, with creative grilled cheese sandwiches, and NoRA Cupcake Company, which will sell a cupcake baked with the brewery's imperial stout. (Bear's Smokehouse's food truck will be on site Sunday afternoon.) Tap lines also include two ciders from Wallingford's New England Cider Company.
Joy Braddock is eager to get the first visitors into the taproom and gauge their reactions. "It's surreal, really right now, I think we're just really excited," she said. "I'm incredibly proud of Ben and it feels like a huge accomplishment. Other than the birth of our daughter…you know, it's the most really important weekend of our life."
HOG RIVER BREWING COMPANY, 1429 Park St., Hartford, will be open Wednesday, 3 to 7 p.m.; Thursday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Friday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.: and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. hogriverbrewing.com