Let’s face it, some beer menus can be downright boring. How many times have you asked a waitress what’s available and listened to a robotic recording kick in: “Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Corona, Sam Adams...” I love the confused look I sometimes get when they finish the spiel and I answer, “I’ll have sangria.” Anti-establishment beer drinkers like myself usually won’t have such problems at a brewpub, and luckily we have our very own in Coddington Brewing Company.
“Coincidentally” located on Coddington Highway in Middletown, Coddington Brewing Company hand crafts all its beer on the premises. Around 30 different flavors are offered throughout the year, with rotating seasonal brews supplementing a core of year-round staples. To navigate the operation and the menu, I met with brewmaster Marshall Righter – a 17-year brewing veteran and graduate of the Siebel Institute in Chicago (the oldest brewing school in the United States, opened in 1872).
When asked about Coddington’s most popular beers, Righter highlights four of his year-round brews: a light golden ale, a hoppy IPA, a dark stout and a fruity blueberry. The wide spectrum of flavor covered by this selection can service a diversity of palates. The fall’s specialty brews include Oktoberfest and Pumpkin Ale, but by late November these will make way for Righter’s Winter Warmers, which are crafted with higher alcohol by volume (ABV) to keep Jack Frost at bay. This year’s batch will include a fig beer and a beer brewed with agave nectar, a sweet syrup harvested from the same plant used to produce tequila.
A dining room window looks into the production part of the process. There I found a large mash tun where malted barley is mixed with hot water to create wort, a brew kettle where the wort is boiled and hops are added, a coil system that cools the liquid from 212 degrees to 65 and a fermenter where yeast is added and fermentation begins. The large tanks comprising this system produce over 200 gallons of beer per brew, which is then stored in the basement under the bar in industrial-sized kegs, or “grundys.” With four separate fermenters each on a two- to three-week brewing cycle, the beer selection is constantly changing and almost every week will bring a new flavor.
Regular readers of this column may recall a recent story on home brewing. It was interesting to see how – despite the large, shiny equipment that allows a business like Coddington to produce at scale – the fundamental brewing process is exactly the same as the hobbyist in his basement. Here mash tuns replace the plastic jugs, brew kettles replace the stovetop pots and grundys replace the recycled bottles.
Choosing from all those flavors can be difficult, but Coddington makes it easy for you by offering a Sample Tray with seven different seven-ounce pours of whatever is on tap at the time. At $15, it’s a steal. I saddled up to the bar to do my homework, but I couldn’t tackle this assignment on an empty stomach. Luckily, Coddington offers the usual pub fare of salads, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, seafood, steaks and – most importantly – near-perfect curly fries. On this night I chose an Oktoberfest special – bratwurst accompanied by sauerkraut and German-style potato salad, a selection that in hindsight may not have been the smartest for reasons discussed below.
All seven beers are poured at once and placed on a mat, deliberately ordered from lightest to darkest. The mat is marked with placeholders and the names of the various brews allowing you to keep track of what you’re drinking. First up was Golden Ale, a smooth American lager with a crisp, clean finish. This was followed by Blueberry Blonde Ale, a light, tasty brew garnished with whole blueberries. I’ll be back another night for a Blueberry Snakebite, which mixes the Blueberry Ale with Woodchuck Cider.
Next up was India Pale Ale, an amber-colored English-style ale. Personally, I’m not a fan of hoppy, bitter beer, but I found this to be drinkable with the sauerkraut I was eating. I guess the sharpness of each cancelled the other out. This IPA can be mixed with Woodchuck for the Snakebite mentioned above, or taken a step further by adding Chambord for a drink with the beautiful name of Purple Death.
The next series included three seasonal beers – Pumpkin, Oktoberfest and Scottish Heavy. It was at this point that I started to suspect the sauerkraut was affecting my tastebuds. All the seasonal beers were good – Oktoberfest in particular for its flavor and smoothness – but I had a constant tang in my mouth from the sauerkraut aftertaste. Note to self, keep the food bland when trying out new beer. Rounding out the Sample Tray was an Oatmeal Stout, dark and full bodied with a rich, creamy head and dry, nutty finish.
You won’t find Coddington’s brews in stores, but you can buy beer at the restaurant to take home. Beer is sold in 64-ounce (half-gallon) growlers that are filled straight from the tap. A deposit must be paid, and if you bring back your washed growler you can get a refill for a cheaper price. With the ever-changing varieties, it may take you a while to declare your favorite, but you’ll have finally found a beer menu you’ll want to listen to.