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Mohegan - A brewing tank (or two) is a terrible thing to waste.
So it's welcome news that the tanks at the former Brew Pub at Mohegan Sun - idle since 2010 - are back in business.
And, it would seem, in good hands.
The Thomas Hooker Brewery, a well-known Connecticut craft brewer that's been cooking in Bloomfield since 2007, has taken over the casino's brewing space, where it will serve a rotating selection of its own craft beers as well as some more familiar brands, and plans to dispense its first custom-made Mohegan Sun brew in a couple of weeks.
On Friday, the Thomas Hooker Test Kitchen marked its debut with a grand-opening celebration at its location inside the casino's 1,600-square-foot Race Book. A half-dozen Thomas Hooker varieties were on tap: Blonde Ale, Munich Lager, Hop Meadow IPA, Irish Red Ale, Chocolate Truffle Stout and Liberator Doppelbock.
Earlier in the day, Curt Cameron, Thomas Hooker's president, recalled pitching The Hooker Brewing Test Kitchen concept to Mohegan Sun executives.
"We said, 'We think it would behoove you to put our name on it,' " Cameron said. "There's a certain cachet about having an award-winning brewery making the beer."
Mohegan Sun executives agreed.
"It was a great opportunity to partner up with a local company that produces a quality product," said Bobby Soper, the casino's president and chief executive officer. "We like to be innovative, and they do, too."
Named for Hartford's founder, the Thomas Hooker Brewery traces its origin to a Hartford brew pub that opened in 1996. The current ownership took control in 2006 and a year later moved the operation to Bloomfield. There, they've been focused on beer production.
In addition to its own 14-beer lineup, some of which is sold in stores, bars and restaurants, Thomas Hooker has contracts to brew products for breweries in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The brewery produces the equivalent of 21,000 12-ounce beers a day, according to Cameron.
"We started with four tanks and now have 21," he said. "We're busting at the seams right now."
Mohegan Sun's brewing facilities - two eight-barrel tanks - allow for the brewing of about 250 gallons at a time, or about 2,500 beers, as opposed to the 1,200 to 1,400 gallons the Bloomfield brewery makes per batch.
"Because we can make smaller batches (at Mohegan Sun), we'll be able to experiment a lot more," Cameron said. "We'll ask people for a thumbs up or a thumbs down, and if they don't like a batch we'll see if we can lose it down the kitchen drain or something."
The lounge in the Race Book, which has seating for 50 to 60 people, provides the brewery with a captive audience whose members wager on simulcasts of horse and greyhound racing and jai alai. A few screens are tuned to other major sporting events, while a sports ticker provides a constant stream of scores, schedules and reports.
"Part of the fun of craft brewing is that you're always innovating," Cameron said. "Beer's not a habitual drink anymore. It's about what's new and different."
In a couple of weeks, the special beer Thomas Hooker's brewing for Mohegan Sun will be ready for "testing."
"It's a Hefeweizen, which is a lighter, summer beer," Cameron said. "It'll have a bubble-gummy, banana taste. Kind of sweet. … It's a style people either love or hate."
Much the same was once said about Thomas Hooker's Watermelon Ale.
"But the 150,000 bottles we make always disappears," Cameron said. "We don't make too many beers that people don't like."
Name: Thomas Hooker Brewery at Mohegan Sun
Upcoming: "Final Friday" celebrations the last Friday of each month, featuring introduction of a new custom-crafted beer