Old Lyme resident brews success at ale festival

Each year, the Noah Webster Real Ale Festival is held at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, and entrants are supposed to make each signature ale in a cask using only a base ale and whatever ingredients can be found in the garden of the home. In other words, they can only use ingredients that would have been available in the 1800s.

Breweries from across Connecticut come to show off their home brewed creations, and this year’s festival winner was presented to a watermelon sour craft beer brewed by Old Lyme resident Shane Bourque.

Bourque has been a resident of Old Lyme for 27 years. He went to school at Central Connecticut State University, where he studied criminology and history, and has been in the beer industry for about four or five years.

Starting out as a beer manager at Grand Wine and Spirits in Old Lyme, he wanted to move up in the industry, making his passion a career. He spent three years at Diageo Guinness USA where he worked in sales and business development. Currently he is at the Stony Creek Brewery in Branford, where he has spent the past six months.

Bourque began home brewing a few years ago. He’s brewed many batches — IPAs to brown ales to lagers — but didn’t professionally start thinking about recipes until he met his head brewer at Stony Creek, Gordon Whelply, who helped create the winning beer.

“I really appreciated his willingness to help me through this process, because when we went to pick the garden ingredients I had my vision in mind and he gelled with me on it,” Bourque said.

“I said cucumbers, he said ‘Awesome, let’s throw them in there.’ ‘I want basil.’ ‘Done, say no more. You know what we’ll throw that in there too.’

“So he was really an inspiration for me, and I’m really happy that we have him on our team.”

Bourque picked basil, cucumbers, rhubarb and noble hops from the garden at the Noah Webster House and added them to cask.

“With casks and the ingredients that we used, it takes time for the ingredients to make friends with everything else that’s going on in the initial base beer that we used,” he said.

The ingredients sat in the cask for one month to allow for a natural re-carbonation period.

“When we tapped the cask I was a little bit under-pressure, but as we kept de-gassing the cask it mellowed out,” Bourque said. “We poured for six hours, so the cask lasted all night.”

This competition marks the first time Bourque has won an award for his home brew, an exciting accomplishment for him and his family.

“They couldn’t believe it. I mean it’s a big deal,” he said.

It also marks a big win for Stony Creek, as the competition has drawn more attention to the brewery. The brewery, right on the Branford River, is open seven days a week and always has 16 beers on tap.

“It’s a great overall destination venue, and I would love to see you down there,” Bourque said with a smile.

Paul Garrett, a Mitchell College student, is a Times intern.

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