East Lyme — It may have just opened in August, but Noble Jay Brewing Co. owner Mike Lincoln joked at his ribbon-cutting ceremony Sunday that he is the “proprietor of Niantic’s longest standing brewery.”
Lincoln's establishment was the first of two breweries to open in town over the past six months — Niantic Public House opened its doors in November.
Since state laws affecting breweries changed in 2012, Lincoln said, southeastern Connecticut has developed its own “little brewing scene.”
“That’s really exciting to be a part of,” Lincoln said, stating that the openings of the Niantic Public House, Fox Farm in Salem and the Steady Habit Brewing Co. in Haddam have brought the brewing trend into towns closer to the Connecticut River.
Farther east and north, several other breweries have become successes, including the Outer Light Brewing Co. in Groton, Epicure Brewing and These Guys Brewing Co. in Norwich, The Beer'd Brewing Co. In Stonington, Cottrell Brewing Co. in Pawcatuck, Barley Head Brewery in Mystic and Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island in Westerly. Boston-based Trillium Brewing plans to open a farmhouse brewery in North Stonington.
“Who would have thought that Niantic was cool enough to have a place like this,” First Selectman Mark Nickerson said at Sunday’s ribbon cutting, which was sponsored by Niantic Main Street, a nonprofit promoting businesses throughout Niantic.
State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, agreed, saying, “These breweries have been a great thing for this region. They attract a lot of young people and they bring people in to visit our towns.”
Recognizing the growing trend, Cheeseman said she, state Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, are planning their own local brewery tour on March 8.
Built into the warehouse of an industrial park abutting Interstate 95, Noble Jay offers a cozy setting with chalk board menus, Christmas lights and oriental rugs, as well as a small gaming area and a wrap-around bar. Distinguishing itself from other nearby breweries, however, Lincoln said he mostly brews craft lagers in addition to ales.
“It’s an 80/20 ratio. I still brew ales. But lagers are a great beer style and I wanted to try something else,” Lincoln said.
Breweries, he continued, don’t typically focus on lagers because of their long brewing times.
“From an economical standpoint it doesn't make sense, usually. But the longer brew times aren't disrupting the business right now either,” Lincoln said. “Right now business is steady, so we can keep focusing on lagers.”
Brewing all his beers himself, Lincoln said he’ll typically offer four to five self-brewed beers on tap at any given point, with a handful of other selections, such as an IPA, from other breweries around the state. Featured are taps from Kent Falls Brewing Co. of Kent and Beer’d, among others. Beers range in price from $7 to $8.
In total, Lincoln said he has 11 tried-and-tested recipes, made from his own home brewing experimentations over the years, that he rotates through his menu. The company is named after his late mother Patricia Jay, whose first name is derived from the Latin word "patrician," which means "noble."
Originally from Rhode Island, the 41-year-old Lincoln moved to Old Saybrook, where he still lives, when he was 14. It wasn’t until he was in college majoring in Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Maine when Lincoln discovered his love for brewing.
“Some people are good playing music and some people are good at art. But I was always good at brewing,” Lincoln said. “It always made sense. It was my own creative outlet. I loved mixing the ingredients and waiting to see how a brew would come out, and I always loved sharing that with others."
Reading “The Complete Joy to Homebrewing” to start out, Lincoln is entirely self-taught.
It was while working as an oceanographic technician for a local hydrographic survey company that Lincoln said he realized he wanted to open his own brewery, even at the risk of leaving a job he had been at for the past 10 years.
Over the past four years, Lincoln has jumped through municipal hurdles and renovated space for his tap room. He also worked with his previous employer to comfortably transition out of his old job into being a full-time brewer.
“I was definitely nervous. There were a lot of sleepless nights. But I knew I would rather try and fail than not try at all,” Lincoln said. “Right now I’m just happy to say I’m trying and focusing on being Niantic’s oldest continuing brewery.”