Brewpub Review: Carson's

Formally one of the locations of the Hops chain of brewpubs, Carson's in Newington, Connecticut opened only a few months after the Hops restaurant closed. Employing many of the original staff (including the head brewer) the new restaurant has the original kitchen and much of the original layout, including the 7 barrel copper clad brewing system. The beers however, aren't quite the corporate-mandated swill recipes from the old Hops days.

Carson's, unlike it's predecessor Hops, is not a chain. This shows most obviously in the food menu, which is much more eclectic and diverse. The food quality was very good, my burger was cooked almost illegally medium rare and my wife's turkey club was on some top notch, handmade bread. The garlic fries were stupidly good. "Evil" is what my wife dubbed them. They are epically garlicky. You will wake up the next morning and repel vampires up to 30 miles away.

I ordered up their Porterhouse Ale, and had the choice of 12, 16, or 22 ounces, which I thought was a nice option. When it arrived I noticed immediately that it was freezing cold. Currently two of the four beers on their menu feature very light ales, presumably for the BudMillerCoors crowd. It seems the serving temperatures are geared towards the "frosty mug" end as well. I tried to warm it up as best I could so I could actually taste what was going on.

Served nice and dark, with a good tan head and some slight redness at the edges of the glass. This beer is obviously supposed to be a porter in style, but as far as the carbonation is concerned, it's way too high. It seems that not only the temperatures are geared towards the light-beer end, but the spritzy carbonation as well. This gives the beer a much more biting, acidic flavor than it would had it been less carbed. The roast is not too aggressive, letting the coffee, chocolate, and toast come through. The beer overall is very clean, and generally unoffensive. The finish is nicely dry, almost no residual sweetness is left. There is a little bit of an ashy, cigarette aftertaste. A safe, if incorrectly served, porter. It get's a B- from me.

Next up was the Amber Ale. Again, very cold and very carbonated. There is some hop nose going on, but not a ton. Sweet caramel and some toast are in the aroma as well. The color is a nice brownish red, with a tan head and a fair amount of haze. The flavor has a lot of bread and toast, with caramel and toffee mixing in. There is some hop bitterness here, as well as some slight herbal hops in the flavor, but the malts seems to sing the most here. The malt sweetness is just enough, paired with the bread and biscuit to give the impression of English, or even some Scottish ales. If the carbonation and temperature were dialed back on this, I would drink it all night. As it stands, it's a B.

All in all, Carson's is a solid, if not outstanding place. The food is very good, American fair, and the beers are very...well, safe. I can't see any imperial barrel aged sour IPAs coming out of this place any time soon, but one can hope. Perhaps when things have settled down, and the owners are less worried about the bottom line, they'll give the brewer a little more free reign. Then we could see some really interesting things coming out of this pub in the future. Until then it seems like they are shooting for the middle of the road beer drinker, much the same way Hops did. Perhaps they can succeed in weening them off the light lagers and lead them further into the world of beer. I will wait at the bar and see.