With its history as a blue-collar mill town, Willimantic seems like the perfect place for some good beer.
And Paul Zocco, an Andover resident and owner of Zok’s Homebrewing and Winemaking in Willimantic, said he believes the town is quickly emerging as a great place for local breweries.
Main Street Café also makes its own beer. And now, local residents can attempt to brew beer themselves from Zocco, who is a qualified teacher.
Zocco was recently named the 2009 New England Homebrewer of the Year after a series of regional beer competitions where brewers must make up to 23 different types of beer, including ales, stouts and bocks.
He took his second brewing title after tying with another beer-maker in Connecticut last year.
The regional contest also features competitions for cider and mead — a honey wine — and Zocco said he has won for best mead-maker in New England for nine straight years, while he came in second place for cider.
The winner goes onto the National Homebrew Contest, organized by the Homebrewers Association, and Zocco said the scoring is intended to encourage brewers to try as many beers as possible.
He fared well in many categories, including wins for multiple types of ale.
“My batting average is pretty good right now,” although he said it took him awhile to master some of the styles, he said.
But Zocco does not sell his beer and said he has no intention of getting a liquor license. He prefers, instead, to share his private stock with friends and family. And to share his love for, and knowledge of beer and wine with others.
Zocco also teaches classes and writes columns about beer.
He said he began brewing his own beer 15 years ago as a hobby, but the hobby eventually became a profession when he opened his store – which sells home-brewing supplies - in 2000.
Zocco said people usually don’t realize how difficult it can be to brew their own beer before they start. For example, some types of “lambic” can take three years to finish.
At the same time, he noted, the public is becoming more interested in craft beers, a style of brewing that focuses on various flavors and styles.
“It’s a hotbed of culture, craft beer going on here,” he said about Willimantic.
He said the American public is starting to notice and embrace various types of beer besides the classic lager — the category that includes Budweiser, Coors and many other big-name beers.
“It’s a whole new class of beer culture,” Zocco said. He pointed out that people even pair beer types with food, just like some wine-drinkers.
While craft beers are growing in popularity, they still account for less than 5 percent of beer sales in a given year, he said.
The American public still thinks beer drinkers are “blue-collar kind of people,” and are unaware of how many styles of beer exist.
To help share his knowledge, Zocco sometimes offers a “Beer 101” class in which he teaches people about some of the more basic styles of beer.
He said his success in competitions is a “feather in his cap” because people are more likely to trust him for advice.
Posted March 28, 2010
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