By Daniel Ford
My love for City Steam Brewery started with a pint glass.
I was in Crazy Bruce’s Liquors in my hometown in Connecticut, hunting for new craft beers to try with my brothers. A pint glass at the entrance to the beer aisle caught my eye.
Actually, I should say, a beautifully drawn woman caught my eye.
Needless to say, I bought it and a six-pack of Naughty Nurse Ale.
According to the brewery’s website, brewmaster Ron Page has been “manning the kettle” since the company’s opening in 1997, and has brewed more than “80 different styles of ales, lagers, and porters, for a combined total of more than 4 million pints!”
That is a tremendous amount of delicious beer.
Page took a moment from his busy brewing schedule to answer some of my questions about how he got started, the origins of Naughty Nurse, and the original verse featured on every label of Mr. Page’s Private Reserve.
Daniel Ford: Give us a little background on your history and how you started brewing.
Ron Page: It all started about 30 years ago, when I ran out of beer…on a Sunday! Vowing for that to never happen again, I took up home brewing back when the only hops available where Bullion and Cluster. Before long I had a 1 bbl. “nano brewery” in my basement, entered many competitions, and won New England Home Brewer of the Year for five years straight in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I was approached by Dick King to work with Phil Markowski in the start up New England Brewing Co. located in Norwalk, Conn., and began brewing professionally in May 1990. I worked in Norwalk for five years, and then brewed at the New Haven Brewing Co. (aka Elm City) for several years before taking the helm at City Steam in downtown Hartford in 1997.
DF: As a Connecticut native, I’m always happy to hear success stories come out of Hartford. How involved are you in the community and how has the city embraced your beer?
RP: Sooner or later, it seems, everybody in Hartford has passed through our doors, from the mayor and governor, members of the Hartford Stage, bums off the street, doctors, nurses, firemen, etc. We specifically support the Knox Park Foundation, as well as many other charitable groups. The fact that we are still in business after 17 years is either a restaurant miracle, means somebody likes us, or we are just plain lucky!
DF: Your beers have some of the most original names I’ve come across in the beer world—in particular Naughty Nurse (the logo gets me a look from my significant other every time I break out that pint glass). Where do those names come from and what’s the process like for selecting them?
RP: The original “Naughty Nurse” works in the Norwalk emergency room and is a short, balding, hairy chested old Englishman…would send a picture, but don’t want to upset your sense of decorum. His name is Jerry Nichols, and he is one of the funniest men you could ever hope to meet.
DF: Speaking of that logo, the reason I get in trouble is because of the wonderful Art Deco-style drawing of a beautiful woman holding a beer. How’d you come up with the idea and who designs your logos?
RP: As much as I would like to claim I invented the concept of “boobs and beer,” I will have to let history take the credit. My attic is filled with hundreds of original beer ads and illustrations, many featuring beautiful women holding a beer. The walls of City Steam are decorated with much more of the same. We work with local artists to design most of our labels and posters. It’s the most fun part of the whole brewing business.
DF: What was your biggest mistake brewing? What lessons did you learn from a bad recipe or brewing mishap?
RP: Some things are best left unmentioned. Needless to say, brewing takes practice and patience, and when you are working with yeast—a moody living beast—you can never take anything for granted. Good sanitation is an absolute must! A batch of sour beer is not only shameful but costly!
DF: You whetted my appetite when I emailed you originally by talking about your limited release “Mr. Page’s Private Reserve,” which features a sample of original verse on the label. How did the idea for that release come about?
RP: The more things change, the more they stay the same. My original homebrew labels were always accompanied by an original “poem.” The beers in the new series are meant to appeal to label collectors as well as beer lovers. We only sell them on premise, and in extremely limited quantities. They are crafted more like fine wine than everyday libations, meaning they are high alcohol, high gravity, unfiltered, and very long aged and are expected to develop fairly well over a period of several years.
DF: If you were in Prohibition times, do you think you’d be bootleggers?
RP: We are still in Prohibition, just a different kind.
DF: If you were stuck on a deserted island with just one case of one of your beers, which one would it be and why?
RP: Couldn’t you come up with a more original question? Needless to say, I love all my beers, but if push came to shove, it would be a strong hoppy IPA, just in case no one ever came to the rescue!
DF: (after pondering a more original question): If you were going to run one of your beers for President, which one would it be and what would your campaign slogan be?
RP: Alright, but keep in mind that I’ve only picked one winning Presidential candidate in 42 years. I nominate “Innocence Ale.” Its slogan: “A chicken in every pot—A six-pack in every fridge!”
DF: Name one random fact about your company.
RP: City Steam actually uses “city steam” power to process their beers. The steam is supplied by the Hartford Steam Co., and travels 300 yards through 3-inch iron pipes from the sub generator plant located next door. Offhand, there are probably few, if any, breweries in the United States that can make that statement.