January 23, 2018

Iconic Hull's beer returns to Elm City

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
New Haven's iconic Hull's beer will be available in package stores this week for the first time in 41 years.

After a 41-year hiatus, the classic New Haven beer Hull's is back.

The legendary Elm City brew will be available in package stores for the first time in more than four decades starting this week, with select restaurants and bars to follow next month.

Inside cans bearing the beer's iconic cursive logo isn't some pale imitation of the original. The contents are crafted from the same recipe and ingredients used in the days when the company produced 150,000 barrels of suds a year, owner Charles DelVecchio said.

DelVecchio, the man behind Hull's revival, is a 36-year-old first-time entrepreneur and proud New Haven native. A certified public accountant with both a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Connecticut, he recently quit his job to devote himself full-time to his new business.

DelVecchio wasn't even born when the last keg of Hull's rolled out of its Congress Avenue brewery, but he grew up hearing his relatives wax nostalgic about the brand.

"It was my grandfather's favorite beer," DelVecchio said. "At Easter, I'd hear my family say it wasn't the same without Hull's bock beer (a seasonal variety brewed in the spring). Or St. Patrick's wasn't the same without Hull's."

DelVecchio's passion for beer, the explosive growth of craft breweries in the state and the city's improving fortunes all came together to convince him now is the time to bring back Hull's, he said. For the moment, he is contracting with an East Haven brewer to produce just one of the brand's iconic varieties, Hull's Export Lager.

Years ago, "export" meant "premium" – that the beer was good enough to be "exported" beyond the New Haven area, explained DelVecchio, who has worked closely with a beer historian during the rollout. In those days, there were no national brands like Budweiser and Miller, and each region had its own breweries, he said.

DelVecchio described the new Hull's Export as lighter in color and less bitter than the India Pale Ales that have exploded in popularity in recent years, but with more taste than a national brand.

"It doesn't linger in your mouth like some IPAs," he said. "It goes well with food."

Hull's began brewing beer in New Haven in 1872, DelVecchio said. In the beginning it had a lot of company. Beer makers abounded in the Elm City from the 19th century until the onset of Prohibition in the 1920s drove most of them out of business, he said. Hull's survived the so-called "Noble Experiment" by producing ice and non-alcoholic malt beverages, he said.

After Repeal, Hull's moved into new digs on Congress Avenue and soon found itself the city's only remaining brewer, DelVecchio said. Its beer became ubiquitous citywide and was sold throughout the state and as far away as Queens, N.Y., DelVecchio said.

"It was ingrained in the fabric of New Haven," DelVecchio said. "Most of the city's residents saw it as their own."

In addition to its Export beer, Hull's also made a cream ale, a light beer, an IPA and a seasonal bock beer, he said. Production peaked in the 1960s and the early 1970s, but there was trouble on the horizon. At about the same time, national brands launched a ruthless marketing campaign to undermine local beers, DelVecchio said. One of its messages: sameness is a virtue, he said.

"The national brands all tasted similar, and Hull's didn't taste like that," DelVecchio said. "People decided that there must something wrong with Hull's."

The campaign was hugely successful, decimating regional breweries, and in 1977, Hull's joined the long list of beer makers to go under. About a year later, a fire gutted the old brewery. Today, it's an apartment building, DelVecchio said.

Nick Gamma, owner of Hops and Branding in Trumbull, which helps craft brewers market their beers and is working with DelVecchio, said nostalgia would be a big part of the revived the beer's appeal.

"It's what is considered a heritage brand," Gamma said. "We really wanted to tap into that."

To that end, he and DelVecchio designed a can that incorporates elements of Hull's cans from the1940s and 1970s, adding a metallic blue to evoke the blue field in Connecticut's flag, he said.

Gamma, who works with brewers statewide and beyond, believes DelVecchio has a winner. The initial reaction to the brand on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

As for next steps, DelVecchio is undecided. For now, he wants to get the first batches out, gauge reaction and go from there.

"I have big plans and big ideas," DelVecchio said. "At this point, I want to keep it fluid. I would like to see how Connecticut and New Haven responds to the revival before I decide what direction Hull's will go in the future."

Christopher Hoffman can be reached at news@newhavenbiz.com

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