Over the past few years, the number of Connecticut breweries has increased and several are poised to open up their doors and let their beer flow. From tiny breweries that could fit in a basement to a factory-sized behemoth, the market for local beer is getting more diverse every month.
For some, owning a brewery is considered a passion, a labor of love, a journey. For the Thimble Island co-owners, it’s a series of intricate problems to solve. And a passion.
Justin Gargano, 30, started homebrewing eight years ago, and after joining forces with roommate Mike Fawcett, 35, they took their information technology job experience and applied it to beer creation and running a business.
They started with a 40-gallon kettle. Then it was stolen.
In 2013, they started operating a 10-barrel system brew house in a small industrial park building, with plans to expand to move to 6,000-square-foot space with a 30-barrel capacity within the park complex that will more than double their existing brewery, at 53 E. Industrial Road, Branford, Conn.).
“We are numbers-driven,” said Fawcett, a genial, red-bearded guy. “I can’t tell you how many napkins we’ve filled up for business plans.”
Gargano seemed to be the more serious of the two. “We’re IT nerds,” he said. “We’re thinkers.”
Survival is about keeping in touch with and responding to the desires of customers, Gargano said. “You have to look at what the market wants. It’s about trying to make the beers they like.”
They compared the brewing process and building maintenance, which they do themselves, as “one big machine. “If you don’t understand every part, you’re in trouble,” Fawcett said.
They serve three flagship beers: their American Ale, IPA and Coffee Stout. I had the American Ale, which had caramel notes and was smooth going down. The stout was agreeably course and certainly tasted like roasted coffee.
They said that their location east of New Haven, near I-95, was just right for them, as they are locals.
While they currently provide beer for local restaurants, they have plans to bottle.
“We have to watch what the market does,” Gargano said. “What sets us apart is that we are logical and we’re constantly measuring.”
A version of this post was originally published in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American.