Stamford’s Half Full Brewery is the kind of place where the founder lists his title as “Chief Hoptimist” and its beers carry names like Sensible Decision, Liquid Hoptimism and Celebrate Everything.
The whimsy is very much a part of its culture. The germ of the Half Full idea arrived in 2008, when founder and Chief Hoptimist Conor Horrigan found himself, at the age of 25, at a career crossroads. Having graduated from Notre Dame with a finance degree, the Litchfield native had with several of his college pals found himself on Wall Street, working as a risk arbitrage sales trader at Bear Stearns.
Something was missing, however. “I thought that if I was going to be working this hard, it should be at something I was passionate about,” Horrigan said at the brewery at 43 Homestead Ave. “I’d meet my friends at a bar after work, where we’d drink and talk about it. None of us liked our jobs, and eventually I got around to the idea of starting a brewery.”
Exiting Wall Street in what he calls “my quarter-life crisis,” Horrigan and his soon-to-be-wife decided to travel to clear his thoughts, ending up on a train from Prague to Vienna (working on Wall Street does have some benefits, he noted). “She was reading a Harry Potter book, so I had a good four hours of silence,” he said.
Having tossed around the brewery idea during those “beer and bull sessions,” Horrigan began sketching ideas for a craft beer. Rejecting his original idea — a brew called Spite Light — he decided to go in a more positive direction, ending up with Bright, which would eventually become Half Full’s initial offering.
The Half Full idea came from “always looking at the glass as half-full — which is the way I wanted to live,” he said.
The problem now, he said, was that “I was a finance guy who knew nothing about the beer business. I didn’t even have a beer until I was in college.”
Landing an internship at New England Brewing Co. in Woodbridge, Horrigan began experimenting with home brewing as he pursued an MBA degree at UConn. Upon graduating in 2011 and with a business plan in hand, he began raising funds to make Half Full a reality.
Having procured the equipment and personnel, Horrigan set about converting an old factory into the Half Full Brewery and on Aug. 7, 2012, poured his first Bright beer.
Soon after, he hired McLain Cheney, who’d previously been brewer at Black Dirt Distillery in Warwick in New York’s Orange County and at the Aspen Brewing Co. in Colorado as head brewer, and in 2016 added Tom Price, quality assurance and control manager of Brooklyn Brewery, as director of brewery operations.
“Together we set about creating products that reflect our ‘half-full’ philosophy,” Horrigan said. “We come up with recipes that we feel are reflective of what we’re about and try them out at our tasting room. If there’s enough positive feedback, we’ll try manufacturing and selling it.”
Not everything makes it to market, however. He described a potato chip beer as “something that we thought wouldn’t appeal to anyone beyond hardcore beer enthusiasts.” The spud suds experiment was never sold.
In addition to its core brews like Bright, a blonde and pale ale hybrid, double IPA Liquid Hoptimism and IPA Pursuit, Half Full also produces a couple of seasonal beers each year, with recent offerings, including a peach wheat ale, Within Reach, and a Belgian yeast-accented IPA, Celebrate Everything.
The company has also introduced The Community Sourced Ales Project, in which it collaborates with brewers and other craft-centered local businesses to produce limited market releases. The results to date have included Rise & Shine, a cold-brew coffee porter brewed in collaboration with Rise Coffee of Greenwich and New York City; Grace & Darkness Oyster Stout, brewed with Norwalk’s Copps Island Oysters, and Bee Enlightened, a Kolsch brewed with honey from Red Bee Apiary in Weston.
Including the three core beers, Half Full maintains 12 to 14 varieties per year; Horrigan said the company debuted three last year and expects to introduce four more by the end of 2017.
In addition to the brewery proper, Half Full maintains a tasting room where patrons can sample on tap its otherwise canned products. Open Fridays from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., the tasting room accounts for “about 25 to 30 percent of our revenue,” Horrigan said.
The brewery produces in “the high 3000s, low 4000s” of barrels per year, said Horrigan, and that number is expected to increase as the Stamford operation continues a calculated expansion. Half Full recently signed a distribution agreement with McLaughlin & Moran Inc. to carry the brand in Rhode Island and has distribution agreements in Westchester County and southwestern Massachusetts.