Eight years ago, Justin Gargano and Mike Fawcett, two IT professionals, started looking for something to do later in life. The pair became home-brewers and found a love for both the beer they produced and the process of making it.
Given the small market for breweries in Connecticut, they decided to expand that love into a company in 2009, brewing not just for themselves, but for the Shoreline community.
And thus, Thimble Island Brewing Company was born.
Located on East Industrial Road — past Stop & Shop and Ring's End Lumber — the local brewery has a humble exterior. Inside the doors, however, customers are greeted with three smiling businessmen — Dave Morgan joined Gargano and Fawcett as their general manager — and a light-hearted decor, with Capt. Kirk of Star Trek featuring prominently.
"We needed a captain," Gargano explained. Fawcett immediately chimed in that it really ought to be Picard — the three are bigger fans of The Next Generation.
At a second glance, however, what's most striking about the brewery's atmosphere is how home-grown the operation is. The three purchased old or used equipment and committed their sweat equity to fixing it.
"Most of the stuff was bought broken," Morgan said. "We've done mostly everything ourselves." Their creations include their own walk-in refrigerator and recently converted a bathroom into office space.
"It would have ended up costing $100,000 more if we hadn't done it ourselves," Fawcett said.
The three are handy when it comes to creating a work space, and that same dedication to the outcome shows in their American Ale, the first brew to come out of Thimble Island Brewing Company. From the company's founding in 2009 until they released their first American Ale in July of 2012, the trio learned how to scale up from home brewing to large-scale production, which involved sourcing equipment, renting a facility, and spending eight months to a year in licensed with the state.
Since July, American Ale has been sold through kegs to a number of area restaurants, now including Lenny and Joe's Fish Tale in New Haven; Donovan's Reef, Eli's on the Hill, the USS Chowder Pot, Waterhouse, and SBC in Branford; and Augurs and KC's Pub in Guilford. To meet the needs of their customers, they're currently producing about 21 barrels per month, but with their new equipment, purchased with expansion in mind, they have the capacity to brew between 80 and 100 barrels a month.
While waiting for the state to approve their labels so they can begin bottling (projected for a February release), the brewers are selling growlers — half gallons — of beer directly from the brewery for $10 ($8 for refills). They're also looking to launch a coffee stout in January or February. The American Ale, a beautiful amber color, is a classic beer designed to be light enough for summer, but hearty enough for winter. The coffee stout came about because, as Gargano said, they "wanted something a little heavier for winter" to add to their line.
Gargano grew up in Branford — his family owns Cherie's Bakery. Fawcett and Morgan, who grew up in Guilford, have both been living in Branford for most of the last decade.
According to Gargano, all of them feel "tied to the Shoreline, and that's why we're producing our product here. ... There's never been a brewery here that I'm aware of. We just want to make beer and make a good product."
They're so dedicated to the local community that they've begun discussions with a local farmer about growing hops for their beer. Their logo was designed by Amy Graver and Ben Jura of Elements Design in Branford, who made the brewers' vision for their product become a reality. "They're our marketing team," Gargano said. "I can't promote them enough."
The brewery is open on Saturdays, which are their brewing days, for tours and tasting. You can also keep an eye out for them to be featured in a special on CPTV, and visit them on Facebook.