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Sitting in a manufacturing zone just a couple of hundred yards from the harbor in Stamford, Conn. is one of the area’s best kept secrets for an inexpensive Saturday afternoon: a popular new brewery that loves to invite locals in to taste their delicious beer and experience their contemporary-feeling space.
Self-proclaimed chief beer philosopher Conor Horrigan opened up Half Full Brewery after an unloved four-year career of investment banking and trading on Wall Street.
“I wanted to do something that would make me feel good about myself,” Horrigan said.
So he quit his job and he and his wife, Lindsay, planned a 15-week trip to Europe and South America to discover their true passions.
Traveling inspired him – seeing ways people in different cultures live life, often taking a break from the hustle of a busy day and enjoying a coffee or drink.
“There’s this whole culture of, you know, taking a step back, down-shifting and relaxing around a drink.”
He kept in touch with friends while abroad and after many weeks of traveling the globe, he was determined to start a brewery.
“I always loved the whole idea of getting together with someone over a beer.”
While on a train traveling through Central Europe, he started to write down everything he knew about beer in a notebook.
He even came up with the name “Half Full.”
Many beers are named after a location, but Horrigan said he wanted something based on mood.
“Here I was on a train going from Prague to Vienna not knowing where life was going to take me, but believing it was going to work out for the best,” he said. “Very much a ‘Half Full’ thing.”
Horrigan returned to the U.S. ready to hit the ground. He enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Connecticut to learn how to manage a business. He also started learning everything there was to know about brewing and he got a job working at a brewery.
“There’s nothing like being on Wall Street investment banking, to my very first day at a brewery being inside this mash tun scrubbing the sides of it with a brush,” Horrigan told FoxNews.com.
He spent his two years in school developing a business plan and lined up 51 shareholders – many of them people close to him.
“The fact that I was selling this mostly to family and friends also helped because they knew me best and believed in me.”
In 2012, Half Full Brewery was born and Horrigan was following a trend.
Last year, approximately 400 breweries opened up in the U.S., according to Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.
Americans discovered their love for craft beers a few years ago when the economy took a dive.
“I think craft beers were considered an affordable luxury when the economy tanked. People may have thought ‘I can't go out as often, but I can treat myself to a beer I really want to drink,’” said Gatza.
The economy has come back – and Americans continue to explore new beers. In fact, Gatza said India Pale Ales have grown 40 percent in volume annually for the past three years.
“We are in an era where many are discovering new beers styles and that adds some excitement. Beer impacts the senses--smell, taste, touch and I think there is some mystery and romance around craft brewed beers in particular.”
Year round at the Half Full Brewery they brew an India Pale Ale and Bright Ale. They have some other limited and seasonal brews – including a Chocolate Coffee Brown Ale, which is brewed up with chocolate and Ethiopian Yukro coffee from a nearby coffee shop.
For five dollars, visitors can get a tour of the brewery and taste up to five beers. Every other Friday, $15 gets you a pint glass and access to the open taps – and games including mega jenga and the company of beer lovers.
Up to 100 restaurants and bars serve their brew on draft. By summer 2014 they hope to have the Bright Ale available in cans.
To keep sales growing Horrigan and his three employees offer samplings and beer dinners – whatever they can do to build relationships and stay true to their name.
“The only way to do that is to grow slowly through meaningful interactions with others in person and on social media.”