by Sanne Kure-Jensen
In less than five years, Thimble Island Brewing Company’s operation has already expanded to four times its original space. Like many brewery founders, Justin Gargano and Mike Fawcett, started out as home brewers. In 2010, the pair founded Thimble Island Brewing Company.
Brewery co-founder, Justin Gargano credits strong marketing and self-distribution for the brewery’s success. With the help of four salespeople and a delivery truck driver, Thimble Island Brewing Company beers are on tap in over 150 bars and restaurants across central Connecticut. Their American Ale is also available in 100 Connecticut package stores. This brewery sells directly to restaurants and bars like farmers and other value added producers. Connecticut laws allow the brewery to self-distribute their beer avoiding costly distributor fees.
By 2012, sales volume of Thimble Island’s American Ale and Coffee Stout became successful enough to justify doubling the brewery’s production capacity. Gargano and Fawcett cut a large doorway into the adjacent unit and ordered another batch of used tanks and equipment on Craig’s List.
Co-owners Justin Gargano’s and Mike Fawcett’s engineering background and love of tinkering proved invaluable for scaling up recipes and equipment from their 5-gallon kitchen batches to commercial brewing in giant steel vats. Gargano smiled while reminiscing about their many challenges along the way.
Rather than hire expensive business and legal professionals, the co-founders did their own extensive research into local business licensing as well as the brewery and retail permitting processes. They studied local health department regulations.
The hands-on owners renovated their rented space in a Branford, CT industrial park. Gargano and Fawcett installed their own drywall, plumbing, lighting and equipment. To ensure safety, the pair hired licensed professionals to install gas lines. Gargano and Fawcett found most of their second-hand brewing or keg-filling equipment on Craig’s List or eBay.
Gargano’s and Fawcett’s mechanical skills are crucial. Like any production or manufacturing business, brewing, kegging and bottling equipment needs regular tinkering to keep the operation running. Growing Tasting Room visitation and tour attendance demanded the company expand from a 4-person stand-up bar to the current 30-person standing room only space in 2013.
The brewery will be expanding, leasing 6,000 square feet in a new 10,000 square foot building under construction next door. This new space will include a 2,000 square foot Tasting Room for up to 75 guests. The new space will host large-scale production using the company’s established recipes including their flagship American Ale, Coffee Stout and seasonal beers. The original brewery space will transition into a Test Center for experimenting with new recipes in smaller batches. The brewery offers free beer samples in their tasting room. Brewery tours cost $5 on Saturdays and all three tours regularly fill up.
Marketing efforts include Groupon and Living Social offers for tours and tasting. Many packages include an empty logo growler (64 oz) or jug (32 oz). Customers pay $8 to $11 to fill their growlers and jugs with signature or seasonal beers. Happy customers return regularly for discounted refills. Customers who buy the brewery’s logo glasses, growler cozies, t-shirts and hats become “salespeople” for the Brewery whenever they display the company’s logo. All kegs wear the Thimble Island Brewing Company’s nautical logo. Gargano said he did not have a problem getting their logo kegs back from customers.
Learn more about the brewery, tasting room and tours at thimbleislandbrewery.com . The website also lists the restaurants and bars pouring Thimble Island Brewing Company beers. Send questions firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-208-2827. Visit the brewery at 53 Industrial Road in Branford, CT.
Thimble Island Brewing Company expands again
by Sanne Kure-Jensen