A New Career on Tap

Conor Horrigan ’11 MBA says UConn’s “paw prints” all over his Stamford brewery

This article first appeared in the UConn Business magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1 (Winter 2014)

Conor Horrigan opens up "Rare Beer Night" at Half Full Brewery.
Conor Horrigan opens up “Rare Beer Night” at Half Full Brewery.

The day Conor Horrigan planned to welcome six politicians to his Half Full Brewery, the enterprise into which he has poured his heart and soul, he walked in to find the business flooded. Fortunately it was only filtered water—not his trademark Bright Ale or popular seasonal Pumpkin Ale—that covered the Stamford brewery’s floor. The tour was postponed, the faulty pump switch repaired, and today Horrigan can laugh about the experience.

In fact, that “we can handle this” attitude is reflected in the name of his brewery and much of what he does. He relishes the idea that life, like the glass, is half-full, not half empty.

Horrigan, 31, began his career as an investment banker and trader on Wall Street. After three years, he was very successful, but completely miserable. “I kept asking myself, ‘What can I do that will make me excited about going to work in the morning?” he said.

With a sense of optimism that somehow everything would work out, he quit his job. He and then-fiancée, now wife, Lindsay, toured Central Europe. Aboard a train from Prague to Vienna, “Half Full Brewery” was conceived.

Horrigan knew he would need more than optimism to make his idea a success. He enrolled in the MBA program at UConn, where each project or internship he undertook was geared toward the beer-making business. UConn faculty and advisers helped Horrigan with everything from the business plan to marketing and distribution. Many still advise him today. “UConn’s paw prints are all over this business,” he said.

Immediately after graduation, Horrigan began raising funds and found 51 investors who believed in him. He renovated a Stamford factory, and on Aug. 7, 2012, the inaugural Half Full beer was sold at local restaurants and bars.

Horrigan describes Half Full’s beer as light and drinkable with a twist—a splash of citrus, spice, or a nutty flavor.

“They are all a little bit different, but very approachable,” Horrigan said. “We want people to say, ‘Hey, I can drink this beer.’ We consider ourselves a lifestyle brewery. We want them to like our beer, but also like what we’re about.”

The company is now turning a profit. Half Full draft beer is sold in bars and restaurants in Litchfield, New Haven and Fairfield Counties, and will soon be available in Westchester County, N.Y.  Next spring Horrigan hopes to begin selling Half Full in cans—and expand the draft beer sales into Hartford County. Brewery tasting nights and “tap-takeovers” fill Horrigan’s days, which often run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The small staff is comprised of “passionate individuals, who care about what they do and talk about it 24/7,” Horrigan said. “We work very long hours here because we’re inspired and passionate people.” In November, the male employees grew “Half Full beer-ds,” shaving only one side of their faces, to draw attention to men’s health issues.

“I like the idea of always mixing it up,” Horrigan said.  “When I was on Wall Street, you were expected to do things a certain way and you were treated as a number. You knew you could always be replaced.”

“I wanted to be at the table and steer the vision. I like approaching things from a different perspective,” he said. “I always thought like an entrepreneur. I liked to flip things on their head, and that’s easier to do when you’re the boss.”

Conor isn’t the only alum with a craft brewery in the Nutmeg State!
In 2012, Tony Karlowicz ’01 MSA opened up Back East Brewing Company in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

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