Introducing The Crowler: Where Can Meets Growler
At Stamford's Half Full Brewery, big dreams come in mid-sized cans.
Canned beer was kicked around long enough before it skyrocketed into coolness a few years ago. Cans keep out oxygen and light, recycle quickly, don't break, chill faster, are lighter, and stack more easily. They also have more label room to tell a story—and at 3-year-old Half Full Brewery in Stamford, CT, it's all about the story: chasing a dream, down to the names of the core beers: Bright Ale (a bright idea), Pursuit IPA (pursuing a passion), Toasted Amber (toasting your progress), and delicious new Onward APA (less bitter than the IPA, with citrusy notes). At their hip, industrial tasting room, I was introduced to their newest pursuit: the Crowler machine (can + growler = Crowler), which custom-seals draft beer into 32-ounce cans, keeping it at its peak until you're ready to guzzle. This Venti of beer cans isn't reusable but seems poised to become extremely "pop"ular. (Right now, DeCicco & Sons is one of the only other places in the region to offer them.)
Founder/Owner Conor Horrigan, inspired by his world travels but with no prior experience in beer, left Wall Street to chase his brewery dream, making the venture his MBA project at UConn and winning some seed money through a student business plan competition. Shortly after signing the lease on the building, a former eggplant packing factory, he met Jordan Giles (Director, Branding and Customer Experience), who'd just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail. They tore out an upper level and developed recipes with brewmaster Jennifer Muckerman; their first table comprised empty kegs and a piece of plywood. Now they host events such as Rare Beer Night, where they get creative with four test batches of specialty beers brewed just for the event. On an upcoming Soundwaters cruise, they'll be serving a Sea Salt Gose, Blood Orange Bitter, Kölsch, and a "Surprise Beer."
The canning line was furiously cranking during my tour; they'd been up all night canning Peach Wheat, a summer beer (and a must try if, like me, you’re into fruity beer). Seasonal beers get customizable shrink-wrapped labels, which can be ordered in smaller quantities than pre-printed cans. Giles notes that while all breweries get their ingredients from the same places (unless they're a farm brewery), the differences in quality come from not only the recipe but the many types of continual testing, from carbonation to flavor profile. The brewery has grown from five to 11 tanks and added a nano-brewing system for testing new flavors. They even propagate their own yeast.
At a Half Full beer dinner at Ron Black's Beer Hall in White Plains, we enjoyed Maple-Bacon Stout brewed for the event (made with bourbon-soaked bacon fat), paired with a bacon-glazed beer pretzel with Cheddar-ale dipping sauce. Pursuit IPA (my favorite of the evening—rye based, with notes of floral, citrus, and pine) accompanied delectable house-smoked ribs glazed with an IPA-infused barbecue sauce. Bright Ale (a blond/pale ale) paired well with shrimp tacos, likewise Saison with short rib beef stew served in a bread bowl garnished with a jaunty rosemary sprig. Toasted Amber (a bit on the subtle side) was served with an apple turnover with cinnamon sour cream. First-timers at Ron Black's, we were impressed with the cooking, definitely a step above your average pub grub.
With all this talk about cans, I was surprised to snag a remaining bottle of My Resolution, their only bottled beer. A crowdsourced pick from a Rare Beer Night, it’s aged in oak whiskey barrels into which people throw their New Year’s resolutions, written on rice paper. Those people have half a year left to make good; with Half Full at their back, odds are they will.