By Shawn Perry
BRISTOL – Brewmaster and Co‐Founder of Firefly Brewing Company Dana Bourque credits Central Connecticut roots for why he is able to do what he loves for a living. Growing up in Stafford Springs, Bourque was introduced to home brewing by his father who put together a new batch every couple years.
After spending a semester abroad in Ireland, where a 20‐year old Bourque was introduced to a variety of craft beers, he picked up a book about beer and decided to make a batch of his own. “It sucked but inspired me to try it again and again.”
Bourque credits his courses in Nutritional Sciences at Uconn for providing him with an background in fermentation and helping him discover that brewing was the most practical outlet he had for his studies at school.
“Once I finally started making some routinely good beers I decided I wanted to make it from scratch as opposed to extracts and kits.” It did not take long for Bourque to improve, as one of the first recipes he formulated at Uconn was Moonrise Amber, a coppery hued UK‐style pale ale that balances notes of caramel and sugar with a pleasant citrusy and lightly spicy hop flavor.
Today the beer is one of Firefly Hollow’s most popular and remains one of Bourques’ favorite brews.
After graduating from Uconn Bourque went to work for the Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield and did an apprenticeship at Willimantic Brewing Company. He also enrolled in the American Brewers Guild but soon found that he did not have enough time to both study and work full‐time so he left Hooker and got a part‐time job at Brew & Hobby in East Hartford.
While working at Brew & Hobby he got to know his co‐workers, Rich Loomis and Bill Collins, who would become his co‐founders at Firefly Hollow.
Not long after Bourque completed his apprenticeship and the three brewing enthusiasts had begun tentative discussions about owning their own brewery, the state of Connecticut provided them with a call‐to‐action. In 2012 the state of Connecticut changed its liquor regulations to combine the permits for a brewpub and distribution entity.
“That was the moment. We knew that we did not want to get into the restaurant brewpub thing but this option would allow us to have a small brewpub and sell our own beer on‐site.
When we sell a pint of beer in‐house we make way more profit than we would on a bottle that has gone through distribution and packaging.” Because Firefly Hollow’s success does not rely upon mass production there is no need to rush the brewing process and that pays dividends in the quality of their beers.
“I am not focused on rapid production, I have time to brew. There are a lot of advantages to the business model we are trying to capitalize on,” says Bourque.
In order to obtain the funds needed to start the company, the founders ran a campaign on Kickstarter that raised $40,000 courtesy of hundreds of excited brew fans. In response to this outpour of generosity, the founders promised to “pay it forward” by reinvesting every dollar they received into other creative endeavors.
This promise speaks directly to the company slogan, “Get Lit,” which refers to their philosophy of creating a product that is conducive to creative expression and the pursuit of happiness. While the double meaning of getting lit is not lost on the founders, their slogan is meant as a testament to spreading inspiration because “it takes more than one firefly to enlighten the world.”
Since opening last October, the brewery has blazed its own path and Bourque credits the city for supporting their development.
“When we were conceptualizing the company we started looking at where we could possibly do it and we were drawn to this part of the state because there was not a whole lot going on for craft beers.
There were a couple, but as far as craft beer bars and availability it seemed low. We went around to all the town halls to see if anyone was interested. Bristol was one of the few that said that sounds awesome and we think we could put you in a really cool spot.”
The spot, a historic factory building located at 139 Center Street, has become a brightly burning light of community spirit and excitement in Downtown Bristol. “We sell most of our beer in this tap room so it needs to be accessible and it needs to be close to us. We are right in the center of town and a lot of people can walk to us.”
In addition to serving its patrons in their taproom, which has comfortable seating and is always filled with a range of eclectic music, the ten‐barrel brewery focuses on helping people throw fundraisers and utilize their space.
They recently hosted a Bristol Rotary Club meeting and took part in a fundraiser with Bristol Eastern High School where they donated all proceeds from the event. As for the future, local brew fans can rest easy because the brewery is here to stay.
In the business, as in life, there can no greater success than to find something your truly passionate about and do it for a living. As Bourque has his Connecticut roots to thank for helping him earn that privilege, the brewer plans on keeping Firefly Hollow in Bristol for many years to come.
“Its really important to stick to your roots and to make sure that the people that helped you get going are never forgotten or left behind so keeping this Bristol location is really important to me.”
In coming years he hopes that the brewing company can continue giving back to the city that helped it develop. “Once we are better established I would love to be able to help this area grow. There is something to be said for a couple really strong really business who support local arts and entertainment.
When you make a place for something like that to take place you start to draw attention to the town and people see it as a place to do business. I would love to see this part of downtown blossom and be part of that.” With the light of inspiration burning at Firefly Hollow to rally around I think it’s a safe bet that Downtown Bristol has a bright future ahead.