Monday, February 13, 2012

Nanobrewery Interviews: Night Shift Brewing (Part 1)

While many of us have toyed with the thought of starting up our own nanobrewery, there are others who have taken the plunge.  To find out who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweris to get their stories.

Night Shift Brewing
Everett, MA

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the three owners (Michael Oxton, Robert Burns, and Michael O'Mara) of a new Boston nanobrewery that is on the verge of opening its doors.  Night Shift Brewing is setting up shop in an old WWII parts manufacturing facility in Everett, MA.  After signing the lease back in July 2011, the trio have been pushing hard to get their space in shape.  And with all the pieces finally coming together, the company was awarded their Farmer Brewery License just last month.  Brewing on a custom-built 3.5 bbl system, the brewery is planning to self-distribute to the Metro Boston area with targeted spots in the North and Southshore regions.

If Everett, MA sounds familiar, it might be because Night Shift Brewing is also the physical neighbor to one of our prior interviewees, Idle Hand Craft Ales.  With Night Shift tasting room almost complete and beer targeted to be ready to served toward the end of this month, a visit to the 3 Charlton Street facility in Everett to check out the two breweries should certainly be a worthwhile venture.

Below is the first part of our multi-part Q & A interview with Night Shift Brewing.  The conclusion of the interview can be found here.

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Lug Wrench (LW): How long have you been planning the Night Shift nanobrewery?

Night Shift Brewing (NSB): Starting a brewery has been on our minds since we graduated college. Two of our three founders – Rob Burns and Michael Oxton – went to Bowdoin College in Maine, and were exposed to a lot of great craft beer from Allagash, Geary’s, Shipyard, etc. Rob actually brewed his first beer in college, looking to get deeper understanding of beer and its ingredients. After graduation, Rob and Michael. both moved to Boston, and began brewing more and more often. Honestly, it only took a few batches until the hobby of brewing became a total obsession.

During this time, our third founder and childhood friend of Rob, Mike O’Mara, had graduated from Philadelphia University and began brewing beer himself down in Philly. His exposure to some of the great PA/NJ breweries like Weyerbacher and Flying Fish definitely helped influence his perception of craft beer. In the summer of 2010, Mike moved to Boston when Rob and Michael (different person) began exploring the possibility of starting a nanobrewery.

Now homebrewing 1-2 times a week on our 15-gallon system, we also started developing this idea of Night Shift Brewing, a name we had given to our nocturnal brewing efforts. After some serious planning and organization, we incorporated Night Shift Brewing in January of 2011. Our business plan took shape soon after that, and it all escalated from there. About sixteen months of hard work and serious planning has led us to where we are now, on the verge brewing our very first official batch.

LW: When did you know this was something you were going to go for, as opposed to just just daydream material?

NSB: In our six-bedroom Somerville apartment, we began holding weekly beer tastings. Quite often, we’d have 10+ friends show up, each with 1-2 beers that would all get sampled, discussed and rated over the course of the night.  Over the years, we tasted and documented over 400 different beers this way, which became invaluable market research.  At the same time, we were just beginning our foray into homebrewing. Drawing inspiration from our many tastings, we experimented with our own recipes in an attempt to create beers that were equally unique, interesting and delicious. We often played with unorthodox ingredients and many strains of yeast, looking for flavors that were great, but also memorable.

Eventually, we began slipping homebrews into our weekly tastings, just to see how they stacked up. It wasn’t all positive at first, but after some improvements in our equipment, techniques and recipes, ratings for our homebrews went up. When they began tasting on par with certain commercial beers, the realization hit: we could actually do this professionally.

Fueled by this possibility, our brewing efforts increased even more. We bought better equipment and put as much time into brewing as we had available. With beer piling up around the apartment, we decided to start throwing tasting parties. These were a huge success – we’d usually have close too 100 guests show, all sampling 6-8 of our different beers on tap. We handed out rating cards to everyone, and collected feedback that way, and through conversation. When it became clear that many types of people with many different tastes thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated our product, we began developing serious ideas for the business.

LW: How did you gather the required capital to start the brewery?

NSB: Our start-up capital came from our friends, our family, and ourselves. As a business with no credit history, banks or traditional lenders would never have given us the necessary loans. So, we wrote a strong business plan and convinced friends and family members that our strategy and product had real potential for success. The business plan itself took a lot of work and many, many drafts, but it was hugely helpful and ultimately quite successful.

LW: As you began to plan the nanobrewery, what resources did you use to gather information?

NSB: Starting the brewery has been a long and painfully slow process. Everything has taken longer than expected. Perhaps most helpful to us were conversations we had with other brewers and breweries - we tried to learn as much as we could from them. We were also lucky to have Idle Hands Craft Ales directly next door to us, and 6 months ahead of us in terms of licensing and build out. Chris Tkach, the owner of Idle Hands, was a fantastic resource.

We also read a number of beer blogs to help us navigate the mess. The Bruery’s blog was one of our best resources, as they fully documented a large part of their start-up. Another great site is There are a lot of active discussions on there, and many people who will answer your questions.

LW: Night Shifts initial plan is to self-distribute. Why is that?

NSB: We chose self-distribution because (a) we simply cannot afford a distributor right now (b) we don’t really need one until our production increases, but also (c) we’d much rather become familiar with our accounts as we start. Being able to speak personally with the beer buyer or restaurant manager about our own product is really important to us, and that relationship is something we want to cultivate before we grow too big.

Eventually, we would like to expand to other New England states, as well as more of the east coast (especially Pennsylvania, where two of our founders are from). For now, though, given our small size, our focus is on Massachusetts.

LW: How are you planning to differentiate your beer from all the other offerings that are out there?

NSB: Night Shift Brewing is really trying to be an innovative brewery. Each of our beers will incorporate unusual ingredients, processes, or inspiration from rare styles. Our goal is to fuse these ideas into beers that are truly memorable and interesting. But we’re not looking to make gimmicky beers or put out extreme flavors. Rather, we want to build unique, complex flavor profiles that create a product that, above everything else, is simply great beer. People will hopefully find intricacies in our beer, but the focus is a drink that people will enjoy, and remember.

When possible, we also plan to source ingredients from local businesses. Two of our three initial offerings use a locally sourced product – our Bee Tea uses organic green tea from Somerville’s Mem Tea, and our Taza Stout uses organic roasted cacao nibs from Somerville’s Taza Chocolate.

Finally, it is our belief that beer and food are a natural combination. While our beers should be worth appreciating on their own, they should also pair well with the right complementary dish. Our labels will details “Suggested Food Pairings” for each beer, and our blog will have an ongoing focus on both eating and cooking with beer. We also plan to work with various restaurants in and around Boston in hopes of uniting great craft beer with great food.

* * *
Part 2 of our interview with Night Shift Brewing can be found here.

If you want to find out more about Night Shift Brewing, check out their website, or better yet, if you are in Boston, stop by the brewery.



"Work is the curse of the drinking class."
-Oscar Wilde

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