Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nanobrewery Interviews: Night Shift Brewing (Part II)

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

As a follow-up to the first half of our interview with Night Shift Brewing, this post presents the conclusion of our conversation we had with the nanobrewery.  Night Shift Brewing has just recently completed all its licensing, brewed their first batches, and have now launched their first commercial offerings at select locations around the Boston area.

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Lug Wrench (LW): What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far in starting the brewery?

Night Shift Brewing (NSB): Probably the biggest challenge has been dealing with how slow everything progresses. If we did not have day jobs during the initial stages, it would have been extremely tough to survive. Perhaps the next biggest hurdle is figuring out everything you need and where you are going to source it. All those minor things begin to add up. Simple tasks like choosing our bottle supplier took months to figure out. We talked with many different suppliers, emailed other breweries, compared quotes, compared shipping costs, etc. We looked at bottles from US companies, Canadian companies, and even bottles from a French company. It was often the company that showed the most initial effort and responded to our questions the fastest that got our attention – time is so important, and you value people who appreciate that.

LW:  I love the visual look of the website and company logo. Where did the company name and imagery all originate?

NSB: The name “Night Shift Brewing” comes from how we started this brewery. When we first began, we all had separate day jobs, but would come together at night to brew test batches and talk about developing the business. It was like a second job, only at night. We’d often be up brewing until two or three in the morning, only to wake up hours later for “work.” In this sense, our day jobs sustained our night shift brewing, which is where our passion truly lived. Thus, “Night Shift Brewing” reflects our origins, our brewing passion, and our observation that the night shift really does seem to bring with it a sense of magic and possibility.

It’s also worth noting that we’ll continue night shift brewing at our brewery in Everett. Two of us – Michael Oxton and Mike O’Mara – work full-time for the business, but our third founder, Rob Burns, will continue his daytime job as a software engineer until we can afford to pay him full-time as well. As Rob is our de facto Brewmaster, we’ll do most of our brewing when he’s back from work, so we’re still on the night shift (day shifts will be spent selling, pouring, promoting and just contemplating about beer).

We really wanted an animal logo, something active and recognizable, but also memorable. An owl was the perfect fit – mysterious, nocturnal, apparently quite wise, and fairly unique (and, let’s be honest, owls are just cool). The final image for our logo is the hop-owl (its body has the shape and texture of a hop), which was drawn by one of our founders, Michael Oxton.

Our general branding attempts a look that’s handcrafted and rustic, but also classy. We’re small, we’re making our beers by hand, and we brew in an old WWII parts factory, so our look needs to feel a bit raw. But, we’re also making very complex, intricately flavored beer – a beverage that’s closer to wine than Bud Light. So, we also want to appear tasteful and refined, not cheap.

LW: I've noticed you guys use a lot of social networking - how has social networking and other online tools been useful for Night Shift as you started building the business. What has worked and what has been disappointing?

NSB: Online social networking is huge. It allows us to connect with fans and really interact with them in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. It’s been especially interesting to learn how Facebook and Twitter can be used most effectively, and differently. At first, we treated them both the same and would simply post the same messages on both. What we’ve learned, however, is that we have two fairly different sets of people following us on each, and the manner of our interaction should be different, as well. Twitter is more about our dialogue with an online community, where Facebook is more about Night Shift news and updates. With Twitter, we try and craft interesting, relevant messages that others can re-tweet and use to generate a conversation. With Facebook, we’ve put a bigger focus on visuals and letting people learn about us through photo albums.

Our blog, however, is currently our most important and useful online tool – it just gives us so much freedom to tell the Night Shift Brewing story and share our voice. The more you can share with people, the personal and interesting your relationship with them will be. The blog is still very much in its infancy, but we’ve had great success with it so far.

LW: Where did you get the inspiration for the beers you plan to commercialize? How did you pick your range of offerings?

NSB: We draw a lot of inspiration from the culinary world – restaurant menus, cooking at home, and even non-alcoholic beverages. Quite often, a recipe idea comes from something completely unrelated to beer. One of our launch beers, Bee Tea, is a prime example. Bee Tea is a wheat ale with orange peel, orange blossom honey and green tea. Rob designed this recipe after growing to appreciate the green tea and honey combo at work. There was a challenge in translating that idea into a tasty beer, but we brewed a lot of test batches and ended up with something we really like.

As stated before, our initial range of offerings is the very best of our 80+ homebrew recipes. We did keep it diverse – a wheat ale, a Belgian-style pale ale, and a stout – but those also happened to be some of our favorites. We plan to be constantly experimenting, however, and coming up new recipes all the time. Much like what White Birch has done so successfully, we plan to release a lot of specialty batches as we move forward. It’s more fun for us to share what’s new and interesting, and hopefully it’s more fun for our drinkers.

LW: Any plans to do collaborative brews or even Pro/Am brews with other local brewers/homebrewers?

NSB: We don't have any immediate plans, but it would definitely be great to do collaborative brews with some of the local Massachusetts brewers. To our knowledge, there actually hasn’t been a collaborative brew between two MA breweries, so maybe we’ll be one of the first.

We would also like to work with homebrewers. Boston has a great club, The Worts, who have an insane amount of knowledge. We also recently featured some beers at a North Shore Homebrewers meeting, and they’re another crew with lots of interesting, experienced brewers. It would be great to support the people in groups like those, and work with them to create some special beers.

LW: Since you've started this venture, what's been the most rewarding or interesting thing that's happened to you?  

NSB: Very tough to say. We’d like to think that the most interesting phase has yet to come. However, just watching the enthusiasm build around our beer and our brand has been incredibly exciting. When a friend in Maine tells us that people in Portland are talking about Night Shift, or when an account in Boston goes “Guys, customers want to know when your beer hits the shelves,” it’s really hard to not feel almost stunned. Until quite recently, our beers were only shared with friends and family, and no one outside our social circle had heard of “Night Shift Brewing.” To see this hobby (ok, maybe obsession) transform into something so much bigger, something that people care about, is just incredible. The culture of “sharing” is something all three of us seem to enjoy and embrace – now it’s become our full-time job.

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



"In my opinion, most of the great men of the past were only there for the beer."
-A.J.P. Taylor, Bristish historian

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