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Night and Day: The Ongoing Story of Night Shift Brewing

If you live in Massachusetts, chances are you've heard of Night Shift Brewing. You've also probably heard about how it was started by three friends who worked during the day and would brew beer at home on the "night shift." Over time Night Shift Brewing has gone from a locally-known brewery to one that is recognized and talked about in New England and beyond. They've left the space they started in and have moved into a much larger one to meet the demand for their beer. Rest assured, this small brewery from Everett, Massachusetts has big plans for the future. 

I had been out to Night Shift's old brewery and taproom on 3 Charlton Street in Everett, as have many of their fans. It was a small space with limited facilities, but they made it work. People continued to visit them to sample their brews and take some beer home. The more people came, the more the founders (Michael Oxton, Mike O'Mara, and Rob Burns) of Night Shift realized that they needed more room.


The entrance to Night Shift Brewing, located at 87 Santilli Highway in Everett, Massachusetts.
(All photos courtesy of Night Shift Brewing)

So, Night Shift moved and expanded its operations. After hearing so much about the move, I had to travel out to Night Shift's new space at 87 Santilli Highway in Everett. The first thing I noticed was that it is much bigger. There is more room for equipment, storage, and seating. The bathrooms are nice and spacious. The bar has plentiful draft lines and seats for guests. The barrel room is a quiet place to sit and enjoy a good beer. That's where I sat down to talk about everything that was going on at Night Shift with one of its founders, Michael Oxton.


The entrance to the barrel room at Night Shift's new brewery and taproom.

Sitting together at one of the wooden tables in the barrel room with glasses of beer in our hands, Oxton and I first discussed what prompted the move from the old space to the new one. "There were a lot of different reasons," Oxton said. "I would say the two biggest reasons were production limitations and taproom limitations." Oxton told me that their old space had a 90-square-foot taproom and that they maxed out their capacity pretty quickly every time they were open, especially Fridays and Saturdays. "It was really limited and it was not a great customer experience."

The new taproom is 2500 square feet in size. Night Shift has added a ton of their own parking spaces outside of the building, and there's also a lot of street parking. Whereas they could fit about 15 people comfortably in the old taproom, the new one can fit around 160 people.

On the production side of things, the old space kept them from brewing on the equipment they wanted to brew on. They couldn't fit the fermenters that they wanted. It was hard to keep up with demand. "We have a pretty long waiting list of accounts that have reached out to us. We also have our own list of accounts that we want to reach out to. We haven't done so because we know that we can't supply them beer until we have it," Oxton said. They had hit capacity at the old space, and there was more demand for their beer than they could supply.


The barrel room where guests can sit and drink next to beers that are being aged.

It was a great problem to have, but it was still a problem. So, to fix it, they found a new space that allows them to have more fermenters, fit in a bigger brewing system, and gives them the capacity to grow. "Our brewers are happier than they've ever been," Oxton said. I then asked him what the transition was like. "It wasn't fun, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be," Oxton told me. "I think the biggest shock was that we didn't really stop production at all. It was a nice surprise."

Next we talked about how things have been going at the new space since the move. "It's been awesome. We're coming close to hitting capacity with our fermenters faster than we thought, and we haven't even moved on to the new brewing system yet," Oxton said. "So, we're filling all our tanks. It's a beautiful space to work in. The taproom's been super successful. People really dig the space."

Oxton told me that their biggest goal is making both their employees and their customers happy. "Our brewers are really happy, our bartenders are happy, people that are drinking here are happy, and I'm happy." Oxton said. Distribution-wise, Oxton was excited to say that Night Shift is starting to increase what they can send out. They've already opened up some new accounts, and plan to continue getting on draft and into bottle shops wherever they can.

Speaking of distribution, I had to ask Oxton whether he was surprised about the demand for their beer from people outside of the state of Massachusetts. "I'm always shocked," Oxton said. "It always surprises me that anyone out-of-state who has never tried our beer would be dying to have some. Word-of-mouth does a lot for us, and that's been really exciting to see." He then talked about how Night Shift is trying to continue to grow organically. "We really want to continue working within the local market for as long as we can. There's no rush for us to expand into other states until we've established a good presence in Massachusetts."

We then started to discuss the events that have been happening at the new space. "With more staff and more space, we're realizing the number of different ways we can improve what we were doing before," Oxton said. He told me that it's much easier to serve from a cask in the new space, and they have more space to store aged beer. So, they've started doing Cask Wednesdays, where they bring out a different freshly tapped cask every week, and Throwback Thursdays, where they bring out special brews that have been aging for a while. 


The taproom, with plenty of tables and chairs along with merchandise and a roll-up door for food trucks.

In addition to those events, there are local food trucks at the new space all the time. There was really no way to do it at the old space, but in the new one they can pull up to the roll-up door and easily serve customers in the taproom. "We're looking at other ways to use this space interestingly," Oxton said. "A few ideas we have are hosting corporate events, birthday parties, bachelor parties. It's a great space for that. We've also had some nonprofits reach out. We invite them here and they can utilize our space and our staff to do some sort of fundraiser." 

Then I asked Oxton about the relationships they've been developing. "The more we can feature local businesses and collaborate on projects, the more everyone benefits." When he mentioned collaborating, I immediately thought of Night Shift's latest wild ale, a collaboration with NoDa Brewing Company out of Charlotte, North Carolina called Stop, Collaborate, and Glisten. I asked Oxton how that came about. "That was a really long-term project. We met NoDa back in 2012 at the American Craft Beer Fest. One of our employees actually visited NoDa that summer and mentioned the idea of a collaboration. E-mails started happening. We formulated an idea, then they came up and brewed with us a day before the ACBF in 2013. We brewed the beer, we barreled it, and released it at the ACBF this year." A high-gravity golden ale made using wine barrels, it's definitely one that is work seeking out.

Night Shift is known for many things, including their sour beers. Perhaps most of all, their beers are known for being unlike any others that are out there. I asked Oxton what he thought the key was to producing such unique brews. "Controlled experimentation allows us to innovate in interesting and successful ways," Oxton said. "What we're going for isn't just to be unique or experimental for the sake of being that way, but really to make a good, balanced, complex, and memorable beer."


A glass of Viva Habanera sitting on the bar at Night Shift's taproom.

The Viva Habanera is a good example. "We're not just going for something crazy spicy and outrageous," Oxton said. "We really wanted it to be an enjoyable, spicy, habanero rye ale. The habanero blends with the rye malts. It's not overdone. It's not underdone. You can taste the pepper, you can get some spice, you can pair it with a meal, but nothing is out of balance. So, ideally, people receive it that way."

That's what Night Shift is trying to do with all of their beers. "You look at it almost like a chef would look at making a recipe," Oxton said. "You want to achieve balance, make it enjoyable, make it interesting. Don't let one flavor dominate." The founders aren't the only chefs in the kitchen, though. "We've been really fortunate to get creative, interesting ideas from our brewers. Now that we have all this space, we can give our brewers creative freedom to come up with their own recipes and brew them pretty much exclusively for the taproom." Depending on how successful these beers are, they could even make it into bigger production.

According to Oxton, a big part of what Night Shift does is about having fun brewing and coming up with something people will find interesting. Their "Art" series of beers are experimental brews that are numbered one after the other. Some might be one-off batches, others may not be. "A lot of times we brew something that is an Art beer, but we may incorporate one aspect of that beer into a bigger batch, even if it's not the same beer," Oxton said. "You learn something every time."

There are many Night Shift beers that are exclusive, including those that are only available to those who are part of the Night Shift Barrel Society. I asked Oxton what prompted them to create the Barrel Society. "It was based on a few other breweries that were doing it before us. The Bruery was one of our biggest influences," Oxton said. "Ours allows people to sign up for seven different barrel-aged beers over the course of the year." You can also choose your membership tier and decide how many bottles of each of the seven beers you can get. "We wanted to offer our fans and supporters really complex beers that are often expensive to make and we can't produce in high volumes. They would have a really high demand, but they can secure them ahead of time." You don't necessarily know what beer you're going to get, but Oxton said people have no problem with that. "Fortunately, are fans have enough faith in us to produce good stuff. It also creates a really fun, intimate relationship with your supporters." Members of the Barrel Society get special t-shirts, glassware, and access to the exclusive Barrel Society draft line at the taproom. Oxton let me have a small glass of Art #21: Farmhouse Bramble, a dark saison fermented in bourbon barrels with blackberries, which was for Barrel Society members only. It had a nice funkiness and a flavor that was sweet yet smooth. I might have to become a member!


The bar, where people can purchase bottles, fill growlers, and enjoy a flight or a full pour of Night Shift beers.

We then discussed Night Shift's plans for the future. One of their newest series features "Presidential" Double IPAs. Fans of Night Shift might remember their "Nation of Hops" series that included Belgian-style Double IPAs that each featured a single type of hops. The brews in the Presidential series will be American Double IPAs, and each one will have a different yeast strain that gives it a unique profile. There will be multiple hops, but it will be all American yeast strains. Not to mention, each one will be named after a U.S. President!

Night Shift will also be canning more beer. The first beer they put into cans was an amber session ale called Marblehead. Whirlpool, their American Pale Ale loaded with Mosaic hops, will be canned on August 19th. At the same time, they will can the first batch of Night Shift’s new Rotating IPA Series: Morph. “Experimenting with different combinations of hops and malts each batch, the Morph series showcases our brewery's variety of always morphing India Pale Ales. This allows us to use the best hops accessible to create the freshest canned IPA possible.” The first Morph IPA to be canned will be a re-brew of Night Shift’s Constable IPA. I CANnot wait!

I asked about what was on the horizon for Night Shift. "One cool thing we've started doing is our Fun Runs. Every Wednesday night we do a run that starts and ends at the brewery. We do all the Cambridge 5k races as well. Those are awesome races organized by really great people.” Having recently run Vert’s Sasquatch and Cambridge 5ks in the past, I would have to agree.

Finally, I asked Oxton why people should come out to the new taproom. "More than anything, you get the beer fresher than you'll probably get it anywhere else," Oxton said. "You also get the full experience of our brewery. You get to meet some of the people behind the beer. You get to see where it's made. One of the coolest things about the barrel room is that you get to overlook the whole production area. You see brewing and bottling happening." Night Shift is one of the breweries in the area where everything is done in-house. Not every brewery does that. "From start to finish, everything stays within this building," Oxton told me. "One of the biggest things is that you can get beers here that you can't get anywhere else."

If you haven't been to Night Shift's new taproom yet and you can make it there, I would recommend you do so. It's a great space filled with great people and great beer. Thankfully, Night Shift is now open 7 days a week: 3-9pm on weekdays, 12-8pm on Saturdays, and 12-5pm on Sundays. Go out there and share the night!

Kate the Great Imperial Stout Brings Beers Lovers to Portsmouth, NH

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Monday February 9th, 2009 saw well over 1,000 beer enthusiasts converge on the small city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now, this is a town used to its share of tourists but that’s usually during the summer. What could have brought this many people out on a cold February Monday? The answer is Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Imperial Russian Stout. Brewed only once or twice per year, depending on their ability to brew it, this brew has seen a huge surge in popularity lately. A few years ago, Kate the Great would go on tap and last for a few months. Now, you’re lucky to get a glass after a few days… and if you want to get a bottle you’d better get it in the first few hours.

Mystic Brewery Wigglesworth Lord Falconer Oatmeal Stout [Beer Review]

When I think of Mystic Brewery one word comes to mind, saison. Mystic has built a cult following over the last year or so based on their exceptional line of saisons. As a brewery they actually challenged my idea of what a saison was, and really opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities out there. While perusing the shelves on my local beer store I saw a new bottle on the shelf. On first glance you might actually miss the fact that it's from Mystic. As it turns out this series was spurred by one of Mystic's original employees, Alastair Hewitt, who is originally from the UK. Let me just say right now that I'm really glad they hired him.

I really like the way they've branded this series. If you try this beer expecting traditional Mystic funk then you'll be disappointed. If, however, you go into this beer looking for an amazing English inspired Oatmeal stout then you'll be in heaven. This is one of the best oatmeal stouts I've had in recent memory, perhaps ever. The aroma is laced with a subtle sweetness with hints of roasted malt. The first sip just pulled me in, though, in reality I can't call it a sip so much as a gulp, it was just so good as soon as I tasted it that I had to have more (cue Will Ferrell jokes). Seriously though, it's incredibly smooth, the oatmeal provides a fantastically good round mouth feel that just begs you to keep drinking more of it. The roasted malt is fairly subtle and the balance between malt bitterness and sweetness is sublime. I don't normally gush over beers like this but it's that good. One of the things that makes me happiest is a single line of text on the bottle "traditional ale series." That one line means there's more to come, and if the rest are anything like this then we're in for some seriously good beer.

Urban Farm Fermentory's Eli Cayer [5 Questions]

Over Columbus Day weekend Devon and I took the day to go up to Portland, ME. While craft beer has always been a big part of this city's attraction, in recent years it's just exploded with new brewers and cider makers! Before Devon joined me, I made my way to one of the more interesting places I've ever been in that makes fermented beverages, Urban Farm Fermentory. Finding myself in industral East Bayside, or yEast Bayside as they've taken to calling it, the fermentory is just steps from Rising Tide Brewing, Bunker Brewing and walkable to legendary Portland beer bar Novare Res. With a distiller nearby in addition as well as a baker and cheesemaker moving into a spot in the same warehouse, this industrial neighborhood is fixing to get a lot more crafty! After getting a cup of coffee at Tandem Coffee Roasters, an awesome coffee roaster / cafe that the guys from UFF recommended to me, I met with Adam Callaghan (center), Willis Croninger (right) and founder Eli Cayer (left) as well as Reid Emmerich, head kombucha brewer, and Neil Spillane, CFO (both not pictured).

The Urban Farm Fermentory Team

Founded in early 2010, Eli originally foresaw Urban Farm Fermentory as a place for fermented food, beverage and an apiary. They even dabbled a bit in mycology (growing mushrooms). Since Eli started producing cider in late 2010, they've added Adam and Willis and focused down onto cider and kombucha. The cider? The apples are all locally sourced and spontaneously fermented, so they're super dry and vary from batch to batch. Some is sold that way, some is aged in bourbon barrels from Allagash Brewing and some is dry-hopped (picture below). Then, because everything is fermented in small batches, there's all sorts of crazy experiments (picture far below). The kombucha? I don't normally seek out this fermented tea but UFF's is delicious! I sampled their wild blueberry and ginger infused versions. UFF self distributes in Maine (mostly the Portland area) for now, but keep your eyes open for more from these guys.

After meeting up with the guys of Urban Farm Fermentoy, I followed up with Eli to get him on the record with our 5 Questions series. Here are his answers. Also, if you don't want to trek to Portland, ME but you want to try some of their cider you've got to come out to Drink Craft Beer Fall To Winter Fest! They'll be there showing off with their spontaneously fermented goodness.

Urban Farm Fermentory Ciders

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft cider?

Eli Cayer: I actually got into fermentation through bee keeping. Back in 2002, I acquired a couple bee hives with a friend. We both ended up with 80 lbs of honey and with that we made our first batches of mead. It was magical and I was hooked! That led me to fermentation of all kinds, but with a bend toward locally sourced fermentables.

DCB: What was the turning point (a beer or cider moment) that made you love craft beer and craft cider?

EC: Not to step back to the first question, but i was never much of drinker before making my own mead. My love for honey wine opened me up to so many things in the fermented beverage sphere. Up till then beer was something I drank at highschool parties...Coors, Miller, Bud, etc... basically lame. I didn't drink much at all in college. After getting into mead I began really noticing the variety of craft beers out there. Living in Portland [Maine] has also expanded my beer palate due to the many great micro breweries here such as Allagash, Maine Beer Co., and Oxbow.

DCB: You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer/cider currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one can be from your brewery.

EC: I imagine that all six would be from other breweries, I can get my stuff when ever i want :) I would look for any beers that would be wild fermented as they tend to truly reflect the culture currently available to that brewery/area.

Experimental UFF Ciders

DCB: You’re going out for one big night in Portland, ME. Where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer)?

EC: I generally start and sometimes end my nights at Novare Res. They have an excellent set up for local, national and international brews. We are also basically their house draft hard cider, so I get to try all our experimental batches in the presence of randoms. When the chance arises, I love hearing how people experience something we've worked on, while I soak up some tasty brews from home or away.

DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer, cider or beer at all?

EC: I guess I mostly drink cider and kombucha at this point as they both seem to work better with my digestive system.

DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Eli! Looking forward to seeing you guys at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest in November/December!

Liter Mugs in Massachusetts: Banned; But Not Banned

This is one of those spur of the moment stories. This summer Notch Brewing has launched the Notch Patio Liter Mug Tour, a great series of events that are exactly what they sound like: people drinking session beer from Notch branded liter mugs on bar patios all around the city. Last night (Thursday, July 24, 2014), the Notch crew was to take over Firebrand Saints in Cambridge, MA...until a called from the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), saying that liter mugs violated the Happy Hour Regulations, ABCC would be monitoring the event, and that the use of liter mugs would not be allowed. It seems that the glasses violated the rules around only serving a patron two drinks at a time.

In typical Notch fashion, they found a way to have a successful event anyway and, today, much venting online began, including this story on the episode by The Boston Herald. But the story is closed, no liter mugs allowed, too bad. Right? Well, it seems not so...

This morning (Friday, July 25, 2014), I decided to shoot an email to the ABCC to get some clarification on, 1) what constitutes a single serving; 2) why are 32 oz half yards allowed, but not ~34 oz liter mugs; and 3) why would 16 oz servings of high alcohol beer be allowed, but not ~34 oz servings of lower alcohol beer when the former has more alcohol in it?

Within a couple of hours I got a phone call (shortly after Gary Strack, owner of Firebrand Saints received a similar one) from Ralph Sacramone, Executive Director of MA ABCC, about this. He said that the call to Firebrand Saints the night before was a hoax, and that his office made no such call. He went on to say that the event at Firebrand Saints' was within Happy Hour Regulations and that they have no problem with liter mugs.

To be fair, there are some who are saying that this may just be the ABCC back pedaling on the issue after having their hand exposed more than usual on a regulatory interpretation. Who knows, but I don't find that too likely. It was a few beer and drinks industry folks unhappy about a ruling. If the ABCC back pedaled every time that happened, we'd have very different alcohol rules in Massachusetts. What do they care about a few of us being unhappy with a ruling? So, until someone shows me any evidence to prove otherwise, I'm sticking with my story: The call to Firebrand Saints was a hoax, and liter mugs are allowed in Massachusetts.

Now, let's all go down a liter of Notch Brewing Pils to celebrate!