Last year, Otter Creek in Vermont changed direction and started featuring their brewer, Mime Gerhart. At that same time, they started on a tear, rebranding the company and turning out great beer after great beer. Overgrown Pale Ale is their latest seasonal offering.
Ready to pop the top, I'm greeted by the image of Brewmaster Mike hanging in his van, dog at his side, something green wafting from his hand...Moving on to the beer, it's a hazy orange while it flows into my glass, crowned by a 1/2 inch of pale head. Enticing!
As I'm pouring, I can't help but notice a citrusy sweet blast, like overripe orange...it's sweet, but not cloying malt...just sweet and a bit oily, like an orange when you tear the peel. Stick your nose in and the experience is finished with clean malt and citrusy, dank hops.
Finally, the first sip reveals this beer to be delicious! A mild bitterness sticks in the mouth for a quite a while, even after you swallow. More noticeable, though, is the flavor: a dominating hoppy tangerine. This is a great, drinkable, citrusy, and hoppy pale ale that I'll definitely have a couple of. At 5.5% abv it's definitely meant to be consumed a couple at a time.
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!
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!
This weekend is Drink Craft Beer Summerfest! Saison, Hefeweizen, and Summer Beers...oh my! And what better way to celebrate than by sampling 90+ beers from 25 New England craft breweries and cider houses, as well as popsicles from New England Ice Lollies and the B. Good Shandy Station? We're so excited about the fest this weekend, that we're giving away a pair of tickets to spread the word! Find out how to enter below.
How to Enter
Entering is easy, just send a tweet on Twitter! There are two ways:
Just tweet the following: "I want 2 free tix to this weekend's #DCBSummerfest in Boston w/ 90+ beers/ciders & 25 brewers: http://ctt.ec/eJKPc+"
Even if you don't win, you can always get tickets to Drink Craft Beer Summerfest. It's a great chance to beat the summer heat, relax with friends and enjoy some of the best craft beer New England has to offer.
The Fine Print:
- Contest closes at 8pm EDT Tuesday, July 15th
- You must be 21+ to enter.
- Winner will be chosen at random.
- Winner will choose from one of three sessions on July 18th or 19th
- If you have already bought tickets and win, you'll be credited the price of two tickets on your original order.
Find Out About More Promotions and Events
Big things are happening in Somerville. Union Square is now home to both Bantam Cider and Aeronaut Brewing Company. The Legoland Discovery Center recently opened in Assembly Row. Somerville Brewing Company, the makers of Slumbrew beers, made big news when they announced that they will be bringing a new brewery, retail experience, and taproom to Boynton Yards. Yet, there is something else coming to Somerville. Something fans of Slumbrew will be very excited about. Something that has been kept a secret until now: Assembly Row will soon be the home of the very first American Fresh Taproom.
That's right; the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row by Somerville Brewing Company will be opening to the public on August 1st, before the American Fresh Taproom and Brewery Boynton Yards by Somerville Brewing Company opens in the first week of November. A family-friendly, outdoor beer garden pavilion offering high-quality food and beers from Slumbrew, the American Fresh Taproom promises to be one of the biggest things to come to Somerville yet.
The founders of Somerville Brewing Company, Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter.
(All photos courtesy of Somerville Brewing Company)
To find out more about Somerville Brewing Company's history as well as their plans for the Slumbrew and American Fresh brands, I traveled out to Somerville to meet with the co-owners, Jeff Leiter and Caitlin Jewell. We sat down at Redbones Barbecue in Davis Square to talk about things over a few pints of Flagraiser IPA.
As I took my first pint from Jeff, who was sitting near the bar, the familiar aroma of Flagraiser immediately hit my nose. The smell of pine and citrus made it hard to resist. Luckily, we soon raised our glasses and toasted with a hearty "cheers" (or, as Caitlin would say, "slàinte"). After taking my first sip and enjoying the sweet yet fruity flavor of the beer, I decided to ask Jeff about where the inspiration for their beers first came from. "It came from making beers that I liked to drink or that Caitlin liked to drink," Jeff said. "I had to fight hard for Happy Sol," Caitlin told me. "That was a treat he made for me and not one of his favorites." I think many people, including myself, are glad that she fought for it.
"I like to cook," Jeff went on to say. He told me about how when he first started brewing Happy Sol and bought dozens of blood oranges that he peeled and zested himself. "It's just as good now as it was then," Jeff said with pride. "It took a while to get there," Caitlin confessed. Then she told me the first rule of Slumbrew (and no, it's not that you do not talk about Slumbrew). "Rule number one: make good liquids."
Next I asked them what they thought they key was to getting where they are today. "It was a lot of careful decisions that we've made for developing the brand, marketing it, and making friends," Jeff said. "Life gives you a lot of things that you don't expect, and it's about how you to react to those things. When life gives you bittering units, you make IPA." Most importantly, Jeff believes that to be successful as a brewer you have to make good beer. "You have to make beer that you love and that other people love," Jeff said. Then Caitlin brought up a good point: "You can't work so hard to make novel beers that you forget to make good beers."
Part of the Slumbrew crew standing in the location for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row.
After that, Jeff began to talk about developing a culture around their beer and getting people to want to support their brand. "A lot of it's been developing relationships one-on-one. That's what we've done for 33 months, and in another 33 months we'll be that much further ahead." Slumbrew, a nickname from friends in "Slumerville" that is now a badge of honor, started with just Jeff and Caitlin. It now has a few other people on board, including Caitlin's brother. On the subject of support, Caitlin had a lot to say. "You have to activate your fans. You have to find a way to engage them. You have to allow them to participate in both your successes and your failures. You have to let them be part of the journey."
Caitlin believes that brewers should look at their fans as their friends. Sitting by the bar with my second pint of Flagraiser, I certainly felt like one. Having been part of their journey myself, I had to ask about the next chapter and what motivated them to open up their own brewery. "We spent 15 years traveling and admiring breweries. You spend so much time admiring everybody else's brewery that you eventually want one of your own," Caitlin said. Jeff then explained the motivation behind the American Fresh Taproom. "That's the endgame. That's where everyone is headed. That's the place where you get to create the experience and control the product that the consumer gets." Jeff talked about how there is a certain amount of unpredictability around beer that is sent out to the market. Depending on how their beer is shipped and stored, they might not have any idea of what the consumer is getting. "By opening up a taproom, we'll know exactly what they're getting."
Still curious about the American Fresh brand, I decided to ask about where it came from. "So it's Slumbrew, but 8 or 9 years ago we had this idea for a restaurant," Caitlin said. "My dream was to open a restaurant where the food was from all over America." A couple of business plans and classes made them realize that it may have not been the best idea. "What came out of that were some good ideas about local food made with quality ingredients." Of course, the brand came as well. Both Caitlin and Jeff are excited about opening the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row as well as the American Fresh Taproom and Brewery Boynton Yards.
The American Fresh brand is a way for Jeff and Caitlin to further connect with their consumers and amplify what they're already doing while consolidating their objectives. The American Fresh Taproom will be a place where they can serve some of the more experimental beers that they will be brewing (including Happier Sol, which is Happy Sol aged in rum barrels). It will also be one of the few family-friendly beer gardens. In fact, Caitlin told me there will be a sign that says "Make no mistake, this is a family-friendly place" with a picture of her, Jeff, and their children. There will even be certain hours specifically meant for families to have time to enjoy themselves.
A rendering of what the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row will look like.
Caitlin showed me some of their top-secret designs for the layout of the American Fresh Taproom. The pavilion will be made of a cool collection of shipping containers that have been converted into retail and food prep spaces surrounding an open beer garden area. The plans looked great, and I am definitely looking forward to visiting and taking part in the many outdoor events they have planned.
"In our view, the taproom is the ultimate experience of the brand," Jeff said. "We wanted to be able to have a brand that embraced the idea of a fresh, local product. Food from around America. Beer that is served in the best condition possible. A brand that will be able to expand beyond the locality of Somerville." Somerville Brewing Company started in Somerville, and the first two American Fresh Taprooms will be in Somerville, but the plan is to recreate the experience and bring the American Fresh brand to even more areas with a focus on freshness and American ingredients.
Caitlin made a point of letting me know that the American Fresh Taproom will not be a brewpub. They're not going to have french fries. Their fare will include artisanal soups, cheeses, and characuterie, among other things. They are not only dedicated to putting the best ingredients they can find into their food, but also to knowing where each of those ingredients came from. "We are a brewery that's trying to have great food," Jeff said. "The number one rule is making great beer. We want to be able to pair great beer with really great food."
The label for Island Day, set to be released in late July.
I don't know if it was all of the exciting news I was hearing, or if it was Jeff handing me my third and final pint of Flagraiser, but I was feeling pretty happy about the great things that Slumbrew has in the works. As I raised my glass of Flagraiser, one of their four core beers, I had to ask about their upcoming beer, Island Day IPA. More specifically, I wanted to know how this one would be different from the 7 other unique IPAs that are part of their current 13 beer portfolio.
Jeff gave me a pretty good description of what Island Day would be like. "It's really summery. It's light in color with a lot of hops. There will be a nice bitterness. We're going to dry hop the hell out of it." The beer sounds good, and the label looks great. Friends of Jeff and Caitlin are featured sailing on the Charles River with what Bostonians will immediately recognize as the Hatch Shell and the John Hancock Tower among the rest of the city in the background.
After summer, Slumbrew's fall seasonal, Attic & Eaves, will return. Considering Attic & Eaves is my favorite beer from Slumbrew, I was excited when Caitlin shared some good news with me. "It's coming out early this year, and it's going to stay out longer. September, October, November, December. The whole quarter." Yankee Swap will also be coming back. This year's Yankee Swap is going to be an Imperial Stout using the same rum barrels and same maple syrup from the year before.
They also have plans to start a barrel program in their new brewery. Jeff is a huge sour fan, so he is really excited for Slumbrew to start making sour beers in the future. Though Slumbrew will not be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest 2014, they will be back at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest 2014 pouring Attic & Eaves, the new Yankee Swap, and (if Caitlin can convince Jeff) possibly some Yankee Swap from 2013 as well.
After hearing about plans for a barrel program and how there is still some Yankee Swap from last year stored away, we started talking about aging beers. "I remember chuckling when we bought a cave-aged beer from Ommegang," Caitlin said. "But you know what? It was brilliant. It was some relative's cave that was dark and cold. So they drove all their cases down, they put them down there, and they left them there for a couple of years. Then they brought them back up. It was a beautiful beer." So, if anyone's got a cave, Jeff and Caitlin would love to use it.
As we finished our beers, Jeff and Caitlin left me with some parting thoughts. "When it comes to craft beer, inclusion matters a lot. That's what has made us so strong, people participating. We've been so lucky, but we still need help." There are already plenty of "slumbassadors" out there. They are people who are dedicated to Slumbrew and want to support it in any way they can. Though, there could always be more of them. I have a feeling that after Slumbrew opens its new brewery and taproom, there most definitely will be.
The logo for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row.
A soft opening for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row is planned for July 30 and July 31, but access will be by ticketed invitation only during the first two days. American Fresh Taproom will be open to the public on Friday, August 1, 2014. Operating hours are expected to be 11am-10pm Monday - Saturday and noon-8pm Sunday.
For more information, visit www.slumbrew.com.