Sitting Down with Night Shift Brewing’s Michael Oxton

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Night Shift Brewing is one of Boston’s newest and most respected breweries. It’s located just outside of Boston in Everett and was founded by Rob Burn, Mike O’Mara, and Michael Oxton. In the year that’s passed since Night Shift has opened, their popularity has grown tremendously. Clearly they are doing some really interesting things in the Boston area, so I was excited to be invited up to tour the brewery and to hang out with Michael Oxton.

If it wasn’t for Night Shift’s immediately identifiable black owl staring back at me from a sign on a fence, I probably would have driven right by the entrance to the brewery. Like many of America’s new breweries, they’re located in a nondescript industrial building. But it’s not about the place – it’s about the beer at Night Shift! The brewery’s three founders are all actively involved with everything taking place at the brewery, from giving tours to pouring samples to responding to questions during my visit.

After the tour, I sat down with Michael for a little more conversation…

What got you and your two co-owners into the beer business?

We got into the beer business through our passion for craft beer and homebrewing. For about five years, we brewed on our literal “night shifts” (after day shifts at desk jobs), experimenting with ingredients and recipes and trying to create beers that we couldn’t find on the shelves. Eventually, we couldn’t handle doing it as just a hobby – we wanted to live in the beer world.

How much beer do you brew in a year?

Last year we brewed about 350 bbls. We plan on at least doubling that in 2013.

Unlike many breweries, Night Shift uses champagne bottles for its beers. Why?

We chose the wine bottle look (technically, they’re champagne bottles – more suitable for carbonation) mainly because we think it’s the best presentation of our beer. We’re trying to brew beers that can be treated much like someone might treat a wine – shared with a few people, paired with a meal, and appreciated slowly. There’s an elegance to it that we really enjoy.photo 2

What is the most popular beer that you brew?

That’s so hard to say. During the warmer months, our Somer Weisse (a tart, champagne-like sour) sold like crazy. Recently, our Viva Habanera (rye ale w/ habanero peppers) has been flying off the shelves. Our Ever Weisse (limited release sour ale w/ strawberries, kiwis, and hibiscus) is our highest rated beer on Untappd. And our Trifecta (belgian pale w/ vanilla beans) is our most universally liked brew. I personally think our Wild Queen (barrel-aged wild ale w/ raspberries) is the best beer we’ve released thus far. So, totally depends on who you ask, and when.

photo 1Do you plan to release any new beers this year?

We plan to release a lot of new beers this year. We’ll be putting out a new farmhouse saison to replace our Rose this spring, we’ll be putting out some new hoppy offerings as the warmer weather approaches, and with the recent hiring of our co-founder Rob, we plan to do more growler-exclusive, small-batch releases from the taproom – a new beer on tap every few weeks. We’ll also be bringing back a few limited release beers from last year (Ever Weisse, Quad Reserve – this time aged in red wine barrels, Fallen Apple, etc). And that’s not including the 7 beers we’re releasing exclusively to our 2013 Barrel Society members. All barrel-aged, ranging from a wheat wine, to a 100% brett-fermented ale, to a barrel-aged IPA, to a crowd-sourced recipe (members help us choose the style, ingredients, barrel type, etc). 2014 membership sign-ups will be made available later this year.

What states do you sell your brews in currently and will you add any new states this year?

Night Shift is sold in one state: MA. We’re looking at ME for some potential sales this year (two out of the three founders went to Bowdoin College, and we all love Portland), but nothing’s set in stone. We really want to establish a strong local presence before trying to establish ourselves elsewhere.

What would your advice be to someone who wants to get into the beer business?

First and foremost, you have to love beer and love brewing. If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t last. Secondly, be prepared to work, and work, and work, and, for long stretches, have zero free time for life outside the brewery (which is why you have to love it). And zero money. Also realize that “brewer” and “janitor” aren’t mutually exclusive titles. In fact, they’re more similar than most outside the beer business realize.

With the craft beer industry growing as fast as it is, do you think the industry can sustain all this growth?

I think the industry will take care of itself. By that I mean those breweries putting out creative, high-quality, interesting beers will always be successful, and those doing otherwise will not. The more the industry grows, the more quickly and dramatically that truth will manifest itself.

Several craft breweries and hard cider companies have been sold in the last year. Would you ever think about selling a percentage or the entire brewery to someone else?

We have no plans on selling Night Shift – we got into this business because we love beer and love running our own business. We’re our own bosses and have no interest in changing that.

Where do you go to drink beer in Boston?

I spend less and less time out on the town these days, but over the past month, I’ve had a chance to hit up Meadhall, Cambridge Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, and Flatbread Pizza in Davis Square…..All great spots.

Night Shift’s brewery is open to the public weekdays 9-5 and Saturday 12-5. You can also rent out the brewery for your next event. Visit their website for more information.

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