This past October, Everett's Night Shift Distributing turned a lot of heads with the announcement that it was launching its own distribution company, "a Massachusetts craft beer distributor that will fight archaic franchise law problems with a fresh approach to beer distribution."
It was a bold move for a brewery that can seemingly do no wrong – since debuting in 2012, and intensifying in the past couple years, NSB has won major awards, grown its footprint, hosted weddings in its gleaming (and recently expanded) taproom, and celebrated its fifth birthday – all while brewing and honing a growing arsenal of craft beers dedicated beer drinkers have no problem waiting in line to get their hands on.
We really wanted to to do something European, we have a lot of respect for that tradition.[/pullquote]
News out of the distribution arm – Night Shift Distributing, or NSD – though, has been sparse since. That is until today, when the brand announced the the inaugural class of brewers at NSD: Pipeworks Brewing Co. out of Chicago; Fairfield, NJ-based Magnify Brewing Company; Mast Landing Brewing Company from Westbrook, ME; and Reinheits Boten, an importer of five German breweries: Distelhäuser, Zoller-Hof, Friedenfelser Brauerei, Riedenburger Brauhaus and Himburgs Braukunst Keller.
“The number one goal has always been to find like-minded brewers who share a similar philosophy and a focus on quality," founder Rob Burns told me in an interview. "That has been challenging because like-minded brewers … are selling a lot of beer out of their taproom and if they’re out of state they’re selling a lot of beer in their home state.”
NSD has fielded an array of incoming queries from interested brewers nationally and globally as well as sought out a host of others they thought could be a good fit. "We turned away a lot of brands, which was tough," said Burns.
All four brands will be on-hand at the official launch event April 6 at Brewer's Fork in Charlestown, where the hope is that all 24 tap handles will be devoted to the new NSD lineup. Burns said they might start selling some of the brands before then, but they each must get compliance from the state, "the last missing piece" before all systems are go, he said.
Night Shift Distributing moved into a former dairy plant at 220 2nd Street in Chelsea, across from a shopping plaza. There, these new brands will be met by a 30,000-square-foot warehouse with 10,000 square feet of cold storage and a climate-controlled loading dock outfitted with 15 loading bays. It's a massive space (I took a tour recently) tailor-made for keeping beer cold while it waits to be shipped out.
Now, for the first time, it will be put to the test under the load of other brands, a portfolio that represents an interesting cross-section of regional beers and others further afield.
"Pipeworks Brewing shares a very similar origin story to ours in a bunch of almost creepy ways," said Burns. "They started with almost the exact same brewhouse we did, started in bombers only, self-distribution, doing funky weird stuff, never really having a flagship. They started in a shitty little garage type space and now they have a 30-barrel brewhouse, 100-barrel fermenters, a canning line and they’re still self-distributing.”
There’s a Helles I’m really excited to be able to sell because it’s so damn good.[/pullquote]
Magnify Brewing is a young brewery making "really aggressively hop-forward beers" that's been recognized as a top brewery in New Jersey and a best new brewery in America. Mast Landing is also a young outfit Burns said is making great pale ales and IPAs, thanks in large part to snagging a brewer from Maine Beer Company. "Their beer is shockingly good," he added. "Those guys I felt like were a real hidden gem.”
As for Reinheits Boten, that's one Burns and the rest of NSD is also very proud to have in the fold. "We really wanted to to do something European," he said. "We brew a lot of German-style beers and have a lot of respect for that tradition." They've got IPAs and Hefeweizens and a Bock beer they lager for an insane 50 weeks, and, said Burns, "There’s a Helles I’m really excited to be able to sell because it’s so damn good."
A lot of thinking and industry knowledge went into deciding which brands NSD would bring on and Burns readily admits it was a serious challenge. Each brewery needed to have the capacity to produce enough volume to meet demand. Night Shift Brewing currently sells to about 300 accounts, a 50/50 split between draft accounts and liquor stores. The brands they sell through NSD will be offered to the accounts among these that make sense but they'll also sell to accounts that don't carry Night Shift but might be interested in, say, a milk stout from Westbrook, Maine's first brewery and taproom.
The other factor Burns and co. had to consider is whether a brand would sell well in Massachusetts specifically. "We’ve been hesitant to bring on any breweries that use 12-ounce cans," he said, citing one example. "Nationally that’s the gold standard. In New England the 16-ounce focus is just crazy."
And of course, there are the franchise law hurdles any brewery attempting to sell in the state knows all too well, hurdles NSD was founded on helping smaller brands overcome to gain entry into a new market that would otherwise be out of the question.
“I would definitely say NSB publicly denouncing the 25E franchise law has brought in these smaller brewers that wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable selling beer in the state," said Burns. "The idea being we’re able to give them an opportunity to get their name out and sell beer and not regret this decision down the road. I hope we do right by them and they’re here for the long haul."
NSD won't lock its brands into long-term contracts the way other big local distribution companies do – either party can terminate the deal with a 90-day notice. And while they can legally only sell beers that are made onsite or made for Night Shift, they'd love to brew a collaboration beer with each of their NSD brands so they can pour them at their taproom.
As for future partner brands of NSD, Burns said there are five or six breweries they’re actively engaged with, but this first class will be more than enough to keep their hands full for now.
“I hope this is the first wave," he said, "and we get another handful signed on before year’s end.”
Featured image via Tim Oxton.
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