Brewing on the Night Shift
There are some really awesome things about working in this industry, but even better than the great beer are the friendships we make along the way.
It makes sense. Beer brings people together. It stands to reason that it brings together the people who make it, as well.
Throughout the years, we’ve been lucky enough to have a great relationship with the folks at Night Shift Brewing up in Everett, Massachusetts. Back in 2018, they were extraordinarily gracious when the Pats lost in the Big Game to our beloved Eagles, making good on our bet. Their co-founder Mike O’Mara was behind our bar slinging our brews, taking in stride the good-natured ribbing that Philadelphia fans are known for. In addition, they lent a hand during Extreme Beer Fest last year, getting us to Boston through their distribution arm.
It only makes sense that the two of us join forces for a collaboration. And, since Night Shift expanded into coffee roasting in the past year, it made even more sense that we brew a beer together that incorporated that burgeoning side of their business.
Brewberry, an Imperial Stout with blueberry and coffee, releases next week. Earlier this week, we welcomed Daniel Griffith and Issac Boucher to lend a hand brewing it up.
“We’re both very excited about the ESB,” Issac said.
“Now that the traditional German styles have come back into fashion,” Daniel said, “I’m still waiting for those traditional English styles to make a comeback, and I’m really excited when I see something like an ESB. It’s very good.”
“Yeah,” Issac agreed.
“The Honey Porter is very nice,” Daniel said. “It would be a very nice porter to drink in the summer, too. It’s not too heavy.”
“And it seems to be harder and harder — what is this, like, five-and-a-half? Most dark beers start at, like, 11%, 13%,” Issac said, “but sometimes you just want a pint of a nice porter. If I go someplace and see a 5% stout, I’ve got to try it out.”
They enjoyed Cape May IPA, as well.
“For me, I find it really refreshing,” Daniel said. “I don’t like a lot of hoppy stuff; I’m not crazy about the hazy, juicy stuff, so finding something that’s a little more balanced in an IPA, I find really nice. It’s always good to drink.”
Daniel’s been in packaging at Night Shift for over three years, transplanting himself from Fremont Brewing in Seattle, and Issac’s been a brewer at Night Shift for over two-and-a-half years, having spent some time at 603 Brewery in New Hampshire.
While Night Shift is no stranger to collaboration, this was Daniel’s first experience participating in one, but Issac’s done “a bunch.”
“I did one up at Four Quarters,” he tells us, “up in Vermont. I know Brian, the owner. I kinda finagled my way into that.”
He approached Joe Mashburn, the head brewer at Night Shift, about a possible collaboration with Four Quarters in Vermont — but, really, Issac knew the owner and just wanted to go up and watch them brew.
“I didn’t want to show up on social media and Joe to be like, ‘What’s going on here?’ so I asked him if it was cool if I went up, and he was like, ‘So you wanna do a collab?’ and I was like, ‘…yes…?’” he laughs.
“But, if that hadn’t happened, they probably wouldn’t have bought our old brewhouse,” Daniel said.
Night Shift recently expanded into a 60-barrel BrauKon, a far cry from their old 20-barrel brewhouse. They were going online with it when we began our discussions about collaborating back in August.
“I thought, ‘These guys are going to have a fun couple of days coming up,’” Brian said, knowingly.
“There’s nothing like having a big construction project going on in the brewery in the middle of the summer,” Issac laughs.
“All right in front of our loading bay,” Daniel adds. “We couldn’t use our loading bay all summer.”
It reminded Brian of when we were installing our new canning line, the week of Memorial Day, when we had two dueling canning lines. Regardless, brewing on their new 60-barrel brewhouse is quite a bit different from our 30-barrel house at CMBC.
“The new brewhouse is a lot more automated,” Issac said. “Down here, it’s more like what we were on a few months back. I was telling Brian, there’s so much automation, but the trick now is to look at the screen and make sure that the automated things are doing what they’re supposed to, because they don’t always. It’s less physical, but you still have to pay attention to the same things.”
Night Shift is known for their dark beers, with their Awake Coffee Porter and Night Fever Stout with Chocolate and Coffee being two in their lineup to combine a dark brew with some of their coffee; however, Brewberry will be the first from either of us to combine coffee and a fruit of some sort.
“We’ve done a few different coffee things,” Issac said, “and we’ve done different fruit beers, but this is the first time to combine them.”
“It’s definitely something that fits into the tradition of Night Shift,” Daniel agrees. “Night Shift definitely got their reputation initially as the brewery who threw a ton of stuff into beer. Not, like, brewing with Twinkies or a bunch of Hostess cakes, but all different kinds of spices and fruits and other flavorings. More traditional adjuncts.”
“Not like going to the supermarket and buying a box of cereal to dump in,” Brian laughs.
“Yeah,” Daniel says. “The first time I went to Night Shift and was talking to the guy giving me the tour, they were looking toward more culinary inspirations, and I think this beer falls squarely under that.”
Brian worked with closely with Rob Rodriguez, the head roaster at Night Shift, and Rory Burns, the General Manager, to develop the coffee side of Brewberry, particularly selecting the right bean for the brew.
“That’s one of the big benefits of us having in-house coffee roasting,” Daniel said.
“Oh, yeah,” Brian agreed.
“Instead of playing around with a bunch of different stuff,” Daniel continues, “we can talk to someone and say, ‘We want a coffee for this beer and these flavors.’”
However, the formulation for Brewberry worked a little backward: instead of choosing the coffee to match the beer, we created the beer around the coffee. We’d decided upon a winter release, and we definitely wanted to incorporate some of Night Shift’s coffee.
“At that point, they had just launched the coffee arm and it started to make some waves,” Brian explains. “And I really wanted to use their coffee so we could really dial in the coffee to match the beer.”
However, as the beer started to take shape and we were selecting the beans, we decided on a single-origin, naturally-processed Ethiopian coffee that naturally tasted like blueberries.
“When it came in last week and I stole a hundred grams — we had 210 pounds for the brews; we could sacrifice 100 grams — and brewed it in the breakroom,” Brian says, “anyone from production who walked in asked why it smelled like blueberries.”
A lot of people assumed that we were using flavored coffee, but this wasn’t the case.
“African coffees in general are very exotic in their flavor profile, but Ethiopian coffees specifically have a very strong berry, dark cherry undertone notes,” Brian explains, “and some Ethiopian coffees taste like straight-up blueberries.”
While Brian was talking about the coffees, there was a very enthusiastic “Wow!” from Issac as he tasted the Port version of this year’s Boughs of Barley.
“Yeah, that’s really nice,” he said.
“That’s amazing,” Daniel agreed. “It’s so good.”
They’d also had a chance to sample Brewberry during their visit.
“The combination of blueberry and coffee in a stout, I was a little skeptical,” Daniel said, “but trying that sample today, it’s really good. The aroma is very much just the coffee, but then you taste it, and it’s got that sweetness from the blueberries and, I’m assuming, some sweetness from the coffee, too.”
“Yeah,” Brian affirms.
“It’s actually a very nice combination,” Daniel continues.
“I think you hit the nail on the head,” Issac agrees. “The coffee is important to pull this together because the blueberry stands out as blueberry, but it complements the coffee so well, you could almost make the argument that, you know, where’s it coming from? If it wasn’t for the purple-y color, you’d almost think that it was all coming from the coffee itself, which is kinda cool.”
“Sweet does work really well in stouts,” Daniel says. “It’s not always chocolate and roast all the time: getting those nice, sweet, dark fruit flavors a lot of time works really well in those beers.”
You’ll get a chance to deliver your own verdict on Brewberry next Saturday, February 1st, when it’s released in 16-ounce cans throughout New Jersey. Don’t miss it!