In the last several years, Somerville has become a breeding ground for the local food movement as well as those with careers that focus on creativity. So it’s no wonder that the craft beer movement has taken root here, producing some of the most unique and delicious brews around. Night Shift Brewing, one of the leaders of the local craft beer movement, was founded in an apartment kitchen near Davis Square and has now grown to include a real brewery in Everett.
Michael Oxton started Night Shift with two friends, Mike O’Mara and Rob Burns, in the kitchen of their Somerville apartment after home-brewing beer together for years. They experimented like crazy and when the fermentation buckets began to take over, they decided Night Shift needed a space of its own.
“The story behind us is that we started in Somerville,” Oxton said. “Essentially, we’ve just been home-brewing like crazy for all those five years right in our Somerville kitchen.”
Oxton and Burns went to school together at Bowdoin College in Maine where they first tasted craft beer and began learning about the many varieties available. Oxton said they experienced “a whole world of beer flavors we didn’t know existed.”
After graduation, they moved to Somerville where they met their third business partner, O’Mara, who went to school in Philadelphia and had a similar experience discovering the delicious world of craft beer. Somerville proved to be the perfect location for their home-brewing operation.
“Somerville to me is a city of constant innovation,” Oxton said. “People are always doing something new and interesting. There’s a wealth of education and diverse thinking all over the city. … Craft brewing fits really well into that way of thinking. It’s a natural fit. It was only a matter of time until a few home-brewers turned it into something bigger than their kitchen.”
At first, the Night Shift founders all had day jobs, so they would conduct their brewing at night after work, hence the company’s name. Now Oxton and O’Mara work at the brewery full time and Burns comes in to brew after work.
“It was a great hobby, but we just couldn’t hold back from turning it into something bigger,” Oxton said. “We all had this desire to leave our day jobs and start a business and we happened to have what seemed like a good business model.”
After hours of research and preparation, Night Shift Brewing was officially born. Oxton, O’Mara and Burns had a business plan and with the help of some capital from friends and family, they were able to begin construction on their own brewery.
This is one great distinction between Night Shift and many of the other small craft breweries that have sprung up in the Boston area and around the country. Many small-batch beer makers rent space from larger breweries, but the founders of Night Shift felt that it was important to have their own space.
“What’s great is that we’re constantly making stuff and producing,” Oxton said. “The brewery is open to the public. One reason we wanted to have our own brewery is that we wanted to have full control of our process and invite people in to see where the beer is made and taste it.”
Currently, you can stop by Night Shift’s brewery on Thursdays from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. and on Saturdays from noon-5 p.m. (While the brewery is in Everett, the Night Shift founders still live in Somerville!)
When Oxton isn’t at the brewery (which he almost always is), you might find him at Russell House Tavern, one of his go-to local spots to get a great beer.
“One of the reasons is that I love the atmosphere and their food is fantastic, those two combined with the fact that they have a really nice draft selection that’s completely local,” Oxton said of why he frequently bellies up to Russell House Tavern’s bar.
Though they have much more space now, the founders of Night Shift are still incredibly passionate about their innovative approach to brewing beer. When they were still brewing after-hours, they would often brew 15 gallons of a beer, divide it up into three five-gallon buckets and do different things to each one to see what would happen.
“With each different bucket, we could do something different,” Oxton said. “We were trying to make stuff that we couldn’t buy at the stores.”
This method has resulted in some very unique and delicious beers, like Night Shift’s Viva Habanera, which is a rye ale made with habanera peppers and agave. This variety proved so popular on tap at bars around town that Night Shift decided to bottle it.
Oxton draws inspiration from the hundreds of beers he’s tasted, like his favorite, St. Bernardus Abt 12. Oxton described it as “one of the most elegantly styled beers” he’s ever had. It was imbued with special meaning when he received a large bottle to mark the transition from working at his day job to going full-time at the brewery.
Oxton said his favorite Night Shift offering is Somer Weisse, named in honor of their Somerville brewing roots. This beer is intentionally sour because of a bacteria that’s pitched in during the brewing process.
“I would say all of them we try to brew by giving them a lot of personality and character,” Oxton said. “The biggest thing I hear from someone when they drink one of our beers is that they’re really full-bodied, full-flavored, almost like a food.”
Night Shift debuted a new beer at the recent Drink Craft Beer Summerfest held at the Armory. This variety is in the saison style and will be released on tap to bars around town with the potential to be bottled if it proves popular.
“We’re not trying to make one-dimensional beers,” Oxton said. “We want a good beer taste and good supplemental flavor taste. It’s like trying to cook a really good dish that’s memorable and innovative.”