Co-Founder Michael Oxton gives us a history of the craft crowd favorite
Let’s face it—we write about Night Shift quite a bit. Whether they’re cranking up the hop dial or leading in the seltzer market, they are constantly in our face, specifically our beaks.
With its 10th anniversary coming up in 2022, the Everett-based brewery has grown into a craft icon, not just locally but for heads across the region and beyond. Word of their distribution reaching new markets spurs much buzz among beer drinkers, many of whom didn’t get to witness the genesis that preceded so much brilliance.
We headed to Everett for a one-on-one with Co-Founder Michael Oxton, who toured us through a crush of drafts and cans, from the standout Pride pale ale pouring at the time to their Berry Blast Hoot Louder, an 8% seltzer that’s both vicious and delicious. In addition to enjoying all the samples, we used the opportunity to trace Night Shift’s growth over the past decade.
What was the original idea behind Night Shift?
The original Night Shift idea was everything, shifted. So it had to have [something like] habanero peppers, or green tea and honey. No hoppy beers—there were a lot on the market, but let’s be honest, we had tasted delicious stuff from [breweries like] Avery and Stone, and we didn’t have the confidence that we could brew a great hoppy beer. That was one reason [for no hops at the start], and the other reason was that we had plastic fermenters and it’s really impossible to do great quality control with plastic fermenters. You can’t get away with it, especially with hops.
What was the breakthrough, the tipping point?
It was the shift to stainless steel fermenters, and being able to put more hops in our beer. And we hired Joe [Mashburn], who is still our head brewer. He had experience at a variety of breweries including Treehouse, and he just came and that was really the beginning of our hoppy program. And one of the first hoppy beers we brewed was Whirlpool [New England Pale Ale]. He said, Let’s try this out, see how it goes, and we almost forgot about this tank in the corner. We finally kegged it up, and it sold out faster than any other beer that we had ever made. [These days, the baby tank that held that first batch is kept on display in the brewhouse to remind them of their early days.]
How close was that Whirlpool to the Whirlpool we all know and love now?
In my memory it’s still the same—soft, citrusy, hazy, vibrant, juicy, crushable. It hits all the same points for me. I think we’ve refined the process significantly, but it’s the same goal—super low bitterness, super juicy.
In the years since, has there been pressure to do New England IPAs?
I think it’s self-competition, like, we want to be able to put out one of the best ones on the market. With [Fluffinity] we were trying to come up with a scalable and quintessential New England IPA, one that meets expectations but that feels unique and owned by us.
Do you start with a goal in mind?
We always start with small batches, usually it’s not called [the final name it will end up getting].
Let’s talk about the shift to seltzers …
Our whole goal was to put out something unique, and our thing is to always do flavor combinations, so it’s never just passion fruit, but rather, How do we bring two fruits together in a way that feels unified and is just delicious. That’s the goal.
How did the testing go? What did you start with, what did you end up with?
It basically started with us going through tons of different flavors, like a wide variety and then seeing which play off each other nicely. And here we are.
And is it a democracy around here?
I defer to our brewers. They typically have the best palates, we trust them.