Word on the street from recently established Boston-area contract brewers is that they need a place to call home.
Brewbound.com spoke to three emerging local breweries — Notch Brewing, Somerville Brewing Company and Blatant Beer – at last Friday night’s Massachusetts Brewers Guild Fest about their top priorities, and one of the primary concerns voiced was the need to move from a contract brewing business model to the more traditional brick-and-mortar model that has defined a majority of the nation’s craft brewers.
All three companies launched in just the last 18 months, and all of them said they are actively pursuing ways to move to build their own facilities, driven by a need for space and consumer recognition.
“We are going brick and mortar; we have to,” said Jeff Leiter, co-founder of Somerville Brewing Company who makes the Slumbrew brand.
For Leiter, that could mean a variety of different options. He said the company is currently weighing different possibilities, from building out a smaller 3-barrel “test-batch” facility to a slightly larger 15-barrel production facility.
“The contract model is actually a really great model for us,” he said. “However, we do need to have a place where we can make experimental batches, have our customers come in and sample the beers and just have a place that we can call home.”
Notch Brewing is in a similar position.
“My goal is to have something where people can come and experience Notch,” said founder Chris Lohring. “It would probably be a small production facility, beer garden and tap room type of environment.”
Lohring said it’s been his intention to establish a home base since launching the brand in March of 2011. Lohring is currently brewing through the Mercury Brewing facility in Ipswich, Mass.
“The goal for me is to be more than a contract brewer, but it’s not like I need a facility to justify my existence,” he said.
Lohring admits that his goal could still be a few years away from reality and that contracting out large amounts of production will always remain a component of his business.
That could also be the case for Matthew Steinberg, who launched the Blatant Beer brand in 2011. Steinberg said that while his search for space is over, he is now searching for nearly $1 million of seed money to build a farmhouse-style brewery on a 12-acre plot of land in Hadley, Mass. Until then, Steinberg will continue to contract brew through Pioneer Brewing Company in Fiskdale, Mass.
“By spring we hope to start the process of ordering equipment, start placing some of the equipment that we already have and slowly build a brewery over a year period,” he said.
But unlike Leiter and Lohring, who have smaller brewing systems in mind, Steinberg said he is looking to build out a 25-barrel brewing system with capabilities of making 75-barrel batches in a single day. Steinberg said he also hopes to eventually can the Blatant brand, a move that will require significant capital investment if he purchases his own canning line.
“We could still look at contract opportunities to can our beer in the future,” he said.
Of the eight new breweries that launched last year in Massachusetts, four elected to build brick-and-mortar production facilities of some kind. So why are the other four contract brewers changing their approach? Has the excess capacity in New England finally run dry or is a more likely scenario one where contract brands are now realizing the importance of having a place for customers to visit?
Steinberg said it’s a combination of both.
“Not having a facility for someone to visit, that is branded as ours, is a missing piece to what we do every day,” he said.
But there’s another consideration: space to brew in Massachusetts might be running out, particularly with other more established, larger contract brewing operations like Pretty Things and Clown Shoes operating in the area. Steinberg, for one, said he wasn’t aware of any production facilities in Massachusetts currently accepting new contract customers.