A growing number of Boston-area beer companies have turned to pop-up beer gardens in an effort to engage consumers during the summer months.
Cult beer maker Trillium Brewing Company helped drive consumer interest in outdoor drinking establishments last year, drawing throngs of thirsty Bostonians to its beer garden in the middle of a 17-acre park near downtown. This year, several other Massachusetts-based alcoholic beverage companies — including Wachusett, Aeronaut, Notch, Downeast Cider and Lamplighter as well as specialty beer wholesaler Craft Collective — followed suit with their own branded outdoor taprooms.
Despite an array of outdoor options for drinkers to grab a beer on a hot summer day, Boston-area craft brewery Night Shift still sees opportunity to expose local consumers to its brands.
Yesterday, the fast-growing craft brewery — which also operates a separate distribution entity — unveiled plans to open two beer gardens along the Charles River. Official opening dates remain unclear and both projects are subject to permit approvals by the City of Boston’s Licensing Board as well as approval from the Massachusetts State Police, according to Night Shift co-founder Michael Oxton.
And approval is not a forgone conclusion. After announcing in early April plans to open a 5,000 sq. ft. seasonal beer garden underneath Highway 93, in between Boston’s South End and South Boston neighborhoods, Castle Island Brewing Co. was forced to forgo the project after the Boston Police Department expressed safety concerns.
For his part, Oxton told Brewbound that he’s confident Night Shift will receive the required approvals.
“Based on discussions so far, we feel good about it,” he said.
The outdoor tasting room trend is part of a shift in consumer drinking behavior, as more consumers frequent so-called “third spaces,” community places such as tasting rooms, brewpubs, concert venues, sporting events, zoos and museums that serve beer but offer non-traditional on-premise experiences.
Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson noted in a March column that on-premise “volume is slowly migrating into” third spaces.
“As the general ‘third-space’ trend shows, brand building is moving in an increasingly interactive and experiential direction,” Watson wrote in an email to Brewbound. “Pop-ups can be a part of that, but they certainly aren’t the only way or a universal solution.”
Additionally, Nielsen CGA’s Beverage Alcohol Generations Study found that millennials are making more craft beer purchases in third spaces. In fact, 23 percent of millennials surveyed said they bought craft beer in third spaces while 17 percent of all legal-drinking age consumers made their purchases in third spaces.
According to Oxton, the pop-up taprooms create another place for craft beer drinkers to interact with their favorite brands.
“It brings people to two totally different settings,” he said.
As part of the Night Shift deal, the company will partner with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) and the Esplanade Association and give a portion of proceeds from beer and wine sales to both organizations.
Oxton said the company had been scouting locations for potential beer gardens for about a year but hadn’t found the “right fit” before the DCR and Esplanade Association announced a request-for-proposal process for the two sites about a month ago.
“For us, we’re trying to look at this as a long-term partnership,” he said, noting that the partnership isn’t currently slated to extend beyond this year’s run of early August through October.
However, Oxton said both sides have interest in continuing the partnership, if it’s successful.
Night Shift plans to open the first location, dubbed “The Owl’s Nest,” on Boston’s Esplanade in early August. Oxton said the company will serve beer from a fully-refrigerated, 24-tap beer trailer. Later that month, the company is hoping to open a second location near a riverside amphitheater inside Herter Park, where it will pour beer from a sprinter van retrofitted with beer taps.
Oxton estimated that Night Shift has invested “well over $100,000” into the project, including costs for the beer trailer, a pickup truck to haul it, draft equipment, furniture and upgrades to the sprinter van. In addition to those expenses, Night Shift plans to add up to 20 jobs to operate the locations, which Oxton said will be a mix of full- and part-time workers.
“It’s a really big investment, but we’re also trying to run a pretty state-of-the-art beer garden and operation,” he said. “We really want to provide a world-class experience for guests.”
As Brewbound previously reported, some Boston retailers had expressed misgivings with the proliferation of pop-up taprooms competing for on-premise dollars. Oxton said Night Shift isn’t concerned about potential backlash from local bar owners.
“To me, it’s just a very different operation,” he said. “If anything, hopefully it grows awareness of our brand and creates more velocity at all of our accounts. Because people have tried our brand at a beer garden, they’re probably going to try it on tap when they go to restaurants or retail stores.”
A press release with additional details is included below.
Night Shift Brewing Will Open Two Beer Gardens on Charles River
EVERETT, Mass. — Get ready for riverside beers. Beginning this summer, Night Shift Brewing will open two beer gardens on the Charles River. The first location will open in early August on Boston’s Esplanade, just steps away from the Hatch Shell. It will be the summer home for Night Shift’s newly built, state-of-the-art, 24-tap beer trailer.
The second location will also open in August at Brighton’s scenic Herter Park, alongside its 350-seat outdoor, riverside amphitheater. To implement both operations, the Everett-based brewery is partnering with the MA Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) and The Esplanade Association.
“We couldn’t be more excited to launch two Owl’s Nest beer gardens along the Charles this summer,” says Michael Oxton, Co-Founder of Night Shift. “You have greenery in every direction, the river flowing by, the city at your back, the sun on the horizon – what more could you need? A beer, of course.”
Oxton emphasizes that while Night Shift Brewing’s award-winning beers will be prominently featured, the beer gardens will feature a wide variety of brands and products, ranging from other craft breweries, to wine, to a selection of non-alcoholic options. “Our beverage focus is on high-quality craft,” says Oxton, whose other business, Night Shift Distributing, offers a growing portfolio of independent craft producers.
Beverages aside, Oxton says that Owl’s Nest experiences will also include plenty of comfortable seating, regular food trucks, occasional events and educational workshops, and a variety of on-site games for guests to enjoy on the expansive greens offered at both locations. Says Oxton, “Our goal is to create engaging, family-friendly, outdoor spaces for Bostonians to enjoy.”
To support ongoing operations in state parks, Night Shift will contribute a portion of every beer and wine product sold to DCR. Similarly, Night Shift will also make a contribution to the Esplanade Association to further its efforts to revitalize and enhance the Esplanade.
“We are delighted to partner with Night Shift to produce a one-of-a-kind beer garden on the Esplanade,” offered Michael J. Nichols, Executive Director of the Esplanade Association. “We share DCR’s vision for enhanced concession offerings on the Esplanade and believe there will be no better place to gather in Boston this summer than along the Charles River at sunset enjoying the Owl’s Nest.”
The Owl’s Nest is expected to operate Wednesdays through Sundays at the Esplanade, and at least weekend hours at Herter Park, remaining open through October. Start dates, operating hours, and specific site locations are still TBD, subject to state and city permitting regulations. More information is expected for release in later July. Follow @owlsnestboston on Twitter and Instagram for updates.