Night Shift Crosses into Connecticut, Expands into Hard Seltzer and Coffee

Fast-growing Night Shift Brewing has expanded distribution into another New England state.

The company’s products just hit Connecticut, and launch parties are planned this week, including a meet-the-founders night Thursday at the Celtic Cavern in Middletown.

Speaking to Brewbound, co-founder Michael Oxton said Night Shift is finally meeting consumer demand after nearly seven years.

“We really think this is a great, logical next step for the growth of our brand,” he said.

The Everett, Massachusetts-based craft brewery is partnering with Sarene Craft Beer Distributors to offer its core lineup — Whirlpool pale ale, Santilli IPA, Night Lite lager, Lime Lite and One Hop This Time IPA — in major Connecticut cities such as Hartford, Bridgeport, and Middletown, as well as Fairfield County. The company will gradually rollout statewide in the coming months.

“It’s not a small pop of a tiny amount of product either,” Oxton said. “We sent pallets on pallets over there.”

Still, more than 90 percent of Night Shift’s volume is sold in its home state of Massachusetts. The rest of the company’s volume is split between Maine and New York.

Although Night Shift is expanding into Connecticut, rumors that the company is also planning to redevelop a 140,000 sq. ft. former beer distribution warehouse in Philadelphia are just that — rumors, Oxton said.

“There’s no credibility in terms of us finalizing anything,” Oxton said, adding that Night Shift has explored “a lot of potential projects.”

“We’re kind of always exploring new markets, but there’s nothing final yet to share on that,” he said.

Last year, Night Shift grew production 62 percent, to 30,700 barrels and cracked the Brewers Association’s list of top 100 breweries by volume.

In 2019, Night Shift is on pace to produce more than 40,000 barrels, according to Oxton. That growth is largely due to Night Lite, a low-calorie light lager sold at a lower price point.

According to Oxton, Night Lite has grown into Night Shift’s largest volume brand this year, surpassing Whirlpool. Oxton, citing data from market research firm IRI, added that Night Lite is the fifth largest craft lager in Massachusetts year-to-date.

“We’ve sold the most of that beer of any of the beers in our portfolio,” he said.

Oxton attributed Night Lite’s growth to a number of factors, including changing consumer tastes, affordability and packaging.

“It’s not like we’re targeting the ‘light beer drinker,’” he said. “We’re absolutely going after our audience still and hoping it resonates with them — and it totally does, which is very validating.

“I think people expect more out of their light beer, and we’re offering that solution,” he added. “People care about what’s going into their can. Ours is all natural, unpasteurized, unfiltered.”

In an effort to capitalize on Night Lite’s popularity, Night Shift launched a line extension, Lime Lite, which has already become a priority brand.

“At our Owl’s Nest beer garden, it’s consistently in the top-three draft pours of a given night,” he said. “People are really responding to that. You can make light beer exciting and interesting.”

Night Shift is also looking beyond traditional beer offerings for growth. The company is now testing its own hard seltzer brand, as well as building a recently launched coffee label.

Following several other craft breweries into the hard seltzer space, Night Shift launched HOOT Mango on draft in its Everett taproom. In just one week, the hard seltzer was one of the taproom’s top-5 best selling brands, Oxton said. The company is now planning to test additional flavors, including yuzu and blood orange, in the coming weeks, and potentially add packaged products in the future.

“Nothing final yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us putting out some hard seltzer cans this summer,” Oxton said.

Meanwhile, Night Shift Roasting launched earlier this year. In May, the company began selling its “First Batch” of coffee beans online, as well as at its coffee bar attached to the Lovejoy Wharf brewpub in the shadows of TD Garden, which Oxton said has remained busy.

The goal for Night Shift Roasting is to be an approachable option for coffee drinkers, Oxton explained.

“You have a lot of very high-end specialty coffee roasters that cater to a really specialized crowed of coffee connoisseurs,” he said. “A lot of coffee drinkers out there don’t speak that language, but they think they can do better than Dunkin’ Donuts, so we’re trying to hit that person.”

Although the company hopes to build Night Shift Roasting into a bigger part of its portfolio, the strategy in the first year is to grow slowly and learn about the industry, Oxton said.

Meanwhile, Night Shift’s distribution arm is also growing — that division increased sales 35 percent year-over-year in 2019, after growing 90 percent in 2018. Night Shift Distributing currently partners with 15 breweries, six wineries, three distilleries and a “handful” of non-alcoholic brands, Oxton said.

“We are actively seeking and assessing additional partners across all beverage categories right now,” he added.

Top-selling brands include Illinois’ DESTIHL, Maine’s Mast Landing, Chicago’s Pipeworks, Massachusetts’ Devil’s Purse and Widowmaker, and non-alcoholic beer brand Athletic Brewing.

Meanwhile, Night Shift’s two “Owl’s Nest” seasonal beer gardens — one on Boston’s Esplanade and one in a new location in Allston’s Herter Park — opened in early May. In three months of operation last year, Oxton said around 50,000 people filtered through the two beer gardens. The company also donated around $50,000 combined to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) and the Esplanade Association.

With an earlier start date this year, Oxton said more than 100,000 people could visit the two locations.

“It’s good for the community,” he said. “It’s a big win, but there’s always going to be dissenters.”

Indeed, at the behest of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, state lawmakers are considering limiting the number of days seasonal beer garden can operate in a year to 14. Senate Bill 158, however, has not moved from the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure committee since being assigned there in late January.

“We’ll definitely be standing for keeping the beer gardens around if there are any concerning stuff comes around,” Oxton said.

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