Newburyport Brewing Company Ready To Launch
By IAN COWPAR @craftbeered & RYAN JANSEN @thirstynobeard
NEWBURYPORT, MA — It has been said that behind every great man is a great woman. Such is the case with the Newburyport Brewing Company. In 2008, at a party that co-founder Chris Webb’s band, Das Pintos, was playing, Bill Fisher’s wife casually mentioned to Webb that her husband played the trumpet. With that a friendship, and ultimately a business, was born.
“We have a story we want to tell, and the tasting room and the open brewery space allows us to tell that story.”
The Newburyport Brewing Company, or NBPT Brewing, is set to open its doors this spring, a confluence of successful fundraising, unique positioning and branding and, as is often a part of success stories, some fortuitous events. NBPT Brewing set out with an initial goal of raising $750k through a combination of investors and their own capital. “We committed early on to go brick and mortar,” recalled Fisher, “and knew we’d have to raise a nice chunk of change to make that investment, and the return on that is our commitment to the industry that we’ll be able to maintain capacity, it helps us hit those volume targets, and it help us commit to distribution without even having a product yet.”
Ultimately, they were able to raise $1MM. According to Fisher, the additional funding afforded he and Webb the opportunity to accomplish several things, including the chance to engage additional potential customers, ramp up their marketing funds earlier than they anticipated, and it also gave them the chance to make sure they were doing things right from a customer perspective. “We have a story we want to tell, and the tasting room and the open brewery space allows us to tell that story.”
“There’s a long history of rum in this city, there’s tunnels underneath Newburyport where they use to get the rum in and out. We want to be able to connect into the history of alcohol in this city, the Coast Guard was founded in Newburyport, one of the first Senators, Dalton, lived in Newburyport…This is one of the quintessential New England towns.”
The story that Fisher and Webb have to tell includes, among other things, the rich history of Newburyport which until 2012 had not had a brewery in city limits in over 200 years. NBPT Brewing, along with RiverWalk Brewing Co., which moved to Newburyport last year, have changed the brewing landscape. As Webb explained, “There’s a long history of rum in this city, there’s tunnels underneath Newburyport where they use to get the rum in and out. We want to be able to connect into the history of alcohol in this city, the Coast Guard was founded in Newburyport, one of the first Senators, Dalton, lived in Newburyport…This is one of the quintessential New England towns.” As you look up the coast in New England, it is lined with breweries from Nantucket to Gloucester, Ipswich to Portsmouth, and up to Portland. Newburyport, however, was a glaring hole in the industry.
As one might expect most brewery business plans begin, Webb and Fisher discussed the idea over some beers while watching a Bruin’s game together. The next day, Fisher went online to start collecting domains and found that nothing had been registered related to or for Newburyport Brewing. “It surprised me…It was nice, too, because it told us that we had a potential business here, and opportunity and, sure enough, it came to fruition.” Both Fisher and Webb had successful business careers and, early on, knew that they’d have to execute on a very well-defined business plan. Both share a passion for music and for beer, and it was Fisher who introduced Webb to homebrewing. “He is my champion for homebrewing,” explained Webb. To integrate their shared passions, they knew they wanted to build and operate a production brewery instead of a brewpub. Simply put, Fisher stated, “We didn’t want to be in the food business.”
“Number one, we want to have some of, if not the best, beer in the marketplace.”
Enter Mike Robinson
Webb noted that the brewery is grounded in three brand promises, the first of which is centered around the quality of the product. “Number one, we want to have some of, if not the best, beer in the marketplace.” Despite their combined experience in business and homebrewing, they knew that in order to deliver on that promise, they would need to hire a brewmaster. It just so happened that Webb’s dad knew a guy.
Mike Robinson is a remarkably accomplished and highly decorated homebrewer, who has won countless competitions, including the 2010 Samuel Adams Longshot Competition with his Old Ben Ale. However, despite all of the accolades, it was a banking relationship that brought the trio together. Robinson was working as a loan officer at a bank and to the ultimate joy of Fisher and Webb, one of Robinson’s clients was Webb’s father. Knowing that Webb and Fisher were searching for a brewmaster and of Robinson’s credentials, he facilitated the introduction. “No, that never would have occurred to me.”, Robinson reflected when asked if he could have imagined this opportunity rising up from his position in banking. “I would cross paths with lots of people from all walks of life and types of businesses, and it just goes to show you never know when a cool opportunity like that will come up. I never would have imagined that working at a bank would segue into this.”
When they approached me, I couldn’t have been more excited, and it still feels that way.”
When Webb and Fisher approached Robinson in 2012 to talk to him about becoming their brewmaster and introduced him to their three brands, it was evident that there was a symbiosis. When we asked Robinson how that initial introduction and conversation with Webb and Fisher went, he recalled, “Incredibly exciting. For years and years, I always said I wanted to work in the beer business, but it was hard to make a living at it. I was a cellarman at Redhook, but I wasn’t able to fuel my creative outlet. I like to create beers and I like to make beers from start to finish. When they approached me, I couldn’t have been more excited, and it still feels that way.”
The conversation eventually led to a discussion about the products that NBPT Brewing was looking to bring to market. The three brands are Newburyport Pale Ale, Green Head IPA, and Plum Island White. As Webb recalled, Robinson said, “The white is the best beer I make. It’s totally dialed in.”
With that, the remainder of their first brand promise was in place as Webb elaborated on their vision to deliver a premier product. “We believe that happens by having great recipes, which we believe Mike has, great ingredients; we’re the only brewery within a couple hundred miles using the base malt that’s known to be one of the best. We’re not afraid to spend money on ingredients because we want people to be like, damn, this is good beer. We don’t want to cut any corners.
“Life’s about adventures. Take great beer with you.”
The second brand promise speaks to a core differentiator of NBPT Brewing. As ‘Massachusetts’ first exclusive keg and can brewery’, Webb and Fisher are looking to tap into the ingrained outdoor spirit of New England. An ancillary benefit of cans, which are inherently better equipped to protect beer and are 100% recyclable making for a more green product, is that they are highly portable. The pair felt that cans were the perfect vessel to house their product
“It’s Newburyport, it’s the North Shore, we’re New Englanders, we’re outdoorsmen, we want to take the beer on our boat, we’re going fishing, we want to take it to the Pats game, we’re tailgating. We believe that cans are the wave of the future.”
To ensure that their product reaches their customers at the peak of freshness, they’ve worked closely with their distributor to determine a methodology for an enjoy by date that will be printed on all of their cans.
“We’re dedicated to quality,” described Fisher. “We’re going to keep the beer fresh by turning inventory over quickly and we’re comfortable with our distribution warehouses that they’re climate controlled and our beer will be kept at a consistent temperature.”
The third brand promise that Webb described is centered around the complete integration of music. It was music that brought Fisher and Webb together in 2008 and it will be an integral part of their operation, from the packaging to the brewery and tasting room. From a guitar pick being in every six pack to a stage with an integrated sound system in the brewery, Fisher and Webb see NBPT Brewing as a perfect fusion of their passions for music and beer.
Part of Webb’s vision for the the business includes sponsoring bands, music festivals, open mic nights, and live sessions right in the tasting room. “Get a great New England band, an up and coming band, come up here and brew beer with us, and do a private concert that’s live from the Newburyport Brewing Company. You get to see your band in a different way, and hear your band in a different way.”
“We didn’t consider a brewery quite this size.”, recalled Fisher. “This opportunity here, for New Pasture Road, presented itself in the fall and it fell in our laps, and when we saw it we instantly knew this place would work perfectly for our brewery.”
As for the physical brewery, it is housed in an 8,330 sq ft space located at 4 New Pasture Rd in Newburyport. The building is quite a bit larger than Webb and Fisher had envisioned. “We didn’t consider a brewery quite this size.”, recalled Fisher. “This opportunity here, for New Pasture Road, presented itself in the fall and it fell in our laps, and when we saw it we instantly knew this place would work perfectly for our brewery.”
The finishing touches were recently put on a 20-barrel brewhouse, built and installed by SMT Food & Beverage Systems out of North Carolina. NBPT Brewing will serve as a showcase brewery for potential SMT customers, and Fisher and Webb have already spoken with SMT prospects from Georgia to places all the way up the east coast. Fisher credits SMT for being instrumental in getting them to this point. “They’ve had an engineer and a brewer here every week for the last three weeks helping us get the equipment dialed in, it’s been incredibly helpful, and that includes all of the plumbing and electric. Quick turn, great customer service, all-American.” That last point was something that Fisher was proud of, as it was evident as he spoke that they are heavily focused on supporting local businesses. Their general contractor, plumber, and electrician are all from Newburyport.
From the ground up
“As far as the equipment goes, there’s no intimidation factor for me.” — Robinson
One of the benefits of identifying and on-boarding Robinson early on as their brewmaster was that he was able to be present for the installation of the brewhouse from the very beginning. “Well, I’ll say this, the first day when we started getting the equipment was incredibly exciting. It’s like the puppy my family just got. He’s gained 23 pounds in a couple months, but you don’t notice it because it’s gradual. I’m here every day, and it’s gradual, bits and pieces every day, so it’s not like I walked in and was like woah, there it is. On that subject, what a valuable experience to see it in bits and pieces and how it comes together. That was fantastic.”
Although this is Robinson’s first position as a professional brewmaster, he is no stranger to working with, and brewing on, commercial-scale equipment. “We used 400 hectoliter tanks at Redhook, huge equipment, huge hoses. As far as running the brewhouse, I’ve worked on 10-barrel brew houses, I’ve brewed at Sam Adams three times, I’ve brewed at Nutfield. As far as the equipment goes, there’s no intimidation factor for me. The beer community is always friendly and helpful, and always willing to lend a hand.”
In addition to their three core brands, Robinson will brew a series of rotating, tasting room-exclusive beers. This will allow NBPT Brewing to focus heavily on establishing and executing on Newburyport Pale Ale, Green Head IPA, and Plum Island Belgian White, while allowing Robinson to flex his creative brewing muscle to create distinct, small-batch beers that will be a value-add for customers who visit the brewery.
“We want to make things that we like, and we want to make things that we think our customers will like”
“We want to make things that we like, and we want to make things that we think our customers will like,” explained Robinson. “The great thing about the tap room series is that we can get some feedback, see how they go, and of course if something takes off, we can bring that to market if we want to. That’s my playground, that’s my creative outlet that I was talking about. I imagine over the course of time that it’s inevitable that after I brew these beers a hundred times, it might get to be a little bit of going through the motions. Bringing in the pilot brewery and making some cool styles, that’s what it’s all about.”
Fisher agreed, noting, “We want Mike to explore other beers. The one way to go about keeping someone from going through the motions, like Mike was talking about, is to brew other styles. The other beers that Mike has made, and he currently makes, are awesome, and this tasting room is the perfect venue to roll some of those out.”
“We know that an esoteric style may not be hugely marketable, but so what? We can make 20-25 gallons of it, put it out here, and have fun with it.” added Robinson.
“For me, that’s what’s most exciting, the community being excited about fresh, local beer, brewed by locals, canned for quality and adventure, bring it with you, have fun with it, and be proud of your brewery and your town.” — Webb
Fisher, Webb and Robinson are targeting an early April opening, as soon as the product is ready. Once open, the public will be able to visit the brewery for tours, growler fills, pints, and tastings from 5pm to 9pm, Wednesday through Friday and from noon to 9pm on Saturdays. “For me, that’s what’s most exciting, the community being excited about fresh, local beer, brewed by locals, canned for quality and adventure, bring it with you, have fun with it, and be proud of your brewery and your town,” summarized Webb.