Microbreweries—over the course of the last decade, they’ve become nearly as ubiquitous in New England as lighthouses, white steepled churches, and leafy town squares. And as is so often the case, Governor’s alumni are in the thick of things. Academy graduates have been involved in the founding of two of the region’s most successful ventures: Everett-based Night Shift Brewing Company and Ipswich-based True North Ale Company.
On October 15 and 29, the Academy community will have the opportunity to discover what the fuss is all about firsthand through our first ever Alumni Oktoberfest: virtual beer tastings and conversation. The events will be hosted by Night Shift co-founder Michael Oxton ’03 and True North Ale Company co-founders Jake Rogers ’04 and his father Gary P’04, ‘07, also a former Academy board member. Gary is confident the evening will have wide appeal. “There are such a broad range of beers available in the world — there’s something for everyone,” he says. “We’ll be sharing the stories behind our beers and explaining the characteristics of each. Our goal for the evening is to get people excited about what we’re doing.”
Generating enthusiasm shouldn’t be hard. Both breweries have compelling origin stories marked by a shared joy in creativity and a love of family. Michael began homebrewing as an undergraduate at Bowdoin with classmate Rob Burns. After graduating and moving into a shared apartment in Somerville, the two expanded their hobby. “We kept making bigger batches and our apartment quickly filled with tanks and bottles, so in 2012 we decided to make beer full time,” Michael recalls with a chuckle. “Homebrewing is addictive; it’s a creative process that requires a chef’s mentality.”
Gary Rogers agrees. He began homebrewing in 1983 and pursued the hobby into retirement. When son Jake began working in the brewing industry after college, Gary suggested he open his own brewery. Jake was game. “I have a clear memory of buckets of beer bumbling in our dining room as a young kid,” he notes. “For years I saw how much my dad enjoyed homebrewing.”
Today, father and son delight in the fact that they’ve turned a shared pastime into a burgeoning business. “I can’t believe how much fun it has been to build a business with my son and wife,” says Gary. Michael is equally thrilled to be working with his brother Tim ’07, who serves as Night Shift’s art director. “He’s incredibly creative, and when we bounce ideas off one another, it feels like we’re kids again.”
Running a business is hard work, Michael concedes—particularly during a pandemic—but the rewards are myriad. “We’re really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to remain completely independent throughout our expansion and hire on many of the volunteers from our early days as full time staff,” he observes. “Our mantra is ‘We’re trying to build a brand that will last 100 years.’” Given Night Shift's current standing in the industry—it ranks among the top 100 craft breweries in the country by volume and is the number two craft brand in Massachusetts in retail stores behind industry giant Sam Adams—it’s clear Michael and his co-founders are on the right track.
Gary and Jake Rogers have realized considerable success as well. Just five months after opening, True North’s VINCIANNE Belgian Blonde Ale was awarded a gold medal at the 2018 World Beer Cup competition in Nashville. “It’s the Academy Awards of brewing, a worldwide competition with tens of thousands of beers being judged, and it’s just unheard of for a brand-new brewery to take a medal. We were blown away,” says Gary, his voice still tinged with disbelief. “We were stunned when they called our name,” agrees Jake.
The pandemic has hit True North hard, Gary concedes, but the team has found ways to rebound. “Although the greater share of our business was through restaurants, we’ve been able to pivot. Microbreweries were deemed essential businesses, so we continued to brew beer and began canning more of it to sell in retail stores rather than in restaurants and our taproom. It’s been challenging, but we’re still growing. We’re feeling good about the future.”
To register for the Oktoberfest events, please click here.