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Like farm CSAs, brewers are also offering memberships

Michael Donk/BrewBokeh.com

Is good beer worth a down payment? Several local breweries think so. Capitalizing on the popularity of community supported farm shares, Everett’s Night Shift Brewing and Chelsea’s Mystic Brewery have asked their most loyal customers to make an investment in limited brews scheduled to be released throughout the year.

Think of it as a brewery membership. At Mystic, $295 puts you in the Friends of the Barrel Club. For that privilege, beer geeks get two bottles each of seven specialty releases throughout the year, discounts on pours of regular beers at the brewery, and invites to release parties. Night Shift offers three tiers of membership; $150 offers one bottle each of nine releases; $250 is two bottles of those releases, $450 is four.

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“I totally recognize that it’s a lot to throw down for a brewery where you may or may not have tried their beers before,” says Night Shift cofounder Michael Oxton. “We’re asking people to make a huge leap of faith.”

The brewers say that leap is rewarded with the time and effort put into the brews. Mystic founder Bryan Greenhagen recently purchased eight Sauternes barrels — costing “thousands of dollars plus shipping from France” — to age beer in. Entropy, one of Greenhagen’s speciality beers brewed with four different yeast strains, takes about a year to produce. Barrel Club members get two bottles of the beer, which Greenhagen says would each retail for $74. The membership proceeds allow the brewer to “craft the most adventurous things we can dream of.”

At Night Shift, Oxton and his team often work in the “controlled chaos” of sour beers, purchasing expensive yeast strains to add complex tartness to brews. The brewery owns some 75 barrels that are filled with beers in various stages of aging. Cleaning the barrels is time consuming, says Oxton, as is pitting cherries for a recent beer in which the members voted on ingredients. “Memberships are a really great way to raise capital up front and pay the investment back to our supporters,” he says.

One of those is Michael Kazmierczak of Everett, who says he signed up for a membership after trying Queen, a barrel-aged Berliner Weisse. “I had never had barrel-aged beer until I started drinking Night Shift,” he says.

Brewery memberships are not unique to this area. The Bruery in Placentia, Calif., and Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in Denver are among the breweries with similar programs. Smuttynose Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, N.H., offers a subscription for its Big Beer Series.

Greenhagen had initially planned to roll out his Mystic program in April, but the Marathon bombings put his plans on hold. He has the capacity for 100 memberships this year. Night Shift sold out each of its 200 memberships last year and hopes to triple that this year. “The first time we did it we really weren’t sure,” says Oxton. “It’s not something you see everywhere.

“It’s going really well, but you still have to back it up with excellent beer.”

Mystic Brewery, www.mystic-brewery.com

Night Shift Brewing, www.nightshiftbrewing.com

Smuttynose Brewing Co., www.smuttynose.com

Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com.
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