Chris Lohring never planned on opening another brewery.
In 1993, Lohring founded Charlestown’s Tremont Brewery. Giants Samuel Adams and Harpoon loomed in the background and Boston wasn’t ready for a third brewery within city limits (more on that later). Tremont closed in 2005, and Lohring soured on the idea of running a brewery here.
So it was with some trepidation that Lohring founded Notch Brewing Co. in 2010. Craft beer was booming, and the brewer had plenty of relevant experience. But he didn’t know if his new company, focusing on low-alcohol, or “session” beer, would succeed. “I wasn’t sure if we’d last six months,” says Lohring. “I wasn’t sure if it was even viable. People didn’t know what we were even talking about.”
Notch has not only lasted, it’s gone from an oddity to an inspiration. Pretty much everyone brews a session beer now. Harpoon has one, as does Michigan’s Founders Brewing, and West Coast behemoth Lagunitas.
Next year, for the first time, Notch will have a brick-and-mortar brewery to match its outsize influence. Lohring signed a lease this week on a space in Salem, his hometown. The 5,000-square-foot spot will house Notch’s brewing operations. There’s also 1,000 square feet outside, to be styled like a European beer garden. The building sits downtown, on the South River. “It’s going to be better than just an industrial park off the highway,” says Lohring. “It’s got a lot more romance to it. I like breweries that have a certain feel to them. This has that.”
The new brewery will supplement Notch’s current contract-brewing arrangements in Ipswich and in Stratford, Conn. It also validates Lohring’s decision to do session beer his way, without skimping. Each of the breweries that have jumped into the session craze, all much larger than Notch, produces a low-alcohol IPA. Notch brews one too, a very good one called Left of the Dial, but Lohring didn’t open Notch to brew what he considers to be a watered-down version of an India Pale Ale. “The thing I’m disappointed in is every brewer is taking the path of least resistance, just doing a session IPA,” says Lohring. “I’ve brewed 30 beers at Notch, and 25 of them have nothing to do with aggressively hopped beers.”
When I checked in with Lohring about a year ago, he was itching to build a brewery, but holding out for a space in Salem. Lohring looked in Boston, but called the current climate “not quite right” to build another production brewery in the city, citing permit issues other brewers have faced.
“I had a brewery there before and I wasn’t dying to go back there,” says Lohring.
Lohring says the Salem location’s outdoor space was a requirement. He intends to keep Notch small, offering eight to 10 oft-rotating beers on tap. Lohring expects the new location, located at 283 Derby St., to open sometime next year.
Clarification: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Notch will cease contract-brewing.