Fresh off the addition of a second taproom and with a summertime beer garden kicking into gear, Lamplighter Brewing Company founders Cayla Marvil and AC Jones have barely had time to digest the breadth of their business’s growth within the last year and a half.
“It’s just been kind of go, go, go,” said Marvil. “I don’t think we’ve even stopped to breathe. We’re so excited to have this space open and kind of chill out for a moment, really hone in on our efficiency on the brew side, make the taproom space better and better.”
They’re off to a good start, with Lamplighter winning the 2017 Eater Boston award for taproom of the year.
The brew floor, both taprooms, and a partner coffee shop, Longfellows, span 10,00 square feet in a quiet section of Cambridge, and if you didn’t know that building housed a brewery, you might pass by without noticing, but for the line of people waiting to get inside and the occasional flash of Jones and Marvil’s samoyed Barley, a massive ball of fluff and the honorary CEO of Lamplighter.
The Lamplighter team unveiled its second taproom in February, taking an area in the rear of the building allocated for storage and transforming it into an additional gathering space for the hordes of guests who visit the brewery each week. Now, there’s twice the capacity for people to drink beer and coffee, play games, and stalk Barley while devouring pierogies, grilled cheese, and poutine from the various pop-ups that rotate through the brewery.
Marvil and Jones never planned to have two taprooms, but one of the surprises of getting the brewery up and running was the reception from patrons.
“The neighborhood’s been incredible,” Marvil said. “Cambridge has been supportive, the people here are amazing.”
“We put together this business plan,” Marvil said. “We knew in our heads, ‘This is a good idea, let’s go for it,’ but why in the world did the bank back us, and investors? We were really young; we didn’t have any experience with it. We are so grateful people did it, but yeah, I don’t know, we’re very fortunate.”
“We put everything into this,” Jones said. “If it didn’t work out well, we would have been in trouble. [Now we’re] able to kind of breathe a little easier. People don’t hate us, we’re selling beer, people seem to have fun, it runs — that sort of thing is a huge weight that we used to carry all the time; that’s certainly lessened. It used to be very stressful, and now it’s still stressful but less ‘dire, everything’s gonna end.’”
Two huge parts of clearing that stress hurdle involved the experts Jones and Marvil consulted along the way and the staff members who joined them in opening the brewery and keeping it running smoothly. Jones and Marvil both attended Middlebury College in Vermont and have surrounded themselves with several other alums, including marketing and events director Marina Sideli and taproom and retail operations director Jack Hunsicker.
They also sought the advice of another Middlebury alum, Rob Tod, who runs Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine.
“Allagash is the best brewery,” Jones said. They reached out to Tod when they “were just punk kids trying to figure out what to do” and asked to check out his operation.
“This guy has one of the largest breweries in the country and one of the most renowned — and he spent two hours just taking us around, showing us everything, pouring beer. It was incredible,” Jones said. “If we could eventually be anything like Rob Tod and Allagash, that’s a huge win. And I think we are never gonna do that.”
Certainly not size-wise: Lamplighter wants to stay small, now that it has hit capacity within its space.
“We’ve just been in this grow, grow, grow [phase] — add tanks, make more beer, add the taproom, do more,” Marvil said. “And so finally we’re having a moment where everything’s in the building — we literally can fit no more — so now we’re playing the Jenga game, how do we best fit everything in.”
The majority of Lamplighter’s sales still happen at the brewery, despite its brewing capacity doubling since opening. Jones and Marvil had anticipated doing a lot more keg sales to restaurants, but it turned out more people come to the brewery for their beer than anywhere else.
“It’s really fun to be in cool restaurants and be on draft,” Jones said. “It’s also logistically difficult, and having people here is the best method for us across the board, so the fact that that is skewed more dramatically in that direction than we ever would have guessed is great. It’s really made a big difference for us.”
That means they can still keep the operation small, even while expanding their brewing capacity and turning out new beers. Marvil and Jones have had to change up their logistics a bit, but they’re falling into a rhythm with everything from canning to waste removal to distribution to other retail locations.
“That’s been a work in progress,” Marvil said. “How do we adjust to being in a city, how do we deal with things that we had never thought about, like trash removal, where clearly we’re generating a ton of spent grain and waste and we don’t want to disturb our neighbors but we have to get it out. Most breweries are in an industrial park where it doesn’t matter how or when you do that. For us, we can’t block traffic at 9 a.m.”
“But being where we are and being in the community and being in the neighborhood, it’s totally worth it, it’s just not as straightforward as it would be otherwise,” Jones added.
They get a significant amount of help from their staff, which now totals more than 30 people.
“Everyone’s amazing; it’s such a cool community. In Cambridge, everyone’s so overqualified, but it’s great,” Marvil said.
In terms of beer, Lamplighter continues to push the envelope, thanks in large part to head brewer Tyler Fitzpatrick, whom Marvil and Jones credit heavily with the success of the ever-rotating beer lineup.
“He’s so, so talented. It’s so impressive. It’s the sort of thing where you could start to take something like that for granted,” Marvil said.
Fitzpatrick has been known to spend days on end researching new styles of beer he’s never brewed before and coming up with new recipes. Case in point: this month’s Maibock, the Union, which, incidentally, was brewed for Fitzpatrick’s wedding.
“We say we don’t have a flagship,” Jones said. “We have beers that repeat more often than others, but we don’t have any beers that you can have here all the time, or really even that often, hypothetically speaking.”
That said, they always try to have something for everybody.
“Always a lot of IPAs because that’s what everybody wants to drink, it seems, but then something for somebody who says they only drink Stella, somebody who likes sours, somebody who likes funk — we try to do a whole range,” Marvil said.
Now, with double the tank space from when they started, the taproom options have increased, helping the Lamplighter team prioritize a balanced menu while keeping things fresh and interesting.
“Right now we have eight different beers going at a time, which, when you have a taproom that tends to have 12 to 14 beers on tap and where people love that variety, we need to keep up with that in that way,” Jones said.
They’ve also added 100 oak barrels within the past year, and they’ll release some funky barrel-aged beers over the rest of spring and throughout the summer.
Lamplighter partners with Iron Heart for its canning, and for its can art, the brewery pulls from within its ranks. A recent collaboration with Solemn Oath Brewery out of Illinois produced a dry-hopped saison called Barb (hello, Stranger Things fans), and Lamplighter commissioned can art from staffer Chloe Feldman Emison, while a member of the Solemn Oath team drew the monster in the background.
For the other labels, Lamplighter works with Bluerock Design out of Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a template with the brand logo and the name of the beer, so it’s easy enough to switch in the art for each new beer.
“It keeps it cohesive while allowing us to do some creative stuff with it,” Jones said.
Counted among Lamplighter’s creative brews is Barley Smalls, a Vienna lager named for Barley.
“We have people who call and ask if Barley’s there, and if we say no, they’re like, ‘then I’m not coming,’” Jones said.
Even on the days Barley’s not in the brewery, there’s plenty to attract visitors, and on weekends in particular, there are often lines to get inside. Marvil and Jones decided early on to scrap plans to run a kitchen along with the beer operation, but in the evenings, they utilize space from the brewery’s partner coffee shop, Longfellows, to host various pop-ups, including Jaju Pierogi, Brato Brewhouse, Manoa Poke Shop, and so many more.
“It’s so nice because it brings in different people who maybe have heard of pierogies but they’ve never been here, so they end up coming, and it’s just so awesome — we get to support all these cool local food businesses and meet amazing people,” Marvil said. “It’s just really fun to have something different every night. For us to not have to do food is huge. That’s my background, and I thought we wanted to do food, and I’m so glad we do not run a kitchen.”
They have enough going on as it is.
“At this point, we’re running a brewery, which is its own business; a taproom or bar, which is kind of its own business; and then we do all of our distribution, which is honestly kind of its own business,” Jones said.
Customers can also bring in their own food or order delivery to the brewery, which gives Marvil and Jones the opportunity to run two taprooms while continuing to make the best beers possible as well as branching out into barrel-aging and collaborations with other breweries.
In addition to the aforementioned Barb collaboration, a dry-hopped saison, Lamplighter also recently released another collaboration, Sneaker Wave — a New England-style IPA brewed with Borg Brugghús out of Iceland.
Introducing Sneaker Wave, a fierce New England-style IPA brewed with Arctic thyme! We teamed up with @borgbrugghus of Reykjavík, Iceland, to throw a Nordic twist on this hazy staple (perhaps we should really be calling this an International-style IPA!). Waves of herbs and sweet thyme follow flavors of tropical fruit, mango, and citrus zest. The addition of Styrian Wolf and Grungiest hops keep that swell going with pockets of elderflower, anise, and even more mango. 6.8% ABV. We’re also wrapping up a fresh batch of Cuppa, our British Pale ale infused with Ethiopian cold-brew coffee from Longfellows! Cans and draft of both beers available Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Beer collaborations are a new addition to the business, something Marvil and Jones were unable to do in their first year.
“If the two of us left this place, it’d go up in flames,” Jones said. “And we’re finally reaching the point where that’s actually not the case. Our staff is just wonderful and everyone’s kind of got the stuff down that they need to do, so it gives us a little bit more creative freedom to do that kind of thing and to explore and think about beer in new ways, instead of just worrying about the logistics of making sure this place runs all the time, which is really exciting for us.”
Now fully at capacity, Marvil and Jones can relax a bit, but they’re hardly resting on their heels: They’ll be running a beer garden at the Central Flea throughout the summer while continuing to open up the doors to both of their taprooms to the community.
“We don’t want to be a massive brewery,” Marvil said. “We really like taprooms; we like being in the community and the neighborhood.”
This is the final piece in a series of features highlighting the 2017 Eater Awards winners. Read the other four here: