In what was for decades a heating oil depot, and then an alleged auto chop shop, an anchor for the Washington Street area near Egleston Square has begun to brew up on the back of great, local beer.
A secret no more, Turtle Swamp Brewery in JP celebrated two years in business on June 1 with its annual Swampapalooza, but the milestone was a great time to pause for the neighborhood, and the brewery founders, John Lincecum and Nik Walther, who both live in JP for many years but hail from the Republic of Texas, they said.
The brewery with its expanded tap room and cozy patio area has become the gathering spot for families, friends and those looking for a unique beer, but don’t want the bar experience.
It’s what Lincecum called the ‘Third Place.’
“It’s not work or home, but it’s a space you can go where they’ll listen to you complain and moan,” he laughed. “It’s that third place. That’s what we have.”
Part of what has helped them take off is the brewery concept, which has grown in the Greater Boston area by leaps and bounds, but not necessarily as quickly in the City of Boston.
Turtle Swamp was one of the first in the neighborhoods, and certainly in JP, and the brewery played a role in showing that it is more of a community gathering spot for young and old rather than a dingy, window-less bar room focused on ample amounts of alcohol and getting drunk.
“This is different,” he said. “We attract families. We attract women. Some women don’t like to go to bars. Many people don’t like sports on the TV and Wi-Fi. We don’t have that. We find we get a lot of folks who are Dads that come down with the baby and have a few beers with a friend – maybe play a game or two. I love it. It creates an easy atmosphere. We don’t get the problems like a bar…You don’t come here to get drunk. You come to drink beers – plus we close at 11. This is actually a family place in JP.”
Added Walther, “People want something authentic and that you can’t get in another place. We’re about changing the post-World War II trend of consolidation of industries into monopolies. People want a genuine experience, and that’s what we have here.”
The brewery is in what might have been thought to be the unlikeliest of places – in the JP/Rox area that has had its challenges and has been a tough area for businesses in the past. The ‘JP/Rox’ area has been in the midst of a long planning process with the City, and Lincecum and Walther felt like their brewery could help to make the area more vibrant.
Two years ago they took that risk, and it has paid off.
“That was really something great about JP/Rox is we felt we could use the brewery as a catalyst to build out JP/Rox,” said Lincecum. “Believe it or not, it’s exactly what happened.”
The brewery sits on what was likely a brewery in the 1870s, and the entire Stony Brook area was lined with breweries of all types. That, however, gave over to industry, and for a long time it housed McManus Oil. When that heating oil depot sold to a car repair shop, things took a bad turn and the building became an environmental hazard. The clean-up was the best gift the brewery could have asked for.
Lincecum said the clean-up involved tearing up the entire floor of the shop, cleaning it out and then pouring a new, flat slab of concrete. Interestingly enough, he said, a solid, flat slab of concrete is the main ingredient in a great brewery.
And so their location was born.
The brewery now sports four large fermenters in the brewhouse and a 600,000 BTU stove plant, creating the capacity for 2,000 barrels per year, or 4,000 kegs.
“We have the capacity for 4,000 gallons at any given moment, which is quite bit,” he said. “However, that is the equivalent of what Budweiser brews in three seconds.”
Keeping things local, their first account was at Doyle’s Café – just down the street and where Lincecum helped to run a number of Stony Brook Neighborhood Association meetings prior to the brewery.
That led them to give a shot at getting a tap room running, which in the brewery business is key to funding the beer making process.
“The tap room is critical for startup breweries,” he said. “The tap room allows us to immediately generate revenue and make beer.”
That tap room has also led to a new avenue of business.
Soon after opening it for the purpose of funding their beer-making operations, folks started to ask if they could rent out the tap room for parties. Then soon that became a trend.
That, Lincecum said, was the most surprising thing about the brewery business – that brewery tap rooms statewide had also morphed into a community and function space.
“Suddenly everyone wanted to be here and to rent our space,” he said. “It never occurred to me, but beyond Spontaneous Celebrations and the Footlight Club, there is not function space here. Suddenly we were one… We were proud that suddenly we had a popular public space.”
The company brought on Lincecum’s wife, Allison, who is the events manager and coordinates the many fun things that happen in the brewery – such as vinyl record parties, holiday events and special private events. That has opened up a whole new avenue for the Brewery that they never expected when their journey to make great beer started.
But it wasn’t the only surprise.
Their wholesale business took off as well – particularly on the back of their Orange Line New England IPA. That beer grew quickly in popularity and was eventually offered in the Whole Foods store in the South End. Later, the Whole Foods began to feature Turtle Swamp in many of their local stores.
“Orange Line is our flagship brew,” he said. “We can’t make it fast enough. I could sell every drop I make. We make beers for people who don’t like beer and don’t want to be drunk. That’s why they choose this kind of quality.”
With that wholesale business, the company has heavily invested in a canning operation, which is going full-steam in the company’s second year. This year they are averaging about 10,000 cans produced per month, and that could grow.
And of course the topic of expansion has come up numerous times as Turtle Swamp has become a recognized name. Already, they run a pop-up beer hall in Roslindale at the vacant Substation building there, but it is just a temporary situation at the moment.
Lincecum said he is a firm believer that there needs to be more breweries in Boston, particularly in neighborhoods like JP.
“In the near future we want to remain dedicated to JP,” he said. “We self-distribute and will continue that…We’ll continue to grow out our wholesale business. We may entertain an expansion into somewhere that’s local. I’m not interested in doing business downtown now…No, I don’t want to own Harpoon Brewery. We want a small, family-owned business that supports our families, our employees and our neighbors.”