A Bright Idea in Cambridge
Brewery Profile of Lamplighter Brewing Co. by Malcolm Purinton
Originally published in Yankee Brew News January/February 2019 Issue
When AC Jones left Middlebury College in Vermont, he immediately moved to Cambridge, Mass., to work at MassGeneral Hospital on his way to becoming a doctor, while his girlfriend, Cayla Marvil, was completing her last year in school at Middlebury. AC quickly realized he was on the wrong career path, while Cayla was working on honing her homebrewing skills and started joking about starting a brewery after college. By the time Cayla graduated from Middlebury in 2013, this joke had become a clearly outlined business plan. The day after Cayla’s graduation, they headed to the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, Ill., to take a course on brewing technology, “… and that’s what kinda started this adventure,” according to Cayla.
Five years later Cayla, AC and Brewmaster Tyler Fitzpatrick have one of the top go-to spots for fresh and interesting beers in the Boston area with their brewery, Lamplighter Brewing.
“From the beginning, Cambridge was home, and Lamplighter was always going to be in Cambridge,” said AC. “It was not going to be in Somerville, and it was not going to be in Medford. If we didn’t find a way for it to work in Cambridge, we weren’t going to open a brewery.”
“When we told our real estate broker this,” Cayla added, “he just laughed at us and said we wouldn’t find a spot for a brewery looking in Cambridge. And it was AC, actually, who found it!”
One day, walking around their neighborhood, AC took a risk walking into an auto repair shop called Metric Systems on Broadway. He approached the owner and asked if he ever thought of retiring and leasing the space as a brewery.
“Obviously, he said, ‘No, this is my business here,’ and AC was practically laughed out the door,” Cayla said.
However, the couple received a surprise a few weeks later. Steve, the auto guy, contacted them saying that after thinking about it, he actually would like to retire and suggested they work together on a lease.
Lighting a Path for a Brewer
Though Cayla and AC had their own background in brewing, they knew they weren’t trained brewers and were happy to meet Tyler Fitzpatrick. Though at the time Tyler was working at another local brewery, Mystic Brewing in Chelsea, Mass., he came with years of experience across the state working at Cape Cod Beer and Wormtown Brewing. With his job at Mystic, Tyler, “… ended up taking over the barrel program and growing yeast and bugs for different barrel projects.” These are skills that have come in handy with Lamplighter. As AC said: “Snagging Tyler was a major coup for us.”
Tyler quickly became part of the team, and the three set out test-batching what they thought would be their flagship beers.
“When we originally started the battle plan,” AC said, “we said we’re going to have an IPA, we’re going to have a pale ale, we’re going to have a cream ale and a porter. That was what we are going to do, we’re going to have four beers, we’re going to make them all the time — a very traditional model.”
Easy Tiger Epiphany
While Tyler was rolling along with test batches for their planned flagships, Cayla and AC headed to Austin, Texas for time with Cayla’s family. They found a favorite beer garden called Easy Tiger. One evening at the beer garden Cayla ordered “a Brett-fermented raspberry funkadelic whatever” and AC “had some barrel-aged sour thing” when “a thunderbolt basically hit us both simultaneously and we were looking at each other going saying ‘we’re going to make an IPA, a porter, and a cream ale but when we go out to drink we get the weirdest sourest, funky-est, thing on the menu…” They immediately both started texting Tyler telling him to stop the test batches he had been working on for six months because “we’re going to make funky beer, we’re going to make primary Brett fermentation stuff. We’re going to start focusing on barrels as soon as we can so that in a year or so we can start putting out sours and funk!” Tyler’s first response was slightly hesitant, but his excitement quickly grew: “Yeah I was into it. Especially after doing all the Brett work at Mystic I had become familiar with a lot of different strains.” Soon, the top beer they were testing was a Brett IPA that came to be named Easy Tiger.
Power Washing Off the Past
Moving into the space and converting the decades-old repair shop into a new brewery took much longer than planned. They would receive calls from the contractor saying, “yeah, so there is another underground oil tank that we just found,” along with putting in new drainage and utilities and knocking down walls.
There was also the matter of cleaning. AC rented a power washer and set to work on the floors and the walls. “I thought [the ceilings] were painted black. And so, I power washed this entire place – the walls, all the floors, whatever. When it was empty [and the walls had been knocked down] I had a rogue power wash spray that hit the ceiling.” Suddenly, there is now a light grey streak across the ceiling. AC was looking up at it and “I put my hands out and there is this black liquid dripping from the ceiling. And I realize it is a hundred years of car exhaust just coating this place.” Two weeks later of power washing “every inch of it” it turned out that “everything is light grey, not black. So, that was revolting.”
Today Lamplighter has around 40 employees and produced about 6,000 barrels of beer in 2018 — up from only around 3,000 barrels in 2017. The brewery shares its space with Longfellow Coffee during the day via a close friendship with Longfellow’s owner. Recent additions include four new foeders to age sour beers, as well as a new canning line. In addition, Lamplighter has begun a membership program for special bottle releases, the Luminary Society, that will showcase the beers they’ve been working towards since a fateful evening at Easy Tiger. These include limited-release barrel-aged and sour beers.
In the coming year, Cayla and AC want to try to settle down a bit without growing much larger. Cayla said that they “… like being relatively small and community based” in Cambridge. AC added that “… we did it in Cambridge, because we really wanted to serve our community, our home and give everyone a place to come, a place to be together and create a gathering spot. It’s so much more than I ever could have imagined. We’re so fortunate to have the support of the community that we have.”
284 Broadway, Cambridge, Mass