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Notch Brewing founder Chris Lohring finds profitability—and a home—crafting “session” beers.
When you’re passionate about what you do and you truly believe in your product, you’ll go through hoops to share it. Chris Lohring, who founded Notch Brewing in 2010, gets it. At a time when IPAs and stouts were all the rage, he took a different path, developing a range of “session” beers under the Notch label. What makes a session beer different is its lower alcohol content and its history. “The British call it session beer because, during wartime, there was rationing of barley malt, and the breweries were only allowed to use so much per brew, which means that the strength of the beers went down, but the flavor didn’t,” Lohring relates. “Drinkers were also restricted to two four-hour sessions per day, because the government wanted them making munitions to save the world, not drinking in the pub. So, the Brits got used to these four-hour drinking sessions.” Lohring is no stranger to craft beer. In 1993, he was among the founders of Charlestown-based Tremont Brewery, which held sway with local giants Samuel Adams and Harpoon until 2005. After Tremont sold to a competitor, Lohring took some time to map out his next moves, visiting the Czech Republic, Germany, and other European locales to find the best session beers.
Notch finds a quick niche—and a home
Working from his garage, Lohring found himself to be a “brewer without portfolio” of sorts. Renting space from other brewers up and down the East Coast—“everywhere from Kennebunkport, Maine, to Ipswich, Massachusetts,” he relates—he sold to bars, restaurants, and stores all over New England. His efforts paid off, earning him an annual growth rate of about 50 percent for his first five years in business. That success led him to seek a more permanent home. “We had grown to a size where we needed to deliver a pedigree—consumers want to know where their beer comes from,” Lohring says. “So, in 2015, we decided to move to Salem, Massachusetts. It made sense because my family is from there and we knew that Salem offered access to an audience of craft beer lovers and great distribution systems.” Lohring found a riverside warehouse that featured 6,000 square feet of space, which gave him room to convert the building into Notch Brewing’s new home, composed of a brewery, tap room, and beer garden. Always independent, Lohring took a novel financing route, choosing to use a combination of outside investment and traditional bank financing. “For the building itself, we took on individual investors, while Mass Development helped us with the equipment, and a line of credit from Salem Five supported business operations,” he explains. “We essentially had two LLCs, one for the brewery and buildout, and another for the business itself. We took on bank financing for a couple reasons. First, we wanted to maintain control and ownership of the overall entity. Second, we have to meet seasonal requirements and—every business owner’s issue—cash flow gaps. A line gave us the power to meet those needs, without giving up any equity.” The move turned out to be a profitable one for Notch. Between 2015 and 2016, sales by volume were up more than 130 percent. “Building the Salem location gave us something invaluable: awareness,” asserts Lohring. “Consumers would come in, enjoy our beer, go out into the world, and come back telling us they’d seen Notch at a bunch of retail outlets. It proves that, no matter how well-known you think your brand is, you can always do more to spread the word.”
Another local advantage Lohring points to in Notch’s growth is his relationship with Salem Five. “It’s great knowing I can talk with the local branch manager, anytime I want, or know that, if we have an issue, our banker, and Salem Five’s headquarters are right in our backyard. More than that, they support our business in a truly concrete way. I can’t tell you how many Salem Five employees let us know that they’re Notch Brewing customers when they see us. Relationships don’t get much better than that.”
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