Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham was founded by the three Hendler brothers — Jack, Sam and Eric. Originally one of 50 or 60 craft breweries operating in the state when they first opened their brewery in 2011, the trio are gearing up to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, which takes place officially on July 22. As this milestone occasion approaches, Jack and Sam spoke with WBJ about what the last 10 years have been like, lessons learned and what’s on the horizon.
How does it feel to hit 10 years?
Jack: Maybe a little shocking [laughs]. It’s all a blur at this point. We’ve basically been in a state of construction for 10 years. We have this ongoing joke with the plumber, who’s been here since before we even started, that the days are long and the years are short. And it’s so true in this business, where you’re here for 12 hours, trying to get it done. But then, where’d the last 10 years ago? I don’t know.
What’s it like having some longevity under your belt?
Sam: It’s pretty interesting. You know, when we opened, I think we were brewery number, between 50 and 60, in the state. And now there are well over 200 breweries. So it almost feels like we’re grizzled veterans.
Having started up and felt like a long time like we were the new kids on the block, it’s a strange feeling being 10 years in and being on that more established side of the spectrum.
Whose idea was it to start the brewery?
Jack: The brewery originally came about, jeeze, probably 11 years ago now. I had been brewing for a number of years in Boston and went to brewing school, and had interest in doing my own brewery. So, I asked my two brothers, Sam and Eric, to join me in that business.
And I guess it goes back to the real origin story, which is the family business pre-brewery. That was an ice company back in New York our grandfather started. We had worked in that family business for a number of years together, and it seemed like a natural fit to continue that entrepreneurial family business into the beer industry.
So, you’re the third generation of business owners in your family?
Jack: It’s technically fourth, and hopefully the fifth will be coming around in the next few years.
How have you seen the craft beer industry change, especially in Massachusetts?
Sam: I mean, the growth has been pretty wild. There are more than four times as many breweries now as there were when we opened. But one of the big things is the business model has changed a lot. When we opened in 2011, it was actually illegal for us to sell a pint of beer at the brewery. We could only give away a free two-ounce sampler of beer. And when that was changed, then the pouring permit was created, allowing breweries to sell pints on premise for consumption.
Just the whole model changed, so a lot of these newer breweries are really taproom-focused. And while we also have a taproom here, we do a lot of distribution as well. So, in some ways, we’re one of the last brewers to have an era where the taproom wasn’t enough to survive.
What is one big lesson you’ve learned in the last 10 years about running your business?
Jack: Always look forward, don’t look back.
Sam: We make all kinds of mistakes, but just learn from them and shift into gear as fast as possible and correct them. The most important thing is to make a mistake and acknowledge when you made a mistake, so you can do it right the next time.
What do you think is on the horizon for craft beer in Massachusetts?
Sam: It’s hard to talk about craft beer in 2021 without acknowledging that COVID had a huge impact on the industry. A lot of taproom breweries have really struggled for the last year and a half. So, the big question is stability of the industry going forward. How much of that on-premise business will come back? How many bars and restaurants are going to reopen, and will that business come back?
The cool thing we’ve seen is brewers doing a lot of interesting things when taprooms werve closed. Brewers figured out other ways to get their beer in front of customers, whether that be as simple as curbside pickup or doing delivery and shipping out gear. Just breweries being really creative figuring out ways to get their beer in front of the consumer. We’re only going to see more and more of that as time goes on.
Do you have any thoughts on the ongoing equity conversations that have been going on in craft beer, particularly since May, specific to the brewing industry?
[Editor’s note: In May, a number of women in the Massachusetts brewing industry made allegations of harassment and hostile workplace culture against multiple breweries. These stories originally began circulating online via the Instagram account @ratmagenet, which belongs to Brienne Allan, a brewer at at Notch Brewing in Salem. Among others, this led to the majority of the leadership team at Wormtown Brewery in Worcester to publicly announce they are taking a step back from operations.]
Sam: The brewing industry clearly has a lot of growing to do. We’ve certainly taken a hard look at things going on, at how we operate the brewery here, honestly. Culture in the brewing industry has been challenging, and I think COVID made it really, really challenging and brought a lot of things to a boiling point. We saw that in our brewery a year ago. We started a significant effort to make sure as we rebuild this thing, we’re taking the right steps to build a really positive, family-based culture.
It’s who we are, it’s what we want our brewery to stand for and, most importantly, starts with the action we take internally, the way we treat each other, our team. So that’s where we’ve been focused for a while. The industry as a whole still has a lot of growing to do, and we certainly do as well, here at Jack’s.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years at Jack’s Abby?
Sam: Looking at the first 10 years of Jack’s Abby, the thing we maybe lacked most was stability. A lot of amazing things happened. We grew a ton, we’ve had amazing people working here with us, helping us get through all of these hurdles. But as we mature, as this business matures, as you go through an event like COVID, which I think made a lot of people crave stability, that’s certainly something that we hope to build in for our company, for our staff who works here, make things a little bit more predictable.
[We also want] to be a really foundational part of our community here, provide the stability that we’ve certainly felt in our personal lives has lacked at times in this crazy first decade.
How has it been to form some high-level partnerships, like your ongoing four-year partnership with the Boston Celtics?
Sam: I mean … really freaking cool. It’s hard to put into words how cool it is to work with an organization like the Celtics. There’s a ton of that admiration for talking about stability and being a foundational part of the community. The Boston Celtics are as big a part of Boston as you can imagine, and being able to partner with an organization like that, it’s just been really, really cool. And, hopefully, we’ll have a really big impact on our business. But we’ve learned a lot from working with the Celtics, and hopefully, we’ll continue to develop Jack’s Abby in that sort of light.
This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Senior Staff Writer Monica Benevides.