By Terry Badman
To some, a garage is a place to park your car.
It’s where we store Christmas decorations, cardboard boxes full of audio cables, or toys our kids have long since outgrown. It’s where we hang our power tools for the next big home project. It’s where our lawn mowers hide each winter, and where our snow blowers vacation every summer.
But for others, a garage is more than storage space that reeks of motor oil and gasoline. It’s a place to start. Apple, Google, and Disney all started in someone’s garage. Nirvana, The Ramones, and The Runaways played some of their first gigs in a dusty garage. Isaac Newton spent time unraveling the complexities of existence in his small garage.
For Lowell’s Navigation Brewing Co., it’s where it first started crafting and selling fresh, local beer. And like other garage success stories, it was soon time for a bigger and better space.
Once confined to the cramped quarters of a repurposed garage bay on Meadowcroft Street in Lowell, Navigation has now taken up residence in the city’s Western Avenue Studios at 122 Western Avenue. The renovated brick mill building complex currently houses more than 250 artist studios.
It will also soon be home to Navigation’s first taproom.
“Our new tap space is bigger than our whole old brewery,” said PJ Mercier, co-founder/owner of Navigation. “But we have a conservative approach to it.”
Mercier and co-owner/founder/head brewer Bob Johnson note the initial plans are to maintain Navigation’s current 3-barrel system. But when the time is right, the brewery now has the extra space to increase output.
“We like to keep it small,” Mercier said, adding Navigation likely wouldn’t expand beyond a 10-barrel operation. “A big part of it is having the tap room. We’re hoping to sell a lot of the beer out of here, but we’ll still keep distributing to the local bars that we’ve been working with.”
Construction of the new taproom is under way. The brewery is currently open to the public Thursday evenings from 4 to 9 p.m. for bottle sales and growler fills. It is also open during the monthly Open Studios event, which is held the first Saturday of each month at Western Avenue Studios.
Navigation plans to open the full taproom this month, and expand hours to Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Designs call for a wooden bar, possibly made from repurposed pallets. Seating area tables will be crafted from old oak barrels, and there are plans for an outdoor beer garden with picnic tables. The taproom will boast at least a half-dozen tap lines featuring various Navigation brews on opening day.
Mercier hopes that partnering up with the local artist community will help further drive people to the city for fresh, local brews.
“We want to work with the artists as much as we can. That’s a lot of the reason we moved here. To be able to work with them right here in their home,” he said. “We don’t decorate, so a lot of these artists are going to come down and decorate the walls for us and everything else. We’ll put price tags on their stuff. So it’s almost like another gallery for them.”
The local artisans will play a large role in shaping the new location’s identity, Mercier said. Glassblowers will create glassware for mug club members; woodworkers will craft tasting flight paddles, while other artists will design growler carriers from spent grain bags.
Mercier hopes to work with local food truck vendors, as well, who will provide a quality noshing experience during the taproom’s open hours.
“We don’t want to be just another bar,” he said. “We want to be a taproom. Think pregame hours. You come in here, have a few drinks, and move into downtown Lowell.”
“We want to make Lowell a beer destination. To make it a home for more breweries,” he said.
Learn more about Navigation Brewing Co. at navigationbrewing.com.