A smart man once said, if you open a microbrewery and taproom in front of a museum that attracts more than 100,000 annual visitors, in a city that has no brewery of its own, in a state that allows small brewers to distribute their own product, success will follow.
That man was Orion Howard. Turns out, he was right! Orion is no slouch, at his “day job” he’s a well-respected Oncologist at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Centre.
When not saving lives he’s making other people’s lives better with a little business he calls “Bright Ideas Brewing”.
Equipped with a 7 barrel, 2-vessel brewing system from Specific Mechanical, Bright Ideas boasts a 1400 square foot taproom which happens to sit near the entrance to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
The site was originally home to the Sprague Electrical plant which closed suddenly in 1984 leaving over 2000 people in North Adams, Massachusetts unemployed. When the museum took over the 16-acre grounds, which encompassed an elaborate system of interlocking courtyards, elevated walkways and red brick facades, all rich with history, some townsfolk feared it would be the end of the city.
They had hoped another manufacturing business would move in, offering steady work.
The idea for a brewery in that location was an attempt to bridge the gap between the influx of tourists that the museum would certainly attract and the many locals who still felt the repercussions from the electrical plant’s closure.
He recognized the importance of a “third place”, beyond home and work, that neighborhoods need to thrive. Bookstores, barbershops, bars, and cafes have all served as informal public gathering spaces for conversation, decompression, and civic engagement.
Now, so too would the Bright Ideas taproom.
Orion notes that there are more than 50 local regulars who stop into Bright Ideas once or twice a week. “It’s great to watch them giving advice, directing tourists and museum visitors to hidden spots like Natural Bridge.” (Natural Bridge State Park, which is on the eastern edge of the city, is home to a stunning marble quarry with a naturally-formed arch of white marble.) The beer is popular, of course, but the communal, beer-bonding, local watering hole experience is just as important, if not more so.
Bright Ideas is built on the concept of having fun. The mantra is “Everything is Possible” and the goal is to be self sufficient, not necessarily a huge money maker.
With deep roots in the area, Orion wanted to establish his brand as the hometown beer of North Adams. The can labels proudly display “North Adams MA” as prominently as the Bright Ideas name, with a design that is clean, clear and uncomplicated.
The design echoes the well-balanced and flavour-forward beers that are refreshing and very drinkable.
Bright Ideas’ beer is being sold to most of the local establishments throughout North Adams and its popularity is soaring. Orion also invested in a canning machine that cans 32oz “crowlers” of on-tap brew to go. As a result, product is flying out the door faster than was anticipated, prompting the decision to purchase an additional 15bbl brewing system from Specific Mechanical to keep up with the demand.
This new system will be in a new and separate facility in Westfield, Mass, about 90 minutes from North Adams. Just a mile off the Interstate “Mass Pike”, Bright Ideas joins several other breweries located in close proximity, solidifying Westfield’s status as a brewery town, ideal for visitors looking to have a day of tasting.
Orion Howard works hard and plays hard. The people of Massachusetts and beyond benefit from both.