After more than 20 years with Mars, Incorporated, Jim Cass and John Helferich have turned in their chocolate bars for classic malts. That’s right, Andover has its own brewery—the Oak & Iron Brewing Company aims to serve the community with equal parts craft beer and conviviality.
“We want to satisfy a broad part of the community,” says Helferich of the beers. “So we’re brewing lighter beers, hoppy beers, malty, darker beers. All New England–inspired.”
“Our goal is to make this a social spot,” adds Cass about the space. “We want to take care of our customers, make sure they’re comfortable and happy when they’re here. The beer works to help that, too.”
Oak & Iron’s small-scale operation will produce up to 800 barrels of beer a year, rotating across multiple styles. Cass and Helferich experiment with an assortment of recipes and styles across the spectrum: IPAs and browns, stouts and porters, Belgians, and sours. There are 12 designated tap spaces, with room to extend the capacity to 20 lines. Oak & Iron’s license allows them to offer sample pours, tastings, and full pints.
“For the most part, the beers will be like the owners, simple and straightforward,” says Cass.
The space for the brewery is the old Smith and Dove linen mill along the Shawsheen River. The inside offers beer hall–style seating; outdoors, hops vines will grow along the river, and Cass and Helferich hope to have a biergarden this summer, where customers can enjoy their beers with a view of the river and the burgeoning mill district. In addition, light snacks like warm pretzels and cheese will be available, as well as nights dedicated to catered snacks like tacos, and food trucks. Patrons will also have the option of bringing their own snacks.
The name Oak & Iron pays homage to “the people and communities that will come to our brewery,” says Cass.
“Our customers are New Englanders—New Englanders are hearty, rugged, innovative, trustworthy, and independent, with great integrity and heritage. New Englanders are strong and have character. New Englanders are like oak and iron,” says Cass
About five years ago, Cass and Helferich grew tired of candy and made the decision to move from sweets to suds. “We’ve been building brands for the Mars family for years,” Cass told Helferich. “Let’s go build a brand for ourselves.”
So they began home brewing in a garage. They moved their way up incrementally before they felt ready to make the plunge into professional brewing. This is their “first commercial jump up,” notes Helferich. In fact, they hadn’t even brewed on their new system before the interview.
“We’ve brewed hundreds of batches, and we think we’re ready,” says Cass, who emphasized that he’s got technical training beyond just home brewing.
He studied theories on brewing science and technology at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, and then attended the Doeman’s Academy in Munich, Germany, where he participated in their World Brewing Academy.
For its part, the town of Andover has been “exceptional,” the brewers say. “The town has been supportive and easy to work with,” Cass says. “They’re like, ‘Hurry up and get here!’”
It’s not just the North Shore; the entire New England region is saturated with craft beer, some of which is considered among the finest in the world. Helferich insists Oak & Iron is up to the task of hitting certain benchmarks for success in a thriving craft beer scene.
“We set really high standards on ourselves and what we like and don’t like,” he says. “We also understand that we’re here to serve the customer. We’re gonna make what they want.”
What Cass and Helferich might be most excited about is interfacing with consumers. To pour and hand a beer over to a paying customer is a different sort of interaction, one in which there’s an immediacy of satisfaction, or even disapproval.
“[I’m motivated by the] whole idea of interfacing with people,” says Helferich. “[By] being close to people, answering their questions, learning what they like, [and] helping people enjoy their town. That’s what’s motivating.”
In the short term, beer will be available outside the brewery only in growlers sold directly from the source, but Cass and Helferich intend to get kegs of beer out to multiple restaurants in the area, starting in Andover and then working their way out to other local bars and restaurants.
Oak & Iron Brewing Co.
18 Red Spring Rd., Andover