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Rob Martin takes Ipswich’s Mercury Brewing Company to the next level with some sweat equity and a love for beer. By Alexandra Pecci Bottles clank on the bottling line and the smell of fermenting yeast fills the air. Next door in the office, it’s OK-even normal-to have empties strewn around on desks and shelves like dorm room decorations. Welcome to Mercury Brewing Company, home to Ipswich Ale and one of the largest and most successful brewing facilities in the region. At a time when layoffs, benefit cuts, and hiring freezes are the norm, Mercury is thriving and has outgrown its small space. In fact, the company is constructing a new 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art brewery and brewpub right around the corner in downtown Ipswich. Riding the 20-year wave of the craft beer business that started with the popularity of Sam Adams, Mercury, with the help of its flagship Ipswich Ale, has become one of the strongest local and regional brands in the business. As beer lovers know, once you’ve gained a taste for craft beer, it’s hard to go back to something else, recession or not. “I think that in this market, we are still an affordable luxury,” says Mercury President Rob Martin. He reasons that the two-dollar difference between the price of a six-pack of Ipswich Ale and a cheaper brand isn’t significant enough for people to stop buying craft beer. “We hear a lot of people say, ‘I had a bad week, so I’m gonna have some good beer,'” Martin says. “Instead of, ‘I’m having a bad week, so I’ll have a bad beer.’ Why make it worse?” The economy has also been a boon for Mercury in terms of constructing the company’s new building. Mercury was already in the midst of planning the move when the economy started to tank. Now, the cost of construction and raw materials have decreased and contractors are hungry for work. “We’re able­-because of the economy-to build a building that we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to build five years from now, or probably five years ago,” Martin says. In addition, the project qualified for a MassDevelopment Bond, which is backed by the state. “It’s because we fit the profile of companies that they want to keep in Massachusetts.” The project will create jobs and help to rehabilitate an abandoned space. Martin bought the company from its original owners in 1999, yet his start with the company was humble, to say the least. Although he studied architecture in college, he couldn’t ignore his long-held dream to own and operate a brewery. “There’s something about a brewery; there’s an intrinsic smell and atmosphere,” he says, adding, “I frankly got tired of sitting behind a desk.” So in 1995, he started working for the brewery, initally getting paid in a case of beer and some pizza for about 16 hours of work, then working as a driver and on the bottling line. Having experience with all aspects of the business came in handy. In 1999, he bought the brewery. Mercury Brewing CompanyIn the 10 years since, Mercury’s revenues have grown 1,000 percent, thanks to savvy expansion. The company purchased the Stone Cat beer brand and started a soda line that includes 22 products like the cane sugar, diet, and sparkling water offerings. Mercury has also expanded its contract brewing, producing beers and sodas for other companies, either to the contractor’s specifications or by developing a completely original recipe for their product. Today, the company distributes all along the Eastern seaboard. With all of the additional business comes the need for expansion. Three years ago, Martin realized that Mercury had outgrown its space on Hayward Street in Ipswich, so he enlisted Frank Wardley, a long-time friend and architect with the Salem-based Pitman & Wardley Architects LLC for the project. After a long search for the right location, Mercury finally settled on an old building that once housed the Soffron clam processing factory just down the street. “It’s been sitting down on the corner of Brown Square since pretty much anyone can remember,” Wardley says. “And of course, like with most buildings in Ipswich, it’s gone through a lot of transformations.” The crew was surprised to find a beautiful brick mill building under layers of dilapidated shingles. “One of the interesting things for us is to bring that brick mill building back because it’s very contextual with Ipswich,” Wardley says. “I sort of feel for these type of buildings that we’re the caretakers for right now, and they were here long before us and they’ll be here long after us. It’s important to keep these pieces of history.” To that end, the brick building is being restored to house a new brewpub, restaurant, function hall, and offices. Builders are adding onto the structure in a kind of horseshoe shape, allowing the physical brewery to wrap around the sides and back of the existing building. Large windows inside the brewpub will provide views into the brewery itself.Ipswich Ale Outside, Wardley’s goal is to make the new structure fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, achieving this with brick, old-fashioned corrugated metal siding, and non-operable barn doors. There will also be silos containing malted barley at one end of the building and a hop garden on the other end. The new facility will house a full restaurant and pub with 24 taps, where patrons will be able to participate in tastings and learn how the beer is made. The windows looking down into the operations portion of the building will act as a self-guided tour. The pub will serve everything Mercury brews. Ipswich Ale comes in nine styles, including Original Ale, IPA, Oatmeal Stout, and Nut Brown. “Ipswich Original Ale is our most popular, with Ipswich IPA coming in second,” Operations Manager Jim Dorau says. “Our Yacht Club Mix 12-packs are also very popular.” Whereas Ipswich Ale is a traditional English beer, Martin says the Stone Cat line is more irreverent, with different flavors like blueberry, pumpkin, and Hefeweizen. Martin says that the town and its residents are very excited for the new Mercury Brewing facility to open and they keep asking him about its progress. “It does a lot of good things for the town-and the town believes this as well-that it brings tourism. It brings the Ipswich name out,” he says. “I hope that after we’re open the same amount of excitement is there.” The Portfolio Founded: In 1999 as Mercury Brewing Company; in 1991 as Ipswich Ale Number of Employees: 15 (more planned when new brewery opens) Products: Nine styles of Ipswich Ale (Original Ale, IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Dark Ale, Nut Brown, Porter, Summer, Harvest, and Winter); Nine styles of Stone Cat (Blonde, Blueberry, Extra Special Bitter, IPA, Hefeweizen, Octoberfest, Pumpkin, Scotch Ale, and Winter Lager); 22 styles of Mercury Soda (Root Beer, Diet Root Beer, Cream, Diet Cream, Black Cherry, Diet Black Cherry, Orange Cream, Lemon Lime, Atomic Grape, Birch Beer, Strawberry, Raspberry, Coconut, Kiwiberry, Watermelon, Ginger Ale, Cola, and Diet Cola) and Bubbly Waters (Lemon, Lime, Raspberry, and Orange); Ipswich Ale Mustard; Contract beers and sodas Contact: 23 Hayward St. (soon to be located on Brown Square), Ipswich, 978-356-3329,