Small Change Brewing Had a Big Year

Small Change BrewingPhoto courtesy of Small Change Brewing Company.

Ten years ago, Emily Vides bought her husband a homebrew kit, thinking he needed a new hobby (“as wives do,” she says). She didn’t know the kit would launch a passion that would become a family business—and if she could go back and tell herself that, she’s not sure her past self would’ve gotten the kit in the first place.

“I wanted no part in it,” she says. “I’m not a big fan of cleaning, and a lot of what brewing is [is] sanitation!”

But as her husband, Mike Patterson, made his first batch, started making regular trips to the homebrew store, and began milling his own grain and developing original recipes, Vides realized that both of them would need to get used to washing bottles.

Today, Vides and Patterson are co-owners of Small Change Brewing Company, a contract brewery that distributes classic, and sometimes underappreciated, styles of beer across Greater Boston. Operational for about a year now, Small Change’s brews are available for purchase in some liquor stores and on tap at several bars and restaurants across town, including Backbar, Redbones, and The Smoke Shop.

As a contract brewery, Small Change doesn’t have a space of its own—rather, the Somerville couple rents time and space to brew their beer at Great North Aleworks in Manchester, N.H., and distributes it in their family minivan (complete with a backseat DVD player for the couple’s kids and kegs to enjoy).

Contract brewing, an increasingly common practice in the craft beer world, allows brewers to produce large quantities of beer without the financial risk of building and maintaining a brewery of their own. It’s a perfect match for Vides and Patterson, who are still learning the ropes.

“Brewing is a business,” Vides says. “We had to learn all of that, which has been really interesting, and really scary, and really, really cool.”

From acquiring licensing to printing can labels, getting Small Change off the ground required Vides and Patterson to flex a lot of muscle. Fortunately, between the two of them they have barista, waiter, custodian, communications, and customer service experience, which helped them navigate the learning curve.

And, of course, by the time they began Small Change, Vides and Patterson had quite a bit of homebrewing experience under their belts. While they used to primarily drink Pabst—“and when we wanted to be fancy, some Harpoon,” Vides remembers—the purchase of that fateful homebrew kit piqued the couple’s interest in craft brewing. They started going to blind beer tastings at Belmont Craft Beer Cellar to perfect their palates as they brewed batch after batch in their kitchen at home.

However, even after all the tastings, Vides still couldn’t make herself love hops in the way many craft brewers do. She was drawn instead to German-style beers and American pale ales. When she challenged Patterson to brew a beer that both she and their hop-head friends would enjoy, Small Change’s signature beer, A Little Rain, was born. Hoppy but barely bitter, and extremely drinkable, Small Change’s flagship sits in the balance between IPA and lager—exactly what Vides requested.

What’s up next for Small Change? While Vides and Patterson want to keep the operation, well, small, they have plans to grow their presence locally. They want to continue experimenting with lesser-known styles—an English dark mild they made this past fall was particularly successful, Vides says—while sticking to their relatively low ABV profile.

“We do like to drink, but we also have kids, and we have jobs, and we have to get up in the morning,” Vides jokes.

Small Change is also looking for a brick and mortar space of their own. Somerville is nearing capacity when it comes to craft breweries, but Vides has her eye on the still-breweryless East Somerville area.

For now, though, Vides and Patterson are happy to continue their little contract operation, learning from other Somerville brewers every step of the way.

“The beer community has been so open and inviting,” Vides says. “We’ll call people who have been doing it longer and just ask them questions, and they spend an hour on the phone with us. I don’t know people who would do that about pretty much anything else. They’re just excited that you’re making good beer, and everyone just wants everyone else to make good beer too.”