Aslin + Nighthawk, where it's all in the brewing family
Andrew Kelly, Payton Brown, Kai Leszkowicz
We took a detour on our way to the office last week to catch up with our pals at Nighthawk. If you haven’t heard, Nighthawk Brewery and Pizzeria is the brainchild of Chef Johnny Spero and our very own Andrew Kelley and Kai Leszkowicz. When Nighthawk needed a new head brewer last Fall, they called on our team at Aslin, and Payton Brown answered the call.
“Payton is the type of person who is not only down for a challenge but is excited for one,” said Andrew.
“We knew his goal was to be a head brewer at more of a boutique brewery, so the Nighthawk job was a great fit,” Kai noted.
Payton’s certainly not new to the brewer life. He was heavily invested in the craft beer and homebrewing scene for years before deciding it was time to start doing it professionally. He worked his way around several area breweries doing a variety of jobs from deliveries to Cellarman and Brewer. Then in 2019, he started working at Aslin, first as a beertender, then ultimately moving to the brew crew after expressing his interest in the production process.
Nighthawk was a new opportunity for Payton, who in addition to his general passion and excitement for craft beer, was interested in the career growth that Nighthawk offered. As the Head brewer at the smaller, 5-barrel brewhouse, Payton is now in charge of putting Nighthawk on the craft beer map, which is a challenge he’s embraced.
“I love that I get to be involved in every step of the brewing/cellaring/packaging process, from grain to glass,” said Payton. “It makes me very proud when I see someone enjoying a beer from Nighthawk.”
In addition to cooking up the classics (hazy IPAs, Lagers, Fruited Sours, Stouts, to name a few), the Nighthawk brewers are also trying some new combinations, like Babe, a Kolsch-style ale with Sicilian Lemon Puree. It’s slightly tart and zingy, with that classic Kolsch crisp fruitiness. And Payton gets to collaborate with Chef Johnny Spero to develop culinary-inspired beers that have interesting and unique ingredients even the biggest craft beer heads might not have thought of for a beer. But it works. Example: Babe. Next up is a pizza-inspired beer we will clearly be making another pitstop to taste test.
Payton credits learning the best practices for cellaring, packaging and brewing from his Aslin co-workers, among other attributes that have led to his success thus far.
“I’ve also learned how to grow within a company I admire and to develop relationships with people who are equally passionate about making the best possible product,” he noted. “I learned it's important to keep asking questions because there's always something new I can learn from my co-workers.”
From Andrew and Kai, he learned a lot about the processes and industry, but also about the hard work it takes to make the highest quality products.
“I love how open they are to new ideas and experimenting when it comes to creating new beers,” said Payton. “I also like how they are understanding of mistakes, and work with you on how you can get better and improve.”
Kaizen is the word at Aslin, and a major component to the company’s core value of Innovation. Even small improvements add up over time, and we should always be working to make those incremental improvements. Payton and the team at Nighthawk have figured out that innovation does not have to be inventing a new way to drink beer – maybe it’s just thinking of adding some Sicilian lemon puree to a Kolsch. It can still be pretty game changing.
Our detour ended with a tour of the Nighthawk food menu, which Chef had recently updated. If you’re heading over to catch a game, their wings are the way to go. We also sampled three different types of pizza, including the New York Style, which this editor can firmly state should be tried by every pizza fanatic and NY/NJ transplant in the DMV. We finally found it, guys.
The partnership between Aslin and Nighthawk is rooted in the passion we all have for bringing really great products to our customers. Whether it’s a favorite core beer, a new experimental brew, a nostalgic can design you can’t resist, or giving pizza snobs a place to call home, we’re here for you.