Boston’s Berry: Redefining Tradition in Craft Beverages

Michael Kurson and Neil Quigley, Founders of Briggs Original
Michael Kurson and Neil Quigley, Founders of Briggs Original

Starting a business is an incredible feat. But there’s nothing more gratifying than doing it with your best friend.

Think about the qualities you look for in a business partner — trust, reliability, actually liking your colleagues. And while entrepreneurs should absolutely be cautious about going into business with friends — it’s known to have ruined friendships — finding a true partner in the rollercoaster ride that is starting a business is incredibly important.

For Michael Kurson and Neil Quigley, it’s been a crazy, twenty-one year long ride through the ups and downs of kindergarten, high school, college, and — of course — brewing.

In high school, Neil gained a passion for brewing craft beer, creating experimental batches and putting his imagination to the test while Michael, the entrepreneurial one, held the crucial job of “taste tester.”

“Sometimes people have hesitations working with their best friend,” Michael muses. “As much as the business has created arguments and disconnects, we’ve been lucky to remain best friends through it all.”

Michael also emphasizes how important it is to partner up with people you’re close with, but who can also take a step back when you need new perspective — something Neil and Michael have been able to do after all these years.

The Boston natives, who’ve been best friends since kindergarten, split up briefly after high school, and while Michael fostered his business ambition at the country’s best entrepreneurship school, Babson College, Neil took his talents across the pond to Brewlab, the leading institute for brewing and distilling arts.

Briggs Brew: the first batch of beer produced by Neil and Michael while still in high school
Briggs Brew: the first batch of beer produced by Neil and Michael while still in high school

At the ripe old age of 19, Neil became the youngest ever certified Cicerone (the equivalent of a “sommelier” for beer), while Michael made crucial business connections and learned the brewing world, continuing his path toward a B.A. in Entrepreneurial Studies.

But Boston called to both of them, and the two reconnected in their hometown of Newton, MA. Feeling the entrepreneurial itch, they decided to start a company around an alcoholic cranberry beverage in Boston.

“Turning the old into new, turning tradition into culture.”

They say you can take the cranberry out of Boston. But you can never take the Boston out of the cranberry.

Indeed, cranberries have been revered in Massachusetts for hundreds of years. Cape Cod cranberries were the first in the United States to be recognized as a commercially viable crop, and even today, about 31% of all cranberry crops come from Massachusetts.

It’s also the official state berry and drink of Massachusetts.

That’s why Neil and Michael decided to bring Briggs Original Boston Cranberry, their flagship beverage, to their local community.

“We had the idea to make this alcoholic cranberry beverage that’s specifically catered to the local Bostonians,” Michael reflects.

Both Neil and Michael have lived in Boston for most of their lives, and have instilled their Bostonian values — “turning the old into new, turning tradition into culture” — into their company and beverages.

Neil and Michael’s Briggs Original Boston Cranberry is the spiked seltzer beverage that’s currently making waves in the craft beer, cider, and seltzer worlds. Using only 100% real Massachusetts cranberries, Neil and Michael bring an all-natural, refreshing, and indisputably unique beverage to a saturated market full of artificial fruit drinks and craft beer copycats.

“We’re the first players in this space to actually use real fruit,” Neil notes. “The craft beer explosion hasn’t fallen off, but it’s becoming more and more dull and numerous. People are doing the same thing over and over.”

“We’re taking the spiked seltzer concept to the next level.”

While the craft brewing industry has indeed exploded in recent years, spiked seltzer also has seen a huge rise in popularity. Neil and Michael took note of what these new seltzer brands were doing well, what they weren’t doing well, and, of course, the apparent lack of options containing 100% real fruit.

Briggs Original Can Design
Briggs Original can design

“We thought, ‘why don’t we take the spiked seltzer concept to the next level, and make something that tastes amazing, has no artificial ingredients, and is within an industry that’s not bombarded with massive companies that don’t have the ability truly connect with the consumers.’”

Neil and Michael explain that Boston doesn’t need another “amazing” craft brewery. “We wanted to do something totally unique and different.”

“Vodka Cranberries are a very popular drink among young people at bars,” says Michael. “We wanted to make the real deal — not some Ocean Spray, artificially-sweetened concoction.”

And in 2016, they turned an experimental five-gallon batch into Briggs Original Boston Cranberry, their flagship beverage that’s catapulted itself to be a Boston staple.

Creating a business was not easy, especially for two best friends with massive dreams but no experience. Thankfully, Michael’s connections at Babson College paid off, while Neil absorbed as much knowledge as he could as head brewer at Farmer Willie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

While Neil created the beverages, Michael leveraged his education and abilities to help bring to market this new cranberry-infused concoction. And with the help of Rhode Island School of Design graduate Hee Jae Kim, the new company crafted a brand story centered on tradition — relying on a recognizable icon rather than a spiffy logo like many craft breweries.

And even the origin of the company’s name “Briggs” speaks to the guys’ personal investment and relationship.

“In high school, Michael got his first iPhone, and texted me ‘What’s up bro?’. But his phone auto-corrected it to ‘What’s up Briggs?’. And since then, we’ve just continued to greet each other with ‘What’s up Briggs?’, and that’s the story.”

“It comes back to the reason we’re doing this…to do fun, cool stuff for our Boston community.”

Now that Neil and Michael have seen their flagship Boston Cranberry gain notoriety in Boston, why stop there?

Enter Briggs Fest, Briggs Original’s inaugural music festival.

The inaugural artist line-up for Briggs Fest
The inaugural artist line-up for Briggs Fest

“Where do people like to drink? At concerts. And where to people have good times? At concerts,” Michael says.

Michael presented the idea of creating a music festival, leveraging the mass appeal of music and culture with alcohol in a seamless, exciting way.

The first-ever Briggs Fest will see major musical acts like “Boston’s Boy” Sammy Adams, Waka Flocka Flame, B.o.B, and more performing live at Lawn on D in Boston.

“We had two goals with Briggs Fest,” Michael continues. “The first being to promote our beverage in a unique and interesting way, the second being, to create the ideal atmosphere to enjoy it.”

As for what’s next for Briggs Original…

“The idea of being local is incredibly important to us,” Michael emphasizes. “As we look to expand, we’d like to ‘feel’ local to each market we cater to across the country.”

And fans of the Boston Cranberry drink can look forward to more, exciting innovations from Briggs Original sooner rather than later.

But Neil and Michael recognize that they still have a lot to learn, and offers some advice to entrepreneurs looking to make their mark.

“Realize how much opportunity is out there. Educate yourself, find something you’re passionate about, and take the first step.”

Briggs Fest takes place on July 29 — you can purchase tickets to the festival here.

You may also like