For Bob Johnson, most Sundays are super-brew Sunday. On what for most people is a day of rest, the 59-year-old craftsman of national contest-winning beers hops out of bed in his Tewksbury home religiously at 5 a.m. each Sunday from October through April to continue a 22-year passionate pursuit of perfection: To concoct the ideal batch of brew.
Starting last February, Johnson's son-in-law, P.J. Mercier, also a lover of exquisite beers and the No. 1 fan of Johnson's skill as a brewer, began a related passionate pursuit: to find a new headquarters for the Navigation Brewing Company of Massachusetts, a commercial venture that will have his father-in-law at the helm as chief brewmaster.
For Mercier, 36, of Dracut, finding the man who could be one of the nation's best undiscovered brewmasters was easy -- he married Johnson's daughter, Jill, nine years ago. Finding a suitable location to set up their 50/50 joint venture has been a challenge, though. While the two have taken second looks at a some potential headquarters locations in Dracut and Lowell where they could set up the Navigation Brewing's equipment, they're still looking and open to site suggestions, Mercier said.
"Any type of business you're trying to start up is tough, but when you have alcohol involved there becomes a lot of nervousness," Mercier said. "The license we're applying for through the state is called a Farmer's Brewing License.
There is a long-term element to Mercier and Johnson's dream that includes a possible waterfront location "maybe some day, way in the future," to match their company's nautical theme, Mercier added.
Mercier, who is a full-time land surveyor and part-time realtor, and Johnson, 59, who has been a railroad purchasing and sales manager for 18 years, are self-financing their venture, setting aside a tidy sum for equipment, commercial rental space, labeling and marketing. They have enlisted the help of Web designers and are running a contest among local artists to improve on the look of the Navigation Brewing Co. label.
To the question about whether the micro-brewing market may have become too crowded for a fledgling beer-making operation to make its mark, Mercier had a ready answer:
"One of the advantages we have, in my opinion -- and it's shared by others in the business who I've spoken to -- is that Bob has been a brewer for 22 years and over that time has developed a very consistent product," Mercier said. "He's nailed down his recipe by brewing religiously, seven months straight every year. He's taken his hobby to another level."
Just as Red Sox legend Ted Williams would never have used "hobby" to describe his pursuit of perfection as a hitter, neither does Johnson. "Passion" is what he prefers.
"I'm a nut case about brewing," said Johnson. "It's not only the brewing, it's the research into different styles and ingredients, and researching different craft beers that are out there. It's something I think about for at least some period of time every single day of the week."
In 1998, Johnson was awarded the gold medal in the American Home Brewers Association's prestigious annual National Homebrew Competition for his "Smokehouse 1" bambero-style German rauchbier. The judges raved about Johnson's entry, noting its "pleasant smokiness in aroma and flavor."
While Johnson believes launching Navigation Brewing with his son-in-law will be "fun and rewarding," the dream for this low-key master brewer remains the same as it was when he first started fermenting beer in his basement in the early 1990s.
"I get a real charge out of seeing somebody open one of my beers and thinking that it's better than anything that they're able to buy; I get a big kick out of that," Johnson said. "And I get a big kick out of the actual process itself, when I'm up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday starting a mash process, I get a real charge out of that, too."
Both men say they were encouraged by the success stories of the many micro-brewers who started small before becoming household names nationwide over the past two decades, including Sierra Nevada, Harpoon and Dogfish Head.
"You see the different brewers who have started off the same way, with a dream and a passion for brewing, and have taken it national," said Johnson. "P.J.'s a great guy; it will be fun working with him on this. And it will be fun to maybe leave something to my two daughters and my grandkids."
Even without a commercial location, the company will be open for business upon getting its license, Mercier said. Through its Facebook page, Navigation Brewing Co. has launched a "Navigators' Club," where investors can purchase a $450 value of any of the company's four flagship brews -- Headland-American Pale Ale, Navigator IPA, Rippin' Rapids IPA, or Fog Cutter Stout -- for $250 per membership. (Members will collect by having Brewer Bob pour their beers of choice into 32-ounce "growlers" (jugs) to take home in weekly or monthly installments.
Mercier said he feels driven to share with the world the great talents of the man he and Johnson's other friends refer to simply as "Brewer Bob."
"My dream is to take his beer to the next level, because in my eyes his beer is a lot better than some of the other beers that are on the market," said Mercier. "And that's not just my opinion. A lot of beer drinkers say the same thing: 'This is a home brew?' He's really good at what he does."
Follow John Collins on Twitter @johncolowellsun.