Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mayflower Brew Day

Matthew Steinberg gained acclaim as a versatile and innovative brewer at Offshore Ale Company on the exclusive vacation island of Martha's Vineyard, just off the coast of Massachusetts' Cape Cod. Matthew is a truly linked-in brewer who seems to be right near the center of New England's vigorous good beer culture, he's also one of the most gregarious and outgoing guys you'll ever meet. We knew he'd relish the opportunity to spread the good word about all things good beer. Matthew is a brewer possessed with the craft.

Nathan's first contact with Matthew was a few years back. Nathan has family on Martha's Vineyard, so he had plenty opportunity to drink a bunch of Matthew's beer: everything from his cask brown to Hop Goddess, the first American brewed Belgian IPA (not even a recognized style at the time) we're aware of, and it was Hop Goddess that inspired Nathan to contact Matthew and ask about how he formulated the recipe. On the basis of of a short e-mail, he asked Nathan to give him a call and then spent over an hour on the line deconstructing recipes and talking good beer, a completely open book.

Flash forward a few years and a new gig as Director of Brewing Operations at the burgeoning Mayflower Brewing Company in Plymouth, MA. Matthew had us meet him at the brewery at 8AM on a Wednesday morning to mash-in Mayflower's outstanding Porter (which has a light smoked character from peat smoked malt). Matthew has a great assistant in Ryan Gwozdz (formerly of Buzzard Bay Brewing Company, in Westport, MA), who was manning the controls of the shiny new, 20 barrel DME fabricated brewhouse under Matthew's sage tutelage.

Mayflower was opened in 2007 by Drew Brosseau, a tenth generation grandson of the Mayflower's beer barrel cooper, who made the bold decision to self distribute. Their current capacity is around 2,000 barrels a year, with a focus around the Boston market and the South Shore.

Mayflower's impressive Wall o' malt...
and equally impressive bottle collection.
The grain is milled in a room adjoining the brew house.

The grist is then transfered by auger to the grist case above the mash tun.

The rakes automatically stir the grain with the mash water from the hot liquor tank.

One of the first things we noticed while waiting on mash conversion was a fleet of Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels that we learned had been used to age Sam Adams' Utopias and in which Matthew is currently aging a barleywine to be released next year. So of course, it was samples of barreled barleywine all around at 8:30AM. Matthew went the traditional British route using an all pale malt grist and a long boil to develop wort color and increase gravity a la JW Lees Harvest Ale and it's already developing some nice barrel character after only a short dip in the barrels.

A nail is stuck into each barrel to enable easy sampling without undue exposure to more oxygen. This is also done at many other breweries such as Russian River and New Belgium where acetobacter is a major concern.

They have a state of the art, semi-automatic brew house with lots of shiny control panels.

Matthew was testing out his newest toy, a pH probe. The pH of the mash was right where we needed it to be.

Next up was sparging the mash and collecting wort for the boil kettle. The rakes automatically sweep the spent grains out of the tun, but they still need to be hauled out back by hand, where a farmer comes to pick it up.

Ryan measuring out the Pilgrim hops, we assumed and had confirmed that it wasn't an accidental choice for Mayflower.

Just two hop additions for the porter, one at 70 minutes and one at 20 minutes.

Mayflower has a small but growing cask program, each of which have a special hop/botanical/wood added to the cask to make it unique. We smelled some sweet fern that grows out in back of the brewery that they are considering playing with in a future cask offering. They also have a gaggle of grain hungry chipmunks that live out in back of the brewery, and we also spied a wild turkey roaming around.

During breaks in the brew day we recorded a far ranging and informative interview and sampled our way through their stellar current line-up. All their beers were impeccably fresh and bright tasting, including their newest seasonal Summer Rye, a dry, low alcohol, golden ale with some classic spice and fruit from a warm ferment with Fermentis T-58 (a dried Belgian yeast), a good bit of rye and a heavy dose of dry hopping: a really elegant beer.

Midway through the interview we were interrupted by a label delivery. Matthew jumped on the forklift and went to grab them...

We spied a cask of the Golden Ale that was dry hopped with the Japanese hop varietal Sorachi Ace which was originally developed for the Soporro Brewery.

While we were sitting around chatting, one of the resident chipmunks ran in, sadly there are no photos of the chase that ensued. Maybe the fella's should consider a brew house cat.

We retired upstairs for some tacos from a local restaurant and flipped through Matthews first homebrewing book.

Matthew and Ryan bid us bon voyage and fair weather on the rest of our New England journey. A million thanks to these two brew pilgrims.


  1. thanks, that read was almost as much fun as being there.


  2. Another great job guys. Hope you were able to bring some back with you.