Brewing up a legacy in America's Hometown.
Whether you've experienced it on a fleeting basis or grown up with it, it's now Winter in New England, and it's amazing.
I don't want to hear that it's too cold. I don't want to hear any complaining at all actually. I'm biased, being a Vermonter, but I want you to appreciate the crisp, bright mornings and wood-fire on the air. I want you to feel that hot cup of coffee in your hand and know that such a basic thing can be so incredibly pleasant. The folks of New England have known this for a long time, and while I understand the innate draw of sunny, warm weather, I'm also acutely aware of how unique, and how lovely, a bracing day in the northeastern U.S can be.
Drew Brosseau, founder and owner of Mayflower Brewing Company, is an expert on beautiful, sun-filled days. Originally from Sonoma, California, which is home to New Albion Brewing (one of the country's first craft breweries) Drew is a direct descendant of the cooper on the actual Mayflower. The famous ship. The one full of pilgrims. If you remember your history, you'll know that one of the main reasons that the sailors on the Mayflower ended up stopping at Plymouth was simple; they ran out of beer. Drew quit his life in investment banking and started Mayflower Brewing Company in 2007 with the noble and glorious mission of making sure the folks of Plymouth never run into such a tragedy again.
I remember the first time I consumed Mayflower's beer. I was setting up at a festival in Boston when I was working for Magic Hat, and Mayflower started setting up right next to me. It was 2009 and I had never heard of them. Long story short, I ended up drinking their beer for the entire day and quickly fell in love with the simple, robust flavors they had managed to create. I'm not saying that many pints of Golden Ale is the best idea, but it's certainly not the worst.
We've written extensively on the topic of choice here at The Brew Enthusiast. It's a basic idea, but one of the prevailing concerns that today's beer producers have is the sheer amount of choice available in the market will prevent them from selling "enough" beer, whatever that means. Their concerns seem valid on the surface, but breweries like Mayflower have a healthy perspective on the actual reality of having a huge variety of choices. The idea is simple and powerful; great beer requires a dedicated group of professionals who care about their liquid, their regional identity, and the reason they're in business in the first place. Great beer will sell. Perhaps not in the quantities it used to, as more breweries grab a slice of the action, but it will sell. It always has, and it's only gotten stronger in the past few years.
This idea, while enormous in its implementation, is relevant to breweries of any size. From regionally focused breweries like Mayflower to multi-national brewing giants like Guinness. When speaking with Sarah Richardson, Mayflower's marketing guru, about the greater community around the brewery, she was hopeful and energetic, "We were so blessed with Plymouth being an awesome town and a beer community. On top of people trying to support local small businesses, they want good stuff. The beer community has changed in an awesome way, even since I’ve been here."
Mayflower did 8000 barrels of beer last year, and they're on track to finish out 2015 with even more. These sort of numbers easily put them in the top half in terms of total production for breweries in Massachusetts, which is littered with amazing breweries. That being said, they have very little interest in pushing the envelope too hard. "We are, first and foremost, a New England brewery" said Richardson, "We’re definitely a brewery that has watched where it’s going. Before we distribute to another state, we make sure we can we keep up with that growth. We don’t want to go there and do a bad job." Mayflower self-distributes in the eastern part of the state, a critical detail for their business. Self-distribution, which has been a law in Massachusetts for a long time, is an often overlooked part of the regulatory mess that plagues the growth of craft beer in other states.
My personal favorite will always be the Mayflower Golden Ale, but you're really spoiled for choice with their beer. The Porter is simply splendid, and their new barrel program is sure to produce some surprising results as they continue to innovate. Their entire portfolio is classic, moderate, and well-made. Even their IPA is a humble tribute to their English-style roots, clean and approachable, eschewing the outrageously dry, sticky mouth note that some of our favorite American IPA's can impart.
New England is a melting pot of communities tied to the backbone of brewing, and towns like Plymouth represent this concept perfectly. You might not think of it otherwise, but go for a visit, learn your history, and appreciate the subtle, yet significant impact that this little place has on the American cultural landscape.
A small lesson, but something I'm always reminded of when I talk to these breweries. Most of the time, it doesn't matter what the rest of the world is doing when you're happy with your place, a cold pint in hand and a little more background on why you're even here in the first place. Whether Mayflower knew it or not, they've embodied something special. The simple, consistent reminder of what it means to appreciate the small things.
Published December 2015