I was sitting in Mayflower Brewing’s Plymouth tap room recently, sipping a nutty, rum-like, Thanksgiving ale, when I had a perfectly simple realization: This is nice.
Drinking beer shouldn’t be complicated, and on this Sunday afternoon it wasn’t, with football on TV, board games spread across tables, and dogs at nearly everyone’s feet. The tap list — some hoppy, some dark, a lager — was manageable. I live close by, which doesn’t hurt.
Between my wife and I we tried four terrific beers: Thanksgiving ale, Oatmeal stout (both on nitro), Boomerang, a pale ale, and Love & Wrestling, a New England style IPA.
Our visit was unremarkable in a way that’s likely familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a local tap room. Mayflower is neither new nor old (they opened in 2011), hip nor played out, and is therefore a good barometer — I think — of the current craft beer scene. In a phone call afterward, I caught up with Mayflower founder Drew Brosseau.
You opened a renovated tap room in 2017. How's that been going?
The tap room model wasn't available when we started. At some point we realized we needed to step up what we were doing on that side. That's gone very well. It's a good way to chat with consumers directly and try out some different things we might not be able to put out into the marketplace.
This year, we had pop-up beer gardens at the Mayflower Society House and The Pinehills, which went really well.
What else is new?
We started with four beers way back when, and two of those we no longer brew, unfortunately, the original pale ale and our golden ale. We've since replaced those and added some. We're now doing six beers on a year-round basis, along with a new beer every couple of months that we only brew for a couple of months. We still have a summer seasonal, and our Thanksgiving ale.
At any given time we're doing about eight different things. It's an effort to have a consistent set of products that people can rely on, while at the same time providing something new all the time, in a market where there's something new all the time.
I feel like your IPA has become iconic. Where does a beer like that fit into today's landscape, and how would you compare it to your newer IPAs?
We were never a one-beer brewery to begin with. We were always making four beers year-round, and nothing really dominated our portfolio. IPA ultimately, as the market demanded, became the highest volume for us, but it was never more than 35 or 40 percent. It's still got a very strong following, but we now have sort of cannibalized it ourselves with our New World IPA, which is an American IPA, more along the lines of the modern profile. And then we've got a hoppy pale ale called Boomerang, and then we've got a double IPA called Love & Wrestling, which is very New England-like.
What's the story behind your Thanksgiving ale?
That beer we designed early on when we started, recognizing that there wasn’t a beer that celebrated Thanksgiving, but there were a lot of Christmas beers out in the marketplace. We thought long and hard about what that style should be. We sort of created the style ourselves, combining an English old ale and an American strong ale in our recipe. It’s very malt-centric, and it’s aged on wood for about six weeks. There’s a lot of complexity in the flavors that are there — you get caramel, a little bit of nuttiness, oakiness. That’s been a perennial beer for us since the very first year.
I recently visited the tap room and noticed four nitro taps, which included an oatmeal stout and your porter. Walk me through those darker beers.
Porter's a year-round beer for us. We have steady sales of that throughout the year, but it's clearly a seasonal pickup. It's a classic English porter, with a lot of bittersweet chocolate and coffee notes, even though we don't add any of that stuff to the beer. There's a little hint of smoke there as well. It's just a nice, dry, 5.5 percent, not-gonna-knock-you-over, clean porter. It's probably the beer we're best known for.
Oatmeal stout has been a seasonal beer for us. It's kind of a classic take on an oatmeal stout, lots of strong roasted barley flavor. We tend to finish most of our beers dry for the style, and that's the case here.
Recently there's been some bad news of breweries closing. How has the marketplace impacted you all?
It's been challenging, to be honest. 2017 and 2018 were the most challenging, because the pace of new breweries coming into the market was strongest at that time. There was just a lot of noise created by that, and everybody wanting to try the latest new thing. That seems, at least for us, to have settled down a bit. I don't know how much of that is the changes we've made vs. what's going on in the market. So we've had a really nice year this year, and seen some nice strong growth in all corners.
You basically need to strike a balance between what you’re all about — what feels right for you, what makes sense for your brewery, what style and approach you have to brewing beer — at the same time recognizing that the market has its own demands, and you’ve gotta meet them halfway sometimes.
How do you see a brand like Mayflower fitting in in 2019, 2020?
I don't know, I think you'd have to ask the consumer about that. I think we've established a reputation of making high-quality beer. Our goal, in a market where people are always trying something new, is to make sure that if they try something from Mayflower they're going to enjoy it.
What's next? Can you offer a preview of anything coming up?
You can call us Plymouth nerds or something like that. We have a big anniversary coming up next year. 2020 is a big deal down here. Everybody down here is pretty excited about it. We’ve been working our way up to that with a series of beers: 398 a year ago, 399 this year. Come January we’ll be releasing 400, which will be another double IPA, different hop profile than the last two we’ve done there. We’re looking forward to all the activities going on around here, getting the ships back and all those good things.
Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.