Funny how when you’re unemployed you have all this free time, yet no free money. Sitting around the house cleaning and blogging all day was relaxing at first, but I hit a point where I needed to start getting out of the house and finding something to do with my day. It was getting a little too 1950s housewife dedicating my whole day to planning and prepping an elaborate dinner for my dear old boyfriend to eat when he came in the door from work, kicked off his shoes, and sat back in his easy chair in a cloud of vanilla pipe tobacco smoke while I fetched him the paper, “I polished all the furniture today!”, “That’s nice dear.” Okay, so it wasn’t quite like that. But sometimes it felt close.
So, lucky for me, living in Massachusetts puts me in a prime location for doing my favorite free activity- brewery tours! So last week I ended up at Mayflower Brewing, a craft microbrewery in Plymouth, MA. Mayflower brews traditional year-round beers, along with seasonal brews that change with whatever New England has to offer at that time of year- be it Spring Hop, Summer Rye, or a Thanksgiving Ale. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour by Sarah Richardson, who also started the Girls Pint Night Out on Cape Cod, which we will be making a post about soon.
Based on their name and location it should be no surprise that the founder, Drew Brosseau, is descended from John Alden, one of the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower and allegedly the first pilgrim to set foot on Plymouth Rock. I know everyone educated in Massachusetts public schools can recite the plight of the pilgrims like they can their ABC’s, but I bet what you didn’t learn in your elementary school Thanksgiving pageants is that the pilgrims landed here because of beer. Sure, we all learned that they were running low on provisions, but that provision was hearty ale, their main source of nourishment. It didn’t spoil and didn’t have the connotation that beer today has. When they first stopped in Provincetown there was no fresh water, but in Plymouth they found kettle ponds and fields cleared by the native Americans.
Mayflower brews two 620 gallon batches a day, with each batch filling up 20 barrels. Usually they brew their four year-round offerings: Pale Ale, Golden Ale, Porter, and their IPA. The pale malt, their most commonly used, is stored out behind the brewery in a huge silo, which connects to the grain room. The smell in the grain room was delicious, picture all the grains and barley you use for homebrewing, only magnified by thousands. Aside from their regular beers, they also do some limited beers in their Cooper Series. I mentioned earlier that the founder of Mayflower is descended from John Alden. Alden was the cooper on the ship, so it’s fitting that the limited barrel-aged beers are aptly called the Cooper Series.
Their many offerings of beer are what draws people in. Sarah said that people often come on tours and say how they don’t like beer, but usually that’s because the only beer they’ve had is a cheap beer. Then once they try craft beer, they change their tune. And that’s what I love about craft beer, there’s something for everyone, even the self-proclaimed, “I don’t do beer” people.
The whole grain to glass process takes about two weeks, one day to brew, two weeks to ferment and condition, and one day to bottle. All the beers are filtered before bottling except for the Summer Rye and some of the Cooper’s Series. They got a larger bottling line a couple of years ago, because Mayflower has seen substantial growth as craft beer continues to grow.
Drew Brosseau said he always liked craft beer, he used to be a homebrewer in the early 80s and the first craft brewery opened up in his hometown. So when he “semi-retired” he decided to open a brewery and he wanted it to be fun. He said that over 30 years the interest in craft beer has been steadily climbing, and it’s finally reached a tipping point. “Now we are at a point where some generations have grown up with craft beer, people under 30 don’t know any different,” he explained. And it’s true, older generations of beer drinkers only had big name American lagers to choose from- Bud, Miller, Schlitz, Coors, and so forth. “Now macrobreweries may have the largest market share, but the trends are against them,” he said.
All you have to do is take a look at Mayflowers numbers to see how much the interest in craft beer has taken off. Their first year they did 1,000 barrels, then 2,000 the next year, and by their 5th year they are up to 6,500 barrels annually. “We are the most successful brewery in New England if figuring that out by rate of growth,” Brosseau explained. Mayflower has moved up from the 37th largest brewery in Massachusetts to the 5th largest, and from the 120th to the 12th largest in New England. “We’re still tiny compared to the bigger ones in New England,” he said, “So it will be a while before we move to number four, or even number 11.” It’s an impressive rate of growth for a brewery, and reflects the passion people have for craft beer.
Craft beer drinkers are part of a broader trend reflecting an interest in local products and foods, and more flavors. “You see this in bread, coffee, chocolate, and beer. People want more flavor. It’s a shift away from homogenous market products,” Brosseau said. He left me with these parting crass, but true words showing that the movement is here to stay: “”For every Bud or Coors drinker who dies, a craft beer drinker turns 21.”