According to the legend of Bad Martha Beer, when Bartholomew Gosnold first arrived on the Vineyard in 1602, he had a very thirsty crew. Gosnold set out looking for ingredients to brew his mates some beer. Finding none, he drifted to sleep on the beach. He awoke in the night to a rather sexy mermaid, beckoning him. Unable to resist the temptation, Gosnold followed, and soon found himself in a field of lush grape leaves. Any other European might have delighted in the possibility of making some great wine, but Gosnold, the good Englishman that he was, used the grape leaves as the secret ingredient in a wonderful batch of beer. Once the ale sufficiently clouded his mind, Gosnold was unsure if he’d ever seen the mermaid at all.
That, of course, is only lore, admits Jonathan Blum, Bad Martha Beer co-founder and writer of the legend. But like all legends, there’s an air of truth about it. Mr. Blum says Gosnold reportedly brought the first batch of barley to arrive in the United States right to Martha’s Vineyard. Because water was impure in the 17th century, many people enjoyed beer instead.
“We thought it would be great to bring some of that sentiment back to the Island,” Mr. Blum said. So he and his “brother from another mother” Peter Rosbeck started Bad Martha beer in 2013, using Martha’s Vineyard grape leaves and other local ingredients in every batch. The new headquarters of the company, Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery, opened in Edgartown last Saturday.
“The one thing that was missing was an experience of the brand,” Mr. Blum said about his decision to open the Edgartown brewing and tasting facility. Now, Island crowds can visit the post-and-beam barn designed by Patrick Ahearn on Upper Main Street, in front of Donaroma’s Nursery, which contributed to the gardens and flowered trellises in the barn’s outdoor patio area.
Inside, the tasting room offers free samples to anyone 21 and over. When patrons pick their poison, they can buy either a pint to enjoy at the bar, or a growler to take home. Head brewer Jim Carleton has come up with about 20 unique recipes that will rotate through the tasting facility seasonally, with local flavors including Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate, Chilmark Coffee, Martha’s Vineyard Honey, native blueberries, and beach plums. “We call it a farmer’s brewery because we really want to support the local community, local farmers, businesses, and charity,” Mr. Blum said. Mr. Blum and Mr. Rosbeck have been huge supporters of the Island Food Pantry, and eventually they hope to source their hops from Island farms like Morning Glory, Island Alpaca, and The FARM Institute.
“Because people will be outside enjoying these beers on the patio in the summer, we did tend towards the lighter side,” Mr. Carleton said. “But we do have darker and hoppier beers like stouts and IPAs too.” Mr. Carleton, a chemical engineer by schooling, first developed an interest in the brewing process while hanging around Sweetwater Brewery, pursuing his PhD in Georgia. Eventually, that interest led to volunteering “while I probably should have been working on my thesis,” he said. He eventually decided to cash in for his masters and go work at Ipswich Brewery, then Boston Beer Works, climbing higher in rank all the time. His wife Maria, also a head brewer by trade, is joining him in the Bad Martha brewery. He said what he likes best about Bad Martha is the relatively small size of the facility, which allows for experimentation with small batches of high-end ingredients.
“I think Jim is a beer genius,” Mr. Blum said. “He ordered all the equipment, designed the brewhouse, hired a terrific staff, but most importantly he’s made some delicious beers for us.” Mr. Carleton is working out the details of offering organized tours, but in the meantime he is happy to show “anybody and everybody” around for an impromptu tour.
Guests can also grab pub snacks, including a Scottish Bakehouse pretzel with a mustard beer sauce, and beer brownies from Eileen Blake’s Pies and Otherwise. Occasionally, Bad Martha might offer a raw bar and live music. The vibe is meant to be casual, relaxed — a place where folks can let go of inhibitions and (within the confines of the law and human decency) be a little bad.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I’m among a cultish following of Offshore AleCo. fans, and I couldn’t help but wonder what another brewery on the Island meant for my trusty old watering hole. Would the beer drinkers of the Island be pitted against each other in a battle of the brews? Turns out, most people are excited about the opportunities of having another brewery on the Island. “We already have one terrific brewery in Offshore Ale,” Mr. Blum said. “We thought there was an opportunity to develop another, and hopefully we’ll end up working together on bringing events like beer festivals to the Island.” Martha’s Vineyard Beer Fest? Now that’s an elephant I’d like to hear more about.
Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery, Upper Main Street, Edgartown. For more information, visit badmarthabeer.com.