At Offshore Ale, brewmaster Neil Atkins has something for everyone

As part of the process, brewmaster Neil Atkins regularly checks the kettles at Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs. — File photo by Steve Myrick

The Offshore Ale House is a very different place early in the morning than when it’s in full swing in the evening. Chairs are stacked on top of tables to allow for sweeping the peanut debris from the night before. One or two cooks are getting ready to don aprons and start their day. Owner Phil McAndrews breezes in and says a hearty “good morning” to no one in particular.

Neil Atkins, brewmaster, is definitely the busiest person in the house at 9am. He shouts “I’ll be right down” from his upstairs office but stops first check on two giant vats of beer in the brew room. Zipping up and down connecting ladders to peer in the copper kettles, before materializing in the dining room to answer some questions about beer and brewing.

Mr. Atkins was a homebrewer before he took a job at Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Booneville, California almost ten years ago. As a microbiologist there, Mr. Atkins learned about quality control and about the ins and outs of professional beer making, but he hadn’t considered it as a career option for himself, yet.

In California, Mr. Atkins, his wife and young child were living in a very small town and were growing increasingly restless for a change, “it was just time for me to leave Anderson Valley,” says Mr. Atkins. After finding an online ad seeking a head brewer at the Offshore Ale Brewing Company on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Atkins was intrigued. He had lived on the Vineyard briefly in 1995 before moving west. So he flew out for an interview, got the job, flew back to California for his family and began the cross-country move to the Vineyard.

That was four years ago. Since then Mr. Atkins has contributed his own brews like the Octoberfest, Abel’s Hill India Dark Ale, and the Menemsha Creek Pale Ale to Offshore’s menu.

On creating a new beer, Mr. Atkins says he’s aware of the parameters he’s working in before he even starts. “You know your malts and you know your hops, so you know roughly what kind of beer you’re going to make.” And if it’s a beer that makes an appearance again and again, like the Octoberfest, you have a recipe (in Mr. Atkins’s case, the recipe is in his head) that you start with and play with it as you go “adding some of this, and taking away some of that.”

The Octoberfest is a classic lager with slightly sweet malt notes. In addition to it, Mr. Atkins will pay homage to the world’s largest fair with the release of the Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale on Friday. The Hopps Farm Road is made with hops grown locally by Alan Northcott and Kenneth Rusczyk. Last year, Mr. Atkins brewed 10 barrels of the local brew (310 gallons), which didn’t last even two weeks, so he advises you to get there soon for a taste.

Mr. Atkins laughs when asked how he advises patrons who just want a Bud Light or a Corona. He recalls a customer ordering a ginger ale and “the closest thing you have to a Bud Light.” The bartender said “Okay, two ginger ales coming up.”

The beer menu does offer something for most beer-drinkers’ taste buds, including the crisp and clean East Chop Lighthouse Ale for Bud Light aficionados.

What about pairing beer with food? According to Mr. Atkins, beer goes with everything, but for some more specific recommendations I consulted the Brewer’s Association Craft Beer and Food Pairings Chart. Pale Ale’s like the East Chop Lighthouse and Menemsha Creek will pair well with a cheddar cheeseburger or the meatloaf, which promises to “make mom proud” served with smoked bacon, mashed potatoes in mushroom gravy, veggies and finished with truffle oil.

Amber Ales work well with a range of chicken and seafood dishes, particularly ones with a spicy note, making the flagship Offshore Amber Ale a perfect accompaniment to the Portuguese Fisherman’s Stew with littlenecks, Kalamata olives, chorizo, mussels, and cod simmered in a tomato-fennel broth served over turnip puree.

Stouts, with their deep black color and smooth finish, pair classically with raw oysters. Check out the chalkboard hanging over the bar to see what bivalves are available. Octoberfest begs to be enjoyed with sausage, and would be great with the sausage and onion pizza and the Bavarian Pretzel Spears, just to tie it all together.

Offshore Ale is open seven days a week year-round. Lunch 11:30 am to 3 pm, pub menu served from 3 to 5 pm and dinner from 5 to 9 pm, or later. Appetizers $5.95-$13.95, entrées $9.95-$27.95. Stay tuned for more seasonal beers brewing at Offshore.