Island beer brewers conspire on winter ale

Jim Carleton (left) and Neil Atkins got to work early Thursday morning at Offshore Ale Co. — Photo by Michael Cummo

It’s not unreasonable to think that the recent establishment of a second craft beer company on the Island, Edgartown’s Bad Martha, might incite competition with longstanding brewers Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs.

Not so, says James Carleton, Bad Martha’s manager and chief brewer, who says that on and off the Vineyard craft brewing is a congenial and cooperative industry.

Neil Atkins, Mr. Carleton’s counterpart at Offshore Ale, concurs. “We like to work together, not against each other,” he said. “This holds true throughout the entire craft brewer community.”

In that spirit, these brewers are teaming up to craft a custom English winter ale. Why an English winter ale in particular?

“Old strong English ales age well and are great for cold winter nights in front of a fire,” said Mr. Atkins. “We wanted something that we could hold on to for a while.”

The beer in the making, which Mr. Carleton compared stylistically to British imports like Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Harviestoun Ola Dubh, or Theakston Old Peculier, will intersect with a distinctly American element of beverage craftsmanship: bourbon barrels. Mr. Atkins and Mr. Carleton are using charred oak barrels that have mellowed bourbon whiskey in Kentucky to imbue their developing ale with nuances of oak tannin and bourbon.

“The beer won’t be served directly from the barrels,” Mr. Carleton said. “It will be moved from the barrels into a serving tank, then carbonated, then served as usual [on draft].”

The first batch of the ale should be available at Offshore and Bad Martha’s in December. Bad Martha’s is currently closed for the season but will reopen at Christmas time. The brewers say the first offering will not yet possess any barrel-derived essences, but will be hearty and appropriate for winter.

“The beer we serve in December will be the ‘regular’ beer — strong, dark, rich and malty — just not barrel-aged,” Mr. Carleton said. “So there won’t be any bourbon character. What we serve in the spring will have bourbon and oak character from aging in the barrels for several months.”

When and where the aged version will be available is pending. Ale lovers stay tuned.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article reported the first batch of the ale would be available only at Bad Martha’s in December. The ale will be available at both Bad Martha’s and Offshore Ale.