New Englanders are no strangers to beer. Samuel Adams, the Boston patriot and leader of the Massachusetts radicals (he also signed the Declaration of Independence), is the namesake of the beer that many consider to be the granddaddy of the boutique or “craft beer” revolution.
These days Sam Adams is nearly as popular as Budweiser, and a new crop of hoppy upstarts has not-so-quietly filled the gap that “radical” Sam Adams once occupied. With changes in the beer landscape as tectonic as the San Andreas fault, it’s incumbent upon drinkers and nondrinkers alike to check in on “the state of the brewnion” on our own little Island.
Martha’s Vineyard may be small in size, but it’s big on beer — and variety flows from four distinct taps.
“Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.” –Thomas Jefferson
Offshore Ale Co. (a.k.a. the Brewpub)
Phil McAndrews’ brainchild is a warm, cozy spot where fishermen can be spotted at the bar, a fire rages in the hearth, and peanut shells are happily chucked onto the floor. The notoriously laconic (but good-natured) brewer, Neil Atkins, has stirred up a witch’s brew of aptly named elixirs. “Beer is good,” Atkins informed me during our interview, and his actually is. The colorful blackboard at Offshore features an array of Island-inspired themes:
East Chop Lighthouse Golden Ale
Beach Road Nut Brown
Islander Double IPA
Lazy Frog IPA
Menemsha Creek Pale Ale
Great Rock Night IPA
Miss Behavin’ Winter Warmer
Offshore brews on-Island and savors its local roots. Each fall, Atkins teams up with local hops growers to produce the annual and eagerly anticipated Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale. Tie-ins with local radio station WMVY result in the seasonal Blue Lobster, with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting the broadcasting beacon.
If you’re looking for great beer (and a pizza or burger), stop in at Offshore and you’ll be happy you did. Ask for Erik, and watch out for the nuts — those with peanut allergies should head to other watering holes.
Offshore Ale Co., 30 Kennebec Ave, Oak Bluffs. offshoreale.com. 508-693-2626. (Open year-round.)
“I’ve only been in love with a beer bottle and a mirror.” –Sid Vicious
Bad Martha (a.k.a. the Beer Garden)
Tucked away in picturesque Edgartown, the Bad Martha brewery looks more like a Cape Cod farmhouse then it does your daddy’s dive bar. Unlike Offshore, Bad Martha focuses exclusively on beer, and that focus seems to be paying off.
The company is opening a second brewery in Falmouth this summer, and boasts some creative collaborations, including a jalapeño-cucumber lager in association with neighboring Morning Glory Farm, and it looks to Chilmark Roasters for its Wicked Coffee Porter.
If you’re looking for a perfect Vineyard day, park your pooch on the patio (there’s seating for 32 humans and animals), catch some summer rays, and enjoy the live music. Outdoor games are also on the menu at Bad Martha, along with staples like Martha’s Vineyard Ale and 508 IPA.
Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery. 270 Upper Main Street, Edgartown. badmarthabeer.com. 508-939-4415. (Seasonal.)
“There is no such thing as a bad beer. It’s that some taste better than others.” –Billy Carter
Wash Ashore (a.k.a. the Beer on a Mission)
The term “wash ashore” is affectionately defined by Urban Dictionary as “a newcomer to a coastal or island community,” but this Wash Ashore might be here to stay. A co-venture between Island restaurateurs and business owners, partner Joe Monteiro is quick to explain this eclectic entry was founded as “a way to make a difference in the world.”
The difference he’s talking about is not just happy customers who sip the cans cultishly at harbor hotspots like Coop DeVille, but nonprofit causes tethered to each beer.
Sales of Maya Mae IPA (named after Monteiro’s mastiff) benefit local animal shelters, Buddha Pale Ale supports Buddhist monasteries, and Boy Meets Boy and Girl Meets Girl Love Ales assist organizations that support the LGBTQ community.
Wash Ashore may not have its own outpost (yet), but if you look closely, you’ll find their products turning up at more and more local pubs and liquor outlets.
Find out more about this beer by searching on Facebook.
“For a quart of Ale is a dish for a king.” –William Shakespeare
The Homebrewers (a.k.a. the Secret Society)
Last but not least, the homebrewers represent a subterranean Island culture that prides itself both on quality and secrecy. Illegal until 1978, homebrewing has since swept the nation, riding the coattails of — or perhaps heralding — the ubiquitous craft beer movement.
The guru of Island homebrewing, Oberon York, granted a rare interview for the purposes of this article. “I got into it as a science wonk,” York confesses. “And I’m not getting any trophies. But I do make a decent beer.”
York’s beer-naming system is as quirky as any on the Island, christening beers after pop culture references, à la the Infinite Improbability IPA (from Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) and Poor Byron’s Pills, an homage to Byron Hadley, a character from the film “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Want a taste of Team Ticket USA or Honey Hef-A-Wheatie? Good luck! As one of Oberon’s associates, Dave Crawford, admits, “You can’t really sell homebrew. That would be like moonshining. Usually, I give it to friends, colleagues, or take it to a party or dinner event. It’s a way better gift than a bottle of wine.”
“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” –Martin Luther
With four solid pillars — and a nascent craft beer festival (mvcraftbeer.com) — the little Island that could is fermenting on all cylinders. Ready to imbibe some local libations? In the spirit of Samuel Adams, it’s your patriotic duty!