Good brewing with Bad Martha

How does beer get made on Martha’s Vineyard?

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Fun fall flavors have arrived at Bad Martha Brewing Co., and guess who got to learn how they’re made? Yes, you guessed it — me. Once again I got to do something pretty freakin’ cool for the “Teach Me” series. Hanging out on the Vineyard has taught me a lot, but there was quite a large gap in my knowledge: Beer.

I was able to connect with the folks at Bad Martha to take an afternoon and learn how the brewing process is done.

The brewing process begins with milling your malt. Barley is one of the most commonly used in craft breweries, but wheat and rye are also common. The malt is crushed in the mill, and then mixed with very hot water to begin mashing. This mashing business is done inside the aptly named mash tun, a rather large container.

Mashing creates a sweet extract called wort, which is drained into the kettle to be boiled. The excess spent grains go to local farmers for livestock feed.

Then the boiling begins. The boiling of the wort is responsible for pasteurizing, and it’s when hops are added.

Hops added earlier will boil longer and will increase the bitterness, whereas hops added later and boiled for less time will make the beer less bitter. Boiling is also the stage where other flavors can be added, such as blueberry, honey, and others. 

My favorite part of this entire process was most definitely the mashing and boiling, because it adds a sweet bakery aroma to the entire room. Also the Bad Martha crew was wicked cool, and let me up on the mash tun to mix the concoction, which made me feel like I was making a bowl of oatmeal for a giant.

I was reminded of my days as a baker, where you could taste sugar in the air of the bakery, kind of like that sugar storm scene in “Gone Girl” where Rosamund Pike’s character tells of the time Ben Affleck’s character took his date behind a bakery where sugar was being delivered and kissed her. (Affleck’s character ended up paying dearly for that because, well, you should just watch the movie.) 

Next step is fermentation. The wort is cooled off so that yeast can be added. Since yeast is alive, it is a little picky about the temperature that it lives in. (Why do we New Englanders suffer such long winters?) With the yeast in the cooled wort, the brewers wait a few days to let things ferment. The yeast consumes the sugar from the mash process, and turns it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Bad Martha has two types of brewing yeast: ale yeast for fruity flavors, and lager yeast for a cleaner, less complex beer. Then comes conditioning, so the beer can mellow out.

The last step is to grab a glass and pour a tall one from the tap, or crack open a bottle and drink.

This reporter was able to try his hand at making the Mischievous Mermaid IPA, a 7.7 percent ABV New England–style IPA, earlier in the summer. It’s described as a hazy, medium mouth-feel, packed with a big tropical and juicy aroma flavor. You’re in luck too, because it’s available at the brewery.

The fun fall flavors on deck are the Oktoberfest Märzen and the Pumpkin Ale.

The Oktoberfest is a 6.1 percent ABV, and is a management favorite. “Personally, it’s just one of my favorites for the season. It’s what I’m always drinking after work now,” head brewer Bryan Link said. “For the Oktoberfest, that’s a traditional German-style lager, so it’s a little bit malty with a nice bit of hop bitterness, and a little bit of aroma to kind of back it up … It’s a really well-balanced beer.”

The Pumpkin Ale is a 6 percent ABV made up of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, and pumpkin. When the pumpkin ale begins brewing on-Island, Bad Martha’s will use pumpkins from Morning Glory Farm. The brewing process differs slightly for the pumpkin ale. “For the pumpkin ale, we add the pumpkins into our mash, and it makes a much thicker mash,” Link said.

Link is joined by Cal Scarfone in Edgartown and Cam Carter in Falmouth in creating the tasty seasonal brews. Both beers are available at both Bad Martha locations, ready to serve.

Bad Martha has other beers in its repertoire like the Coffee Porter, made with Chilmark Coffee; the Beach Plum Dubbel, aged with Island beach plums harvested by the FARM Institute; and the Oyster Stout, made with local Cottage City Oysters.

Bad Martha Brewery, 270 Upper Main St., Edgartown. Open through October, and for Christmas in Edgartown. 508-939-4415; badmarthabeer.com/brewery.