Whether it’s tangy sumac harvested from the coastal trails of Long Point, or salty sea pickles picked from the marshlands of Felix Neck, the ingredients used in Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery beers are fresh, unique, and locally sourced.
Although the Edgartown brewery and restaurant has always incorporated local ingredients into most of its beers, wholesome pizzas, and light bites, the upcoming season’s run is a special one.
Bad Martha is launching an ambitious initiative for its 2022 season — partnering with Island farms, businesses, and land organizations to bring more than 10 new handcrafted beers and hard seltzers to its repertoire. Signature ingredients are taken from Island farms, woodlands, waters, and more, all as part of a community collaboration that creates a circle of reciprocity around good beer and good food. Bad Martha’s slew of partnerships includes Morning Glory Farm, Martha’s Vineyard Coffee Co., Cottage City Oysters, Felix Neck, the FARM Institute, Long Point, Martha’s Vineyard Nuts, and more.
The Times stopped by the brewery on a breezy day to speak to some of the folks who turn the fresh ingredients from all over the Island into signature beer and food. Brewer Cal Scarfone tried to recall the first beer ever brewed by Bad Martha using local foodstuffs as the primary source. “I think it was one of the pumpkin beers, because that’s one of the first seasonal specials we put out, but it’s going back a while,” Scarfone said. “We would always use those Morning Glory Farm pumpkins.”
Scarfone said the Beach Plum Dubbel — a September brew that corresponds with the blooming of the Morning Glory beach plums — was also an early experiment that ended up being wildly popular. Now the unique and punchy beer is made largely from FARM Institute beach plums, where Scarfone’s fiance Lilly Robbins runs education and programming. “Sometimes they do programming at Felix Neck, too, and she’ll come back with all this stuff she picked on a foraging trip,” Scarfone laughed. “I’ll be like, ‘Hmm, let me try some of that out.’ It’s really cool how many things are out and about that you could eat, or make beer out of.”
For Bad Martha, Morning Glory holds a treasure trove of garnishes and flairs of taste for many menu items, but it all depends on what’s growing. Scarfone finds many different ingredients there to concoct his beer recipes: plump and juicy strawberries for the Strawberry Blonde Ale and upcoming strawberry seltzers, and all sorts of fresh herbs to implement in seltzers and brews that need that extra kick. “I love the mint, basil, the lemon balm — all that kind of stuff. Just that little extra flavoring does a lot,” Scarfone said.
Morning Glory is also providing summer squash for a Summer Squash beer, along with cucumbers and jalapeños for the ever-popular Shark Bite (coming in August) — a crisp and spicy German-style lager with a refreshing finish.
Another bountiful Bad Martha partnership is with Cottage City Oysters, and with owners Dan and Greg Martino, who were excited to supply the occasional oyster or two (or more) for a hearty and full-bodied Oyster Stout. The strange brew is extremely popular, especially with oyster lovers, who Scarfone recommends should pair the beer with the real deal for an unbeatable experience. “I’ve been kind of owning that one. It definitely throws people off, because it’s made with whole oysters, but it’s more of a beer to be paired with oysters,” Scarfone explained. He said working with the Martino brothers and learning more about oyster farming is just one joy of the job at the farmer’s brewery.
One exciting new brew to debut at Bad Martha is the Bourbon Street Coffee Porter — a sharp yet smooth beer brewed with M.V. Coffee Co., whole-bean Island Blend coffee, and aged with Woodford Reserve–soaked oak barrel chunks over the winter. Scarfone said this year’s batch came out nice, thanks in large part to the quality of the Island-ground coffee beans. “The level of quality with local ingredients is so much higher. It’s not going stale in a truck somewhere; this stuff is roasted right here — it’s very fresh.” Scarfone said.
For the farmer’s brewery, every opportunity to collaborate with a Vineyard business, farm, or organization is also a chance to gain access to some cool ingredients that make Bad Martha beer stand out. This year’s intriguing special run is a Gose Sour, made with the pioneer plant of the salt marsh — the sea pickle. This Sea Pickle Gose Sour uses sea pickles picked right from the spongy coasts of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. The sea pickles soak up all the saline from the brackish pond system, and give the brew a bold and salty tang.
The Sumac Pilsner, which comes out in September, is made using shining sumac from Long Point Wildlife Refuge. It’s an example of yet another partnership between the brewery and an Island organization, and according to Scarfone, the reason Bad Martha has been able to maintain a relatively normal modus operandi through the pandemic. “We functioned pretty normally, because we weren’t held up by all the distribution issues and other things with the supply chain,” he said. “I can drive right down the road and go check out whatever Morning Glory has or the FARM Institute has.”
Apart from providing stability in a tumultuous time, sourcing ingredients locally enables Bad Martha beer to get only the freshest of the fresh, which elevates the quality of the products to a whole new level. Additionally, Scarfone said, the beer and food menu showcases the cooperative nature of Island businesses and organizations, and all it takes is a trip to one of the wildlife refuges or one of the farms that supply Bad Martha to understand exactly where that particular ingredient comes from. “Someone might pick up our beer and say, ‘Oh, this is made with fruits from Morning Glory. Let’s go check that out,’” Scarfone said. “‘Oh, this sumac is from Long Point — I hear they are doing trail tours.’ Stuff like that.”
Bad Martha manager Mia Benedetto said the brewery and restaurant has relied on these kinds of close relationships for the past three years, particularly when dealing with so many other challenges like staffing shortages, the oscillation of COVID public health regulations, and the housing crisis. “Forming those relationships has created the farmer’s brewery that we are supposed to be — integrating those different local ingredients into most of our menu,” Benedetto said. “We are just very grateful to be able to continue every single day with them. It’s the magic behind the scenes that makes it all really special.”
According to Benedetto, this kind of community collaboration represents the close-knit nature of the Island, and benefits everyone involved. Those connections also allow for more collaborative projects in the future, Benedetto said. “Because of that, we are always experimenting with our beers. Even for the food, we get so many fresh garnishes, fruits, and vegetables. I pretty much just go over to one of the farms and look for anything colorful that would liven up a plate,” she said. For the Fourth of July, Benedetto will often shop around Morning Glory for vibrant red and blue fruits like strawberries and blueberries to stand in for the dried fruits they normally use in their food platters. For the cheese platter, Benedetto gets a number of the cheeses from the Gray Barn and Farm like lavish Eidolon, and the spicy beer mustard is made by the Scottish Bakehouse.
Since Bad Martha has a smaller food menu, Benedetto said she wants to include as many local ingredients as possible, just to show how committed the brewery is to local collaboration, and keeping the commerce on the Island. “I think customers really appreciate it. If people see cheese from the Gray Barn instead of just cheese from an online wholesaler, of course that stands out,” she said. “Everybody is giving back, we are giving back, so it’s this great cycle that really shows what can happen when we all work together.”
Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery is located at 270 Upper Main St. in Edgartown. Head to badmarthabeer.com for the complete list of beers, seltzers, food platters, and more.