Montauk’s nickname, The End, affectionately refers to the alluring, seasonally driven hamlet’s location at the easternmost point of Long Island. During a recent conversation with Vaughan Cutillo, he proposed a similar one for Montauk Brewing Company, which he opened with two longtime friends in 2012: “The Start.”
Cutillo was referring to the long-awaited addition of a brewery at 62 South Erie Avenue, once the site of his father’s woodworking shop, where Montauk Brewing is headquartered.
The company, also owned by Joe Sullivan and Eric Moss, had contracted all production to another brewery (Butternuts Beer & Ale initially, then Wachusett Brewing Company) until this summer. While the partners continue to contract their core beers, which are packaged in draft and 12-ounce cans on at Wachusett, now they’re also making beer on their premises — newly designed recipes exclusive to their tasting room and select accounts on Long Island — using a brewing system that yields more than 200 gallons per batch.
Montauk’s tasting room has doubled as a gallery showcasing the work of local artists and photographers since opening, but one wall nearest its copper-topped bar that pours pints of Driftwood Ale, Arrowhead Irish Red Ale and Offland IPA for patrons has also featured a framed blueprint for the on-site brewery. “We kept that there to serve as a constant reminder of our goal here, which was to be making beer in Montauk one day. And to finally reach that goal, it’s a great thing,” Cutillo says.
We’ll offer a second part of our conversation, covering the brewery’s contracting and recent expansion of distribution to New York City, soon at Edible Manhattan. An edited and condensed version, about all-things-Montauk, is below.
Edible East End: Montauk is brewing in Montauk.
Vaughan Cutillo: Finally brewing in Montauk. [Laughs.]
EEE: What needed to be done to reach that point?
VC: There was a lot. It was a long road. The town of East Hampton didn’t have “brewery” in their code book, so we basically had to write a code for it over a period of about two years. That involved weekly planning board meetings, ARB meetings … There were a lot of meetings. Thankfully the town was always supportive of the plan, but with all the moving parts, it took a lot more time than we would’ve liked. But we’re here now and that’s what matters.
EEE: How was the community with all of it?
VC: They’ve always fully embraced us, and as locals ourselves who grew up here that feels great. We’re truly humbled. Without the support of the East End locals we wouldn’t be nearly as successful. It’s a loyal community and we’re proud to have a unique business here to honor them.
EEE: Tell me about the renovations.
VC: That was also a long road. This building was a woodworking shop before becoming a production brewery so it wasn’t exactly an overnight conversion from one to the other.
EEE: It was your father’s shop.
VC: Yeah. My parents built the building in 1996 and it was his shop, Montauk Woodwork. I remember as a kid the space was always filled with this awesome smell of sawdust and the sound of tools. When we came in we converted the cabinet showroom in the front into the tasting room. And the back area where the shop was, now that’s the brewery. To make the latter work we had to completely remove the wood floor joists and install steel I-beams, concrete decking, drains and septic. We had the entire place engineered to be a brewery. Our tanks weigh over 6,000 pounds when they’re filled, so we didn’t and couldn’t skimp on any design investment.
EEE: When did you start that work?
VC: I like to say we started working toward having a brewery here when we took over the place, which was in the summer of 2011. Demolition actually began in the fall and winter of 2014, after we secured the permits. And we installed the equipment in early 2015. A massive container was just dropped off in front of the brewery and we moved each piece into the space over a few days. Excited doesn’t do the feeling any justice at all.
EEE: Can you describe how it felt?
VC: It was incredible. Stress, happiness, jubilation … pretty much every emotion flowed through my body in those first few days. Think about planning for something to arrive for over three years, starting that plan in a basement with your best friends, and then finally opening a shipping container filled with massive steel tanks. It’s a unique feeling for sure.
EEE: When did you start brewing in Montauk?
VC: We made our first beer on July 8. It came out in August.
EEE: Evan’s Pale Ale?
VC: Right. It was a pale ale that we had never tested before. We kegged it on the same day that Joe’s [Sullivan, one of Montauk’s other partners] son was born. His name is Evan.
EEE: How did it come out?
VC: We really liked it, and it was really received well in the tasting room. We used Columbus and Falconer’s Flight hops in the recipe, so the beer had these nice citrus, grapefruit and tropical aromas. I think it was a natural fit for the first beer. We wanted to work out any issues with the system by brewing something fairly simple. But also we pushed ourselves to make something that we had never done before.
EEE: Eric is Montauk’s brewer and, until this summer, he was only brewing small pilot batches. How has he fared in the transition?
VC: It’s definitely been a learning curve for him, but he’s a true craftsman, a guy that likes to get his hands dirty no matter what, and I think he’s learning very quickly. He took the lead in the brewery and he’s already put out some incredible beers in just a few months. He spends a lot of time reading and researching, but it’s also about getting on the system and using it. That’s where I think he’ll be able to learn the most. He’s very critical of his work, so perfection isn’t the goal, it’s more about being better each time and learning from mistakes.
EEE: How many batches have you guys brewed?
VC: Eleven batches so far, and we’ve got a lot more planned. Like the pale ale, stuff that we’ve never made before.
EEE: Is that the plan for the kinds of beers you want to make in Montauk?
VC: Definitely. We’ll have Driftwood and Session IPA on draft all the time, but the other lines will be rotating beers we’ve made, limited, experimental, fun beers just to keep in the tasting room and send to a few nearby accounts. I think the tasting room is the perfect environment to gauge fan opinions. And if we get good feedback from a certain beer, we’ll brew more of it. It’s that simple.
EEE: Let’s talk about some of the new beers.
VC: We just put out our first pumpkin beer.
EEE: I’m looking on the brewery’s Instagram now. Pumptauk, right?
VC: Yep. We wanted a beer with subtle notes of spice, and one that wasn’t too sweet, which is a turnoff in a lot of pumpkin beers I’ve tasted. We used ginger and clove and a small amount of cinnamon. I’m happy about it, also because it’s changing the idea of Montauk only being a summer destination. Well, now we’re brewing fall seasonals in Montauk. Next year we’ll partner with some local farms to add fresh pumpkins in it. Another goal of ours is to source local whenever possible.
EEE: Like your new collaboration with Ace Coffee Company. Can you talk about that?
VC: Definitely. Ace is a cold-brew coffee company based on the island. We met their team a few years ago when we were going through our can design and brand campaign. They have a great vision and their passion really stood out to me, so it was a great fit.
EEE: How did you use the coffee?
VC: Eric brewed our Guardsman Stout as the base for the beer, and then he added about a gallon of Ace’s cold-brew concentrate to the bright tank after fermentation. The beer has coffee notes, but they’re subtle and don’t linger too long. It’s creamy, but light, a stout you could drink a lot of.
EEE: That’s pouring now?
VC: Yeah. We just tapped it.
EEE: Anything else you want to mention?
VC: We’ve been messing with adding beach plums that we harvest ourselves near the brewery to our Fishing Vessel Porter. We added some to a cask a few months ago but weren’t happy with the results, so we didn’t release it. But as a new brewery, that’s part of the process. We’re looking at the equipment as a test kitchen for new styles and small-batch beers, but also as an educational experience to learn and grow.