Over the past couple of years, the East End has seen tremendous growth in the craft beer scene.
On Friday, July 20, East Hampton Library’s Tom Twomey Series will explore the industry’s rapid growth during Craft Brewing Out East: A Panel Discussion and Tasting with Vaughan Cutillo of Montauk Brewery Company (MBC), Richard Vandenburgh of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and Lauri Spitz of Moustache Brewing Company. Charles Collins will host the conversation, and also serve as moderator.
We caught up with Cutillo about the Brewery’s massive social media following, a surprise visit from Lady Gaga, MBC’s popular mascot, the future, and more.
Back in 2012, when you, Eric Moss and Joe Sullivan founded Montauk Brewing Company, the craft beer scene on the East End was pretty bleak. What do you think attributed to the boom in local breweries?
VC: I think across the country New York is certainly behind in terms of craft beer. We were fortunate because we identified it was coming this way, but also I think we’re young guys and we pay attention to quality and the story and I think now more than ever people are really interested and focused on local and quality ingredients – whether it be a restaurant, fine dining, seafood, you’re going to pay a little more to get a better product. So we saw that void. There’s Southampton Publick House, they’re out here in Southampton, obviously, and there was nothing on the eastern end. We’re also from the town, so we wanted to stay here and create something community oriented and the Brewery was just a perfect venue to do that.
Now, you guys started brewing in a basement. How do you go from at home brewing to the massive operation you’ve created?
VC: We started home brewing around 2010 in my basement about a mile from where the Brewery is today, and it was certainly a hobby. The beer has gotten a lot better since then. The commercial equipment we’re using is top of the line and we invested heavily in those kinds of controls and equipment. It’s been a learning curve. This is our first business venture. We’ve seen tremendous growth locally and also in the five boroughs. It’s a little bit of trial by fire. Eric’s our brewmaster and he’s basically self-taught, which is really amazing. He’s a craftsman at heart and a very handy guy. He has some really great talents in brewing. It’s really amazing what he’s been able to do.
You guys do so many seasonals, too, which makes it tempting to visit the Taproom often to see what’s on tap.
VC: The fun thing about the Taproom is that it’s a small space. We have a variety of beers on tap – we try to keep our core beers, Wave Chaser, Summer and Watermelon, on tap throughout the season and everything starts in the taproom. Whether it be Wave Chaser, Summer, Watermelon, or Driftwood, they all started small scale, and if they perform well in the Taproom, we’re always open to scaling that up. That’s the beauty of that little Taproom and also during the summer season Eric is so slammed that he’s brewing basically a variety of those core beers, but the offseason is fun – the fall, winter, and spring – because we have a little more flexibility with tank space and Eric can really try out new experimental ingredients and hops and try new style. So, that’s really the fun part about coming to the Brewery and experiencing it.
What’s the span of where MBC is available?
VC: We are selling a lot of beer to a big population, but in a small territory. That’s really our business plan. We’re only available in the five boroughs, Westchester, and Long Island. The goal there is to really dig deep. We don’t want to open up new markets just to open up new markets. We really want to develop and cultivate where we are now. Quite frankly, we’re just doing our best to not run out of stock because our fans are super loyal and I think the cans stand out on shelves. We’re really focused on where we are now. We’ve seen tremendous growth and we don’t have any plans to open up new markets. We get a lot of requests though from all over.
Montauk Brewing Company has had some pretty awesome moments over the past couple of years – from being featured on Mornings with Maria during the U.S. Open, as well as The Affair and Girls, and you also have some pretty notable fans like Amy Schumer. Is there any moment in particular that stands out or you’re most proud of?
VC: This whole venture has been really rewarding and I think it’s just been a group of small wins throughout the past six years, from opening up the Taproom, to getting the permits. Actually, Lady Gaga was at the Brewery last week. I went up to her, introduced myself as one of the founders. She immediately was like, “Can I get a tour?” So I showed her the back and the Taproom, which is pretty unique because that’s marketing that money can’t buy. It’s organic and natural, so that was cool. But, it’s been a lot of small wins. Even just getting to a point where you’re able to hire employees and hire locals. That was super rewarding for Eric and I to be able to do that.
How many employees do you guys have?
VC: We have 12 fulltime employees right now. We’re selling a lot of beer, we’re growing fast, but we’re fairly lean and mean. We have an awesome group, from Erin Burns who runs our Taproom and events to Riley Sullivan who is our assistant brewer. We have five sales reps – two in New York City and three on Long Island (not including myself). It’s become a really tight-knit family, which is really fun to see.
Montauk Brewing Company has amassed quite the social media following. How does that play into your marketing strategy?
VC: I run all that – the dog and all the photos. The white golden is mine. That’s kind of taken on a mind of its own and it’s all about staying true to who we are. It’s not focused solely on beer. It certainly is about quality beer, but it’s more about the lifestyle of Montauk and living here. It works tremendously well. For one, it’s free. We don’t spend money on advertising, so Instagram, Facebook, mostly Instagram, it drives sales, it drives people to festivals we’re at, to new accounts, and really keeps people engaged with the brand.
Your dog is the cutest and so sweet.
VC: Thank-you. It’s funny, people will come to the Brewery, strangers, and Sky will be up in the office and they’ll walk right up to me and say, “Where’s the dog?” And I’m like, “Excuse me?” And they tell me they’re literally going to leave the Brewery if I don’t bring her out. It’s really funny how it’s turned into a thing. She’s certainly our mascot at this point.
How did you guys come up with your motto, “Come as you are”?
VC: We came up with that shortly after opening up the Taproom. It certainly is a nod to the community and to the space that we’ve created. It’s a small taproom, but it’s certainly fan engaging and a very friendly, welcoming environment. We noticed throughout the years that people were coming from all over the world, people of different backgrounds, men, women, so it was really exciting to see that. It’s basically come as you are, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, come to Montauk Brewing Company, celebrate with our beer and become part of the family. It’s more than beer at that point. We want people to feel like they’re part of our story and part of our growth and “come as you are” functioned perfectly for that.
It seems as though every benefit I go to this summer, there’s Montauk Brewing Company beers. As East End natives, how important was it for you to have a big presence at local community events?
VC: That was critical. From day one, part of our business plan was to support the community and give back anyway we could – whether it be using our space to host a fundraiser for the community or partnering with local charities with product. I don’t think we would be successful, in fact, I know we wouldn’t be successful in Manhattan if we didn’t embrace the community that we call home. That was certainly very important for us.
What are your hopes for the future?
VC: The business has evolved pretty drastically within the past five or six years. I knew we were onto something on day one, but to see the growth and adding fans every single day, it’s been really rewarding. We want to keep doing what we’re doing and keep focused on being local and stay true to who we are and keep the grassroots marketing going and see where we go.
Admission to the Tom Twomey Series is free, however RSVPing in advance is recommended. A complimentary tasting of each brewery’s offerings will take place in the Library’s courtyard after the panel. Craft Brewing Out East will begin at 6 p.m.
The East Hampton Library is located at 159 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, visit tomtwomeyseries.org.