In Sixth Summer, Montauk Brewing Company Is Going Strong
In its first summer, the Montauk Brewing Company sold about 535 barrels of beer to 17 restaurants, delivering the kegs by bicycle. Six years later, the company, founded by Montauk natives Eric Moss (brewmaster), Joe Sullivan, and Vaughn Cutillo (head of marketing), expects to sell about 40,000 barrels in hundreds of establishments.
But despite skyrocketing demand for craft beer and a quality product, the three friends have no ambitions for global domination. “We want to grow deeper,” said Mr. Cutillo, “not outwards.” While the colorful Montauk Brewing Company cans are almost ubiquitous on the East End, you won’t find them west of New York City or north of Westchester. Instead, the founders are sticking close to their roots.
They started their company with an entrepreneurial spirit and a common love for their community. All three grew up on the South Fork and graduated from the Montauk School. As many of their peers got sucked into a more cosmopolitan and industrial orbit, the friends looked to start a business that could become part of the fabric of the South Fork and allow them to stay here.
They were working for a solar panel installation company when they started brewing beer in Mr. Cutillo’s basement, just down the road from the brewing company’s tasting room.
As an economics major at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Mr. Moss learned the foundations of the brewing process from his roommate. Otherwise, he is completely self-taught, tweaking recipes little by little until finding the version he likes. The friends began by brewing small batches for themselves and their friends, and holding gatherings to share their creations. They saw the craft beer industry beginning to take off, and the beer went over so well it wasn’t long before they started writing “Montauk Brewing Company” on the kegs and quit their jobs to pursue the beer business full time.
They had trouble getting a bank loan, so Mr. Cutillo’s father let them use his old woodworking shop on South Erie Avenue, which looks a little like a big red barn, for tastings and small-batch test brews.
Mr. Moss would tweak recipes with input from the tastings until they met his standards and then send them to a contract brewer in Massachusetts. In 2015, they opened an extension to the old woodworking space to do their own brewing. At capacity, the in-house brewery produces about 5,000 kegs a year.
The partners opted for brightly colored cans, as opposed to bottles, because cans serve as better protection against sunlight and air and make for better drinking on the beach or the deck of a boat, where broken glass is a recipe for disaster. The bright colors give the cans a fun, summer-under-the-sun look.
Mr. Cutillo wants growth to be organic, driven by the quality of the product and not by a snappy advertising campaign. But even with a zero dollar marketing budget, demand has quickly outgrown the company’s limited space. With tens of thousands of barrels projected to be sold this summer, the partners went back to the contractors on a much bigger scale, though the in-house brewery still runs at capacity. Today, the Montauk Brewing Company produces five varieties: Driftwood Ale, Summer Ale, Wave Chaser India Pale Ale, Arrowhead Red Ale, and Session India Pale Ale.
The delivery bicycle evolved into brightly colored branded vans, with the same design as the cans. The vans even have four-wheel drive, and they cater clambakes.
“Quality is, of course, priority number one” says Mr. Cutillo, “but our biggest problem has been not running out of stock.”
The motto of the brewing company is “Come as you are.” It adorns their vans and welcome mats and hangs on a sign above the door at the tasting room. It reflects the uniquely Montauk attitude that the trio exude.
“This is a place for community gatherings,” says Mr. Cutillo of his father’s old woodworking shop, “it’s not a bar, we don’t sell food, and we close at 8. We don’t want to compete with local restaurants who serve our beer.”
The indoor space is reminiscent of a tasting kitchen, a place where local beer lovers can sample their newest creations. It is open year round, with space heaters on the patio in the colder months so that locals can still enjoy the outdoors while drinking their favorite Montauk ale. Their target demographics are younger families (Mr. Moss and Mr. Sullivan both have young children) and the older folk who live here all year.
In that spirit of community, the company plans to donate a portion of proceeds from their sixth-anniversary party on June 30 to the Bill O’Donnell Swim Scholarship fund through the Old Montauk Athletic Club, in memory of a friend’s father who died this spring.
The celebration will begin at noon. During the day, the partners will be auctioning off a custom beach cruiser bicycle and tapping their limited edition “six-year beer,” a pina colada brew that is sure to evoke notes of ocean sunshine and summer.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Joe Sullivan as the Montauk Brewing Company's C.E.O. Mr. Sullivan is a founder of the company but is no longer its C.E.O.