NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new start-ups, businesses and openings in the New York City area. This is a special summer edition, so we decided what better way to celebrate summer than to go out to Montauk and we’re here with one of the co-founders of the Montauk Brewery, Vaughan Cutillo. Thank you for stepping on to New York Launch Pod Vaughan.
Vaughan: Yeah. Thanks a lot for having me, really exciting to share our story of our start-up an experience. We’re New York’s eastern most brewery so it’s a unique space out here and summer’s perfect time to experience it.
NYLP: And we’re here in Montauk right now.
Vaughan: We are at the brewery. We are sitting in our tap room right in the center of Montauk Village.
NYLP: What is the address?
Vaughan: So we are sitting at 62 South Erie Avenue in Montauk, New York. We’re about 200 yards north of the circle right in the center of the town. So we have great real estate and we’re right next to shops and restaurants, but within walking distance to the beach.
NYLP: So where did the idea for the Montauk Brewery come from?
Vaughan: It goes back to about 2009, Joe, Eric, and myself were in Montauk and just after college, we started home brewing. Eric is our brew master, and he was out in University of Colorado Boulder and learned home brewing. So he had the initial experience of brewing. We all grew up together out here. We were friends for as long as I can remember, grew up on the beaches out here, we were lifeguards for East Hampton Town for about 10 years together out in Montauk. So we go back a long way before we started the business together. But we started home brewing and we built a little home brew kit, and we were in my basement 2009 and we bought a kegerator and put a sticker on it back then that’s at Montauk Brewing Company. It was kind of a funny thing I don’t think any of our friends knew what to expect or whatever but we know were sharing really good beer that we were making extremely small batch, five gallons at a time.
So we’d have at summer just like today, it’s sunny out, warm temperatures are perfect for outdoor barbecues. So we have a ton of friends over, and we’d share beer, and that triggered a light bulb moment went off and we said, we all had that entrepreneurial spirit, but also craft beer is now more than ever exploding all over the country and in the world actually. So we’re in a good position and I owe a lot to good timing, and having luck on our side. So we officially open the brewery in 2012, June 30th 2012 right here in the same building that we’re sitting in. It took us about three years to get the permits in place to do this. There was no brewery in town code, so we had to write that. The town was supportive, but it takes a lot of time to do this kind of thing. But we got it done, and now we’re here brewing quality beer. That’s our number one, even going back to home brewing, quality is the number one concern of ours. We want to share the best beer we can with our fans.
NYLP: So it’s a big jump to go from home brewing five gallons at a time to starting your own brewery. What made you think, “Okay, we can open a brewery from home brewing”.
Vaughan: You know what? I think, like I said, luck is on our side, we also have the right people in place, it was the right team. A lot of good brand identity with the name Montauk, we knew that, but also the story is very authentic. We were brewing a mile from where we’re sitting right now in my basement right in Montauk, we’re born and raised here. So that adds to the story and the history. It’s not just the brand name, Montauk, we love the town and we want to get back to the town. So we were confident that it would work. It was not easy. Nothing is easy. It’s very risky to go out and do this, we just know that the brand had that magic I think, and we wanted to do right by it and right by our fans, and launch the brewery.
NYLP: And where are the beers brewed?
Vaughan: I’ll give you the tour while we’re here. You can poke your head right in the back. We have a seven barrel brew house, right here in Montauk.
NYLP: They’re all brewed on site?
Vaughan: We do most of it on the site, we do have facility offsite. Every recipe starts here, but as a way, we launched the brand and it took off ahead of us, which is a great problem to have. But this building in town doesn’t lend itself to a lot of space, so we did have to go off site and do some of the other beers off site, but we do…like I said, all recipes start here, we play around with local ingredients, and Eric is busy back there pretty much daily really just tweaking recipes and brewing the best beers he can.
NYLP: How many beers do you have right now?
Vaughan: Right now we’re sitting in a tap room, we have six beers on tap that we’re always rotating. We do have our two year-round beers, Driftwood Ale which is an English style pale ale. That was our first beer that we ever came out with. And then our Session IPA is another year- round that we always have in the tasting room. And then the other four are constantly rotating. Right now we have a Watermelon Session Ale, a summer ale, a double IPA, we have stouts. We rotate through a lot of different styles in here.
NYLP: Watermelon Session Ale, sounds pretty interesting.
Vaughan: It’s really good. It started out as, you know, we wanted something that just screamed summer time. Eric has been thinking about brewing with fruits and thinking about that so we thought what better way to have the summer beer on tap than to do a Watermelon Session? It’s really nice, it’s a light, easy drinking beer, but full-flavored. It’s really pretty awesome.
NYLP: Well, we’re going to have to try that after the interview.
Vaughan: We absolutely will.
NYLP: So what’s the key to a good beer?
Vaughan: A good beer is mostly cleaning and sanitizing. I’ll give you the tour of the brewery, clean floors, Eric is busy back there constantly keeping the space immaculate which is really important. You don’t want any infected bacteria getting into the beer or anything. So cleaning and sanitizing is number one, is Eric’s number one concern. You can taste it in the beers, all the beers are very crisp, flavorful. So other than cleanings and sanitizing, it’s using the best ingredients possible. We do source some local ingredients when we can. It’s limited out here to to do that, but we’re concerned with using the right hops. Water is very important so we have town water out here, so we filter everything a few times. The water quality out here is pretty good, but it really comes down to cleaning, ingredient selection, and then good water.
NYLP: And then how do you make it taste good from there?
Vaughan: That’s the trick, right? I think good beer, it’s also…We’re sitting in the tap room and we have the six beers on tap. And you’re not going to please everyone. That’s the kind of fun thing about having the tap room. Some people love IPAs, really hoppy, bitter beers, some people don’t like them. So the nice thing is we can feature beers that really touch on different styles that if you don’t like one you might most likely are going to like a few of the other ones. But really individual taste is a funny thing. Like I said, you can’t please everyone but we’re extremely proud of all the liquids. So whether it be our beer Summer Ale, it’s nice, light bodied, easy drinking beer, we have a Double IPA on tap right now that’s 7.5% alcohol, but really nice bitterness, higher IBUs and really proud of that one. So it’s all about variety and the fun thing about the tap room is we can honor our fans by gauging their experience with different beers. So if we put a beer on tap that we’re unsure about, we’ll get a lot of feedback pretty quickly from our fans. And it’s all positive.
I love people that come in and critique a beer because that means they’re thinking and they’re experiencing the beer, it’s not just drinking beer. So I really love hearing what our fans have to say about different styles.
NYLP: And beer, as a category and just beverages, there are a lot of people in the market. You’re the marketing person. How are you differentiating Montauk Brewing Company and the beers that you have, and what’s been some of the obstacles that you’ve had?
Vaughan: Sure. That’s a great question. And it really goes back to how we started the company. Grassroots, we’re a tiny company. We do have the great name Montauk, but we really stay true. Our first kegs were delivered by a bike and a keg trailer that we literally loaded a keg on one at a time and we drive around to local accounts. We don’t advertise really at all, it’s basically been a lot of Instagram and social media has helped us tremendously. It’s free as well, so that’s nice for a start-up company, but it reaches…Our fan base, you know, we have 25,000 people following us on Instagram, mostly in the New York area, and it really…It’s fun for me being at the helm of that and seeing people posting pictures of themselves holding the Summer Ale can, or celebrating in the city with our beer. It’s really an exciting thing and it all goes back to keeping that family vibe. It’s the come as you are is our tagline. And we really mean that. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, come to Montauk Brewing Company, celebrate with really quality beers. We don’t have a TV by design in the tasting room and it’s all about conversation and meeting people. Sitting out front, we have big communal tables, you can do a flight. We want people actually speak to each other, it’s really kind of exciting thing that we’ve created here. And I think that’s why people have really latched onto the brand because we’re trying to honor them and keep it a fun active brand identity.
NYLP: And speaking of outside, it looks like they’re actually setting out for an event outside right now.
Vaughan: They are yeah. We we have what’s called “Breathe and Brews,” which is our first one, it’s a local yoga class Well Within is actually setting up right now. So we do a hour long free yoga class followed by a pint in the brewery. So it’s really fun for us to highlight the active lifestyle. We do a Bells and Brews course which is a free kettle bell class taught by a professional trainer out here. A company called Truth Training, they come in pretty much every Sunday. The fun thing about beer is it’s all about celebration. So you can…whether it’s a celebrating bike ride, go surf, stand up paddle boarding, you can always finish that off with a quality craft beer and our beers are a testament to that and the active lifestyle.
NYLP: And did you always have the idea for the tap room as being the central component to the brewery or was it mainly to brew beers?
Vaughan: No, we wanted to create more of a community space. We have a lot of fundraising events here. Our goal here was to give back to the community. And the tasting room is, the tap room is a perfect venue for that. It’s small but it’s kind of a beautiful little space that, you know, right in downtown Mountauk. You can poke your head in and see the brewery. It lends itself to having a nice little tap room.
NYLP: You’ve got a beautiful copper bar right here.
Vaughan: Yeah. We actually, we’ve built everything here. Eric, our brew master, is the craftsman of the bunch, he built the bar. Yeah, we have not done any cleaning to the copper bar either since we started. So it’s kind of showing the age over time. It’s kind of cool.
NYLP: And what’s it like doing business out here in Montauk, because it’s kind of a funky town. You mentioned that you and your co-founders grew up here, but for business, generally, and businesses, it seems like it’s a unique environment where it’s certainly not commercial, but we’re
kind of out here and there are full time residents here, but also a big summer crowd.
NYLP: Right. Montauk is certainly a resort town, it’s a 3 month town to do 12 months of business. So it is a challenge for a lot of people to have businesses out here. Luckily, a lot of people come out for the high summer season. But yeah, Montauk in the fall and spring is beautiful, it’s…I think the fall is the best time of year to come out here. It’s a little quieter, the stores are still open, but growing up out here you just get used to, the sleepy winter months are kind of a time to recharge and get ready for what will be another busy season.
NYLP: Have you ever had any run-ins with the town?
Vaughan: No, no. Like I said, we try to do right by them, and we went through all the steps to get this permitted properly and we close at 8:00 every day during the summer. So it’s not a late night spot. We like to send people to local restaurants that carry our beers. So if you want to keep drinking, if you want to have great food, we have menus in here from all our local restaurants or shops that we can send people to. So we really want to stay on good terms with the town being one but also our local accounts.
NYLP: And where are you distributed?
Vaughan: We started a distribution 2012 to Long Island mostly local East End. We self-distributed for about a year and a half and then we opened up Nassau and Suffolk County shortly after, 2013. And then we just launched actually the New York City market, so Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Westchester, and Staten Island last October, draft only, and then March 7th of this year we launched with the Montauk cans in the city.
So we’re in Whole Foods, Gristedes, a lot of bodegas. It’s really been exciting. I do sales and marketing here and it’s been fun to see people drinking beer in possibly the biggest market in the world. I mean Manhattan is just a huge market, so we want to make sure we do right by that market, our local backyard, Long Island, and really cultivate the company, dig deep not wide. So we want to make sure we’re doing right by all our accounts and our current market.
NYLP: And what’s some of the obstacles in terms of distribution?
Vaughan: The biggest thing for us, which is exciting, is trying not to run out. I pretty much keep my finger on the pulse of inventory levels. Every morning I get a report and it’s a testament to our accounts and our fans that are really kind of loving the brand and loving the beer and stocking up drastically, way more drastically that we had ever imagined. So we don’t want to run out of beer, so we’re constantly increasing production which is really great. Keeping quality consistently good across the board, but not running out is probably the biggest obstacle, but also the size of the city market. In Long Island, it’s a 100 miles, so there’s a lot of accounts and being a small company we like to touch each of those accounts and do right by servicing these accounts the proper way and making sure that we do right by everybody who is supporting us.
NLYP: So right now your biggest problem in terms of distribution is just keeping up with inventory?
Vaughan: Yeah, it is, to be honest. It’s a great problem to have, I’m not complaining about that obstacle, it’s really been exciting to…and like I said, we’re still very much a grassroots company, but we’re honored that people are stocking up and it’s exciting for us to have to change a brew schedule and adding a lot of brew days based on people stocking up on our beer.
NLYP: So how many beers are you making at this point for distribution?
Vaughan: Right now we have two year round styles, the Driftwood Ale and our Session IPA. We have that in draft and cans throughout Long Island and the city. Right now we have our Montauk Summer Ale, which we to call it the official beer of summers in Montauk and everywhere, which is kind of funny but it’s somewhat true, I think. But we do that can only, we don’t have that on draft at all. It’s a, I guess a little bit of a branding thing. If you want to go to the beach or go out on a boat, you don’t want a glass or anything. So we’re just keeping it in cans and then we rotate through a seasonal beer called our Hop Blonde Ale which is similar to a pilsner style light, easy drinking, that comes in after the summer. And then we have our Arrowhead Irish Red Ale, and that’s the red can and that’s our winter into spring seasonal. So we always want, you can I have a can sitting up on the the display up there and there’s five cans. We have two year-round and then one is always filling, so we always have three on shelves. And then we’re always experimenting as we have the beers in the tap right now, we’re always experimenting and sending a few kegs out. It’s usually very rare beer if you find our one off’s are kind of limited liquid kegs only, no cans. So if you do find that in the city, certain accounts, Blind Tiger, Pony Bar, some really crafty places have those kegs from time to time.
NYLP: And how much of all these beers are you making?
Vaughan: We’re making a lot of it. Last year we…we’re making a lot of it. Way more than day one I’ll tell you that.
NYLP: What’s the hardest part of starting a brewery?
Vaughan: The regulations, you have to get a lot of permits from your local township and the federal government, state, county. So there’s just a lot of tiers, you have to make sure you do the proper things early on to get yourself set up right so you don’t have any hiccups along the way. I think also just being able to, especially being small, you have to be quick. So being able to make certain business decisions on the fly and constantly adapt to what the market throws at you, just keep going and just progress every day and just put your heart and soul into it, I think.
NYLP: How seasonal are your sales?
Vaughan: The nice thing about this, the tap room slows down a lot during the off season. We’re making a product so we don’t have to rely on people coming to us. So sales have been growing pretty dramatically since day one. Launching in the city has obviously helped that year round big market. Tuesday night could be just as busy as a Friday night in the city. So that has helped us dramatically.
NYLP: And I love your logo.
Vaughan: Thank you. Yeah, that started, so a friend of ours did the initial arrowhead design for us and that was a way to honor the local Montauk Indians. There’s a lot of Indian heritage out there. I love the idea of an arrow head because it’s something you can hold, it’s an artifact, kind of a bold throwback logo. And then our cans are these bright colored nautical themed flags. We wanted something very simple, elegant design but something that functioned as a billboard effect. We worked with a firm in the city to do that for us and it was really a hands on exciting process for us because they came out, spent some time with us, our friends, and really dove into what Montauk truly was. And they came back and we initially saw the yellow X for our Driftwood Ale and everyone just locked onto that and they were like, “That’s it.” So it’s
evolved over time, but it really is a way for us to honor the ocean lifestyle, and then also the Indian heritage.
NYLP: So you and your co-founders are from the area and Montauk’s very central to your brand. What does Montauk mean to you guys and the company?
Vaughan: Sure. Growing up out here you…it’s definitely, you know, being a resort town it’s exciting to see the influx of big money and celebrities and all that is kind of cool, but we love the fact that it’s a little fishing village so the personalities in this town are second to none, there are a lot of interesting artists and writers and really a gritty bunch that live out here year around and we’re honored to be able to provide beer to them in January and February when there’s two feet of snow on the ground. Everybody still working. People are out fishing in gale force winds and that’s a testament to the rugged lifestyle out here. I love the people out here. I love being part of the community.
NYLP: What do you want the Montauk Brewery to become?
Vaughan: It’s evolved since day one, so I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings. Like I said, we don’t advertise so it’s really been a gradual, organic growth for us. So we want to just keep sharing more beer with more people every day, and just do right by our fans, and like I said, not run out, but we’ll see. It’s an exciting time for the company. We’re growing dramatically, and we’re just going to do the right things to keep growing.
NYLP: But you don’t set any goals in terms of, “We want to do this, we want this sort of distribution.”
Vaughan: We do. I mean we want to be growing at a rate that we don’t run out and keep the brand momentum going, so that’s my job is to kind of stoke that fire and keep everybody engaged and active, and kind of loving the brand. in terms of size, we don’t want to get too big, we want to make sure we do right by our local businesses, but also our New York City market and just do right by everybody that’s supporting us.
Vaughan: You started out, the three of you guys, how big are you now?
Vaughan: We have a few, you met Ashley, and we have Erin Burns who’s kind of our tasting room person. So it’s still very small, it’s three of us, we had our first sales rep, we had our New York City Sales Rep, Luis Jimenez, who came aboard right when we launched last fall and adding that was the turning point for us where having somebody…And he and I work very closely together in the city. It’s been awesome to see the momentum of the brand, but to see him, he hustles more than anybody I know. People love him, he knows craft beer better than most people. So it’s been fun to add a couple people here and there, but we’re still very small. It’s, you know, a very much grassroots start-up with a lot of momentum behind us.
NYLP: And how often you have the beer?
Vaughan: You know, it’s all about moderation. I love our beer, so I do celebrate with it often. You know, it’s sunny out today, it’s Memorial Day weekend so you know what better way to celebrate that than to have a pint of Montauk Watermelon Session, our Summer Ale, but yeah, we love celebrating with our beer for sure.
NYLP: How do people find out more about you and Montauk Brewing Company?
Vaughan: Sure. So we have a great website where you can check out our online store and the history of the brewery. We have a neat little beer finder so if you’re looking for us our website is montaukbrewingco.com. And then you can also, the best way to follow us about events and see what the brand is doing is to follow us on Instagram, Facebook @Montaukbrewco.
NYLP: Well, that’s a great point to wrap things up. Vaughan Cutillo, thank you for stepping out to the New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us.
Vaughan: Thank you so much for having me, Hal, it’s been a really great experience and I look forward to sharing more beer with all our fans.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod you can visit nylaunchpod.com or follow NYLaunch Pod on social media.SHARE THIS: