Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brewery Tour Stop #12: Mayflower Brewing Company

Egyptian servant pouring beer
I sometimes forget how significant of a role beer has played in world history. Beer recipes are found on Babylonian clay tablets from over 6,000 years ago. In the 13th century, it was customary to baptize children with beer. And in ancient times, monks who fasted or abstained from solid food subsisted on beer. 

Egyptian woman 
brewing beer.
There’s a seemingly endless number of noteworthy facts involving beer’s purpose and place in historical societies. The Egyptians often come up in these tales. For example, they used beer to treat over 100 illnesses in 1600 BC. But my favorite fact is that the Egyptian pyramids were essentially built on beer. Stonecutters, slaves, and public officials were paid in a type of beer called 'kash’, from which the word 'cash' originated. Two containers of ‘kash’ beer were minimum wage for an Egyptian laborer’s day of work.

I was reminded of beer’s place in history, specifically of its role on board the Mayflower ship, when DBNE recently visited Mayflower Brewing in Plymouth MA.

In 2007, Mayflower Brewing was founded by a tenth great grandson of John Alden. Mr. Alden built and tended to the wooden barrels which carried the Mayflower’s most precious cargo – many gallons of beer to sustain the Pilgrims on their journey to America. Beer was the staple drink on board the ship. Water became infected and spoiled quickly. Beer contained little-to-no bacteria, and hops (new to the brewing process at the time) preserved the beer longer. It was also a terrific source of carbohydrates. Everyone drank beer daily, including women and children. The sailors on board the Mayflower received a daily ration of one gallon.

After sixty-five days at sea, the Mayflower abandoned its planned destination along the Hudson river, and eventually landed at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. The Mayflower's log explains the passengers "were hasted ashore and made to drink water so that the seamen might have more beer". On their arrival, the pilgrims immediately built a common house, which included a brewery.

The Pilgrims’ new colony and plantation in Plymouth contained a “very sweet brook” and “many delicate springs of as good water as may be drunk.” Today, Mayflower Brewing uses water from that very same brook to brew the Mayflower family of ales. I think John Alden would be delighted to hear that.

Mayflower’s brewing facility is located in a shared business building, tucked away in a quiet corner of a well-kept business area. Open on Saturday’s, their tasting room has a more inviting feel than others we’ve been to. It’s very clean and still looks new. There are a few tables and a nice-looking bar that beckons you to sample the five different beers they have on tap. Don’t mind if I do.

We sampled Mayflower’s four beers that are always in rotation and available in stores; the Golden Ale, Pale Ale, IPA, and Porter. The fifth tap is dedicated to their seasonal offering, which at the time of our visit was the Autumn Wheat.

Golden Ale is similar to a blonde ale and was the lightest beer in the bunch. Crystal gold in color, its malt character brings biscuits to mind. Mild floral hops balance it well. Overall, it’s dry, refreshing, and clean with little bitterness.

Pale Ale is Mayflower’s flagship beer. It seemed old-fashioned, and that's neither a good or bad thing. Compared to some of the other American pale ales found today, this one’s mild and as balanced as can be. The malts are toasty and woody. And while the hops do offer herbal esters, they’re busier balancing things out.

Moving along, the IPA showcased both hoppy and sweet characteristics. It uses pacific northwest hops with highlights of pine, citrus, and toasted honey-like malt. I’ve had the IPA in bottle and on tap, and experienced something different each time. It's hoppier from the tap, sweeter from the bottle. But the bottle I had may have been a bit old, and therefore lost its hop punch. I couldn't tell because the date imprinted on it was smudged. 

Next, we tasted the Autumn Wheat  which is their fall seasonal release. I’m often leery of wheat beers, as I find too many to be mediocre. Thankfully this one was anything but. However, I could see some beer geeks declaring it mediocre because it’s subdued. It drinks like a yeasty brown ale, and brown ales rarely astound beer geeks. But its flavors of brown bread, caramel, wheat, and banana are balanced and mixed seamlessly. This one surprised us.

Porter is my favorite style, so I was excited to finish with theirs. I’ve had it once before, on cask. I remember feeling conflicted about it. But, since I firmly believe beers taste slightly different at different times because of many reasons (the way it’s served to you, bottle vs. draft, your palate that day, company, environment, food accompaniment, etc.), I wanted to meet it again for the first time.

The porter is generally one of Mayflower’s most talked-about brews. I overheard it's one of their best sellers along with the IPA – and with good reason. What I like about it is how it reminds me of pilgrims. Earth, wood, smoke, molasses, and oats; those are all things I associate with a stereotypical pilgrim scene or old-fashioned New England food. And Mayflower’s porter hits all of those notes. Given their story it’s fitting that Mayflower Brewing delivers a solid, classic porter. But it’s modest. Its robustness doesn’t make you bang on your chest. It’s almost elegant.

After all that sampling, the beer we ended up taking home was not one we tried. Their limited-edition Thanksgiving Ale is sold in 22oz bottles only, and at 8% I hear it’s a tasty Strong Ale. I’ll find out soon.

We did get a brief, standard tour of the facility. Tours seem to happen spontaneously. As soon as a handful of people show up who are interested in a tour, one of the bartenders shows everyone around.

I encourage you to visit Mayflower for at least the easy-going and welcoming vibe you experience as soon as you walk in. A handful of people showed up while we were there, and the tasting bar at times felt more like your friendly neighborhood pub. People who seemed like regulars came in to refill their growlers, but would also hang out, chat, and sample all the beers as if they hadn’t had them before. The staff didn’t seem to mind at all. And I don’t blame the patrons because the pours here are generous.

Mayflower's brewery is easy to like. If you didn’t already have a reason to visit the pleasant town of Plymouth Massachusetts (especially in the summer), now you have one.

Mayflower Brewing Company
2 Resnik Rd, Plymouth, MA

Tastings and Tours:
Thursdays and Fridays 4:30PM to 6:30PM
Saturdays 11AM to 3PM

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