A veteran of the Massachusetts beer scene, Matthew Steinberg has brewed at a brewpub, a small start-up craft brewery, a contract brewery and a large craft brewery. Now he’s got his own brand. Blatant Brewery, which he brews at Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport. Find his IPA and Session Ale at beer bars across the state.
How did you decide on the model you’re working with for Blatant?
It’s the exact same thing as Pretty Things, but I’m not afraid of the word contract and I don’t really care if people call it that. I consider Buzzards Bay a host brewery so I go and do my thing while my beer is being made and they do everything else. It’s a functioning low volume, high capacity brewery so it’s extremely underutilized, and that was the reasoning. If this brand does well and I build myself a tiny little 20-barrel system, sort of like Mayflower, or what a lot of the new smaller breweries are doing, I’m going to be under capacity immediately. I knew it was going to do well, in my heart, so I just said let’s do this and if it does really well, even better. So that’s the direction I took it. Wanting to brew the beer myself was the only pre-requisite.
Why do you think there is sometimes a stigma against contract brewing?
My opinion as to why it is, because in the old days (and when I say the old days, I mean five years ago plus) there was this stigma behind this post office box brewery. I think all these sort of average beers started to come out under contract and people were like, you can’t make good beer if you’re a contract brewer. Clearly, that’s not the case. Sam Adams has been doing it from the beginning, as have many breweries, like Mikkeller.
It’s a little disheartening to hear beer geeks and beer fanatics criticize a beer based on the model of which they run their business. It’s like, what happened to the liquid matter being the most important piece?
And I come across that every single day. I was talking to someone recently and he was like, ‘What do you mean you go and brew the beer in there? What do you mean you brew your own beer?’ I said, well I don’t own the facility but I go in and rent the space and work directly with the head brewer and we brew the beer together. And he was like, well, why do you do that? Why don’t you have them do it? Wouldn’t it be easier? And I guess it would be easier but I feel like decisions that need to be made about my beer need to be made on the fly sometimes, while you’re brewing, and that’s my decision.
You’ve worked on the sales and marketing side of beer as well. What is going to be your approach with Blatant?
I’m going to take a really subtle approach when it comes to the marketing of this brand. The idea is to really focus on the not necessarily the beer bar, but the everyday drinker … I don’t want people to think, oh it’s the new beer, I can’t wait to try it and then move on. I want people to think of it as something like it’s always been there. When we started Mayflower that was something we thought about a lot. Let’s not try to be the new favorite, let’s be the old classic before we’re old. I sort of feel that young breweries are sort of missing that piece. The Beer Advocate crew, they’re great, but they’re very fickle buyers and can’t wait for that next hyped up thing, which is great, but is also at the same time it’s also tough to keep up with because you’re constantly trying to get new customers. And I want to sell 10 kegs to one customers not one keg to 10 customers.
You’ve been brewing for 15 years in Massachusetts. How has the scene changed since you started?
I think the biggest change is people are drinking less local beer.
There are more choices now I think, although it’s just getting to that point. When I was in college we were drinking Catamount, Harpoon, Long Trail and Otter Creek, what we thought were very cool, local, small places. And we were drinking them because they were good but we were also drinking them because we felt a connection. And I feel like that, sadly, in the last five years, went away. Because all of a sudden we got inundated with beers from California, which is fine, and I drink plenty of Racer 5 myself.
Honestly, I think we’re coming back. Recent years have shown more support of local products, reflecting back to ’95 to ’97 and I think the brewpubs are feeling a little bit of that as well.
And it takes time, I think that the whole ‘use local ingredients’ thing is helping, as long as the beers are good. I’ve had some beers made with local ingredients that were kind of like, okay they’re pretty good, but not great. That I don’t think will have a negative impact, but it’s certainly not a positive. Unlike if you go to Wormtown or another brewery that’s making a beer with 100 percent local ingredients, the beer’s just bangin’, you’re like, oh my god I just want to drink local beer, it tastes so good, I just want to support these local companies, support the local breweries and not support the trucking companies that are bringing beers across the US.
Do you think there’s a divide between people who drink local beer because it’s local and people who drink local beer because it’s good, and happens to be local?
For me, buying a local beer is two-fold. It has to be good, first off. But I also have to feel a connection to those people.
I feel like if I can connect to them I want to drink their beer. And I guess I’m kind of a skewed consumer because I know too many people in the business.
Pretty Things is great example. I love Dann and Martha, I love their brand. Jack D’Or is constantly in our fridge, but I don’t drink Babayaga or St.Boltoph’s and it’s not because I don’t like their beer, I’m just not into those styles. I’ll buy them and share them with friends because I feel this connection to their beer. Even more so now because we’re making beer at the same brewery.
But I think you’re right with that, as far as the consumer is concerned. I think too many people make the mistake of going with the local one even if it’s not very good. And I think that puts the stigma of, ‘Well the local beer isn’t that great, it’s okay.’
The original plan was to make this beer called Blatant IPA. And the idea behind that was I wanted to get rid of all the caramel sweetness that I really dislike in IPAs. In general, there are a lot of caramel malts and crystal malts coming through in IPAs on the East Coast. And also the color, I wanted my IPA to be golden and crisp and light, in color and body, and really use the hops as the flavor.
So the idea behind Blatant came from a conversation with my wife about what it is about me and what I bring to the process and how I approach, not only the designing of the beer, but the physical making of the beer–just so in your face, but at the same time clear and concise and obvious about something.
So my wife Rebecca said, what about Blatant? Blatant’s such a funny word, it tends to be negative, but that’s what’s great about it. And we could have this cool simple logo that doesn’t really have any fanciness or flair, just real simple.
So then it was do we just name the beer Blatant and come up with another name for the brewery?
And I said, let’s just call it Blatant Beer. It said it all in two words.
The beers are really approachable, but at the same time, they’re dynamic, they’re creative. There’s a unique personality but there’s also this sort of forceful nature to them. They’re very simple, clear recipes, there’s no fanciness going on, besides some of the techniques that are maybe a little bit different–I do mash hopping and certainly dry hopping, things like that.
And the Session ale?
My first desire for the session ale was I want to taste the cereal; I want to taste the grain in this beer. And there’s something to be said for malty beer that’s not sweet. I don’t think there’s a lot of that out there. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges is making a beer that’s malty and has a lot of rich, malt character, but it is a dry beer. What I love about the beer is you can taste the cereal and then it kind of goes away.
Can you talk more about your actual brewing process?
I work a little bit backwards. I choose ingredients that I really want to use and that will work well together, and the flavors develop naturally. I don’t aim for a certain profile. I think for me that process is about using ingredients that I really want to taste. I feel like I’m connecting to those ingredients.
My process has certainly changed a lot over the years. Fifteen years ago, as a young brewer, I used to think that complicated recipes made for better beers, and sometimes that may be the case. I remember a beer I made called “Rye is there Juniper in my Porter”. That beer went over very well at competition and with friends, but man what a mess the brewday was. Seven or eight malts, five hops, berries and some other fruits and herbs. Just too much.
At previous breweries, I have always tried to offer beers that I was proud of, but also that fit the model of the particular brewery. For Blatant beers, my goal is to produce beers that are approached with a singular goal in mind … tasty beers that are vibrant, dynamic and most importantly beers I am proud and excited to drink.
What other beers are in the works?
I definitely have a desire to do a big stout. It will be hop-forward; it won’t be a black IPA, but it will certainly be hoppy. It will also probably have a breakfast feel to it, possibly coffee, possibly chocolate.
And I also have an idea for a series of Saison beers. I plan to do three of those—one is golden, one is hoppy and one is dark.