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Brewery Highlight Montauk Brewing Co.

By: Jerard Fagerberg

Come in off the beach for a cold Montauk Wave Chaser this summer and be transported to the northern
point of Long Island.

Through their first decade in business, Montauk Brewing became the signature brewery of Long Island. Now with the backing of parent company Tilray Brands, they’re ready to export their beachy, carefree vibes to beer fans across the country.

It’s a gorgeous early April day, the kind that makes summer seem impossibly close. The kind that makes you want to find a beer and a beach and enjoy both together. But instead of enjoying the sand and sun in his native Montauk, Vaughan Cutillo is in Brooklyn visiting customers, selling the beer that gives him purpose.

Cutillo founded Montauk Brewing Co. with his lifeguard friends Eric Moss and Joe Sullivan in 2012, part of a wave of craft breweries to open on Long Island in the 2010s. What separated Montauk from its peers was their easygoing, carefree ethos. They invited drinkers to “Come as You Are” to their rustic, red-painted taproom, affectionately called the Brew Barn.

Co-founder Vaughan Cutillo describes Montauk as a “lifestyle craft brand” whose approach is epitomized in their slogan; “Come as You Are.”

But as the years have gone on, the so-called “true spirit of Montauk” has been stretched further and further. That’s why Cutillo still makes client calls on sunny days. Despite the fact that his Long Island surfer beer is now distributed to 10 states and his company was purchased by Tilray Bands in 2022, the vibes remain immaculate – and uniquely Montauk.

Heady Times (HT): Montauk has a lifestyle quality to it. How do you describe the vibe you’re trying to bring with the beer?

Vaughan Cutillo (VC): Everything we do is pretty simple. “Come as You Are” is our trademark motto, and it really was born out of the taproom. It’s a small space in the heart of Montauk, and whoever you are, wherever you’re from, we invite you to come have a pint with us and be part of our family. What’s been critical to our growth over the years is building out this organic grassroots community of people coming in off the beach, sand on their feet, to our taproom, and looking for a flavorful, approachable beer.

HT: When you first opened in Montauk in 2012, what was the immediate response from the community?

VC: We didn’t necessarily intend on starting a brewery. We were homebrewing, co-founder Eric Moss, Brewmaster Joe Sullivan, and I. We grew up on the east side and were lifeguards together for the better part of 10 years. We came back from college, and we were all brewing together and having a lot of fun sharing our beer with friends and family over summer barbecues. Craft beer was having this moment, but nobody had done it in Montauk. We’re born and raised here, so the community is very loyal to its own. Somebody could have come into Montauk and tried to do it, but I don’t know if it would have been as authentic.

HT: How do you channel Montauk in the beers that you sell?

VC: The liquid is very approachable, whether it’s Wave Chaser IPA or something else. We obviously brewed beers that we wanted to drink, but also we listened to our fans. And it comes down to easy-drinking beers with flavor. Watermelon Session or Summer Ale or Wave Chaser, they’re beers that appeal to a huge audience. Our customers are male and female split fairly evenly.

HT: Wave Chaser seems like the real “a-ha!” moment for the brewery. How did that beer come about?

VC: It’s been in market for 7 or 8 years now, and it’s still on an absolute rocket ship ride, growing off of a huge base. We get people in off the beach who just want a cold beer, and they don’t necessarily like IPAs, but they like Wave Chaser. It’s not too hoppy, not too bitter, just the right amount of grapefruit and citrus aromas. That really allowed us to grow the brand like never before. It was also good timing. When we launched, IPAs were really having a moment in the industry, and we made a really good one.

Watermelon Session Ale started off as a session IPA before Brewmaster Eric Moss reformatted it as a
wide-appeal, low-ABV seasonal.

HT: No beer captures the Montauk spirit quite like Watermelon Session, though. What’s the secret of that seasonal’s success?

VC: That beer started as our session IPA. Eric was playing with different flavors, and he developed that beer with a low 4.9% ABV, which is appealing during the summer months. You can have a few of them. It’s also very subtle watermelon flavor, not a lot of fake Jolly Rancher flavor. It’s the perfect summer crusher, and it’s turned into an absolute monster for us.

“At the end of the day, we really wanted to share as much Montauk beer and that ‘Come as You Are’ vibe with more fans, and Tilray was the right partner.”

VAUGHAN CUTILLO, Montauk Brewing Co-founder

HT: You were acquired by Tilray in 2022. Can you tell us a little bit about why that felt like the right move to make and how things have changed since?

VC: It’s a great relationship. As a small brand and a small company, we always had a sense of urgency. We’ve moved fast. Tilray offered that same mentality, which was really exciting because they added resources but also that like-minded position. They’re not going to wait if there’s an emerging trend in the market; They’re going to capitalize and move quickly to get these beers to market, and they’ve got the team do it.

Brewmaster Eric Moss (left) and Brand Director Vaughan Cutillo (right) founded Montauk Brewing with Joe Sullivan (not pictured) in 2012.

When the acquisition happened, we only had three wholesalers: Long Island, metro New York, and northern New Jersey. Since then, we’ve got over 20 distributors across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, parts of Florida, and Georgia, and that’s very difficult to do on your own. And we were aware of that. At the end of the day, we really wanted to share as much Montauk beer and that “Come as You Are” vibe with more fans, and Tilray was the right partner.

HT: Obviously not too much has changed if you’re still going out and making sales calls as the face of the brand.

VC: I think they understand the power in having a founder that is engaged in telling that story, because it is a unique one. I love what I’m doing. It’s a challenging time out there right now for craft beer, but the brand is positioned well because we are that lifestyle craft brand that appeals to a wide audience. That’s what we do. That’s who we’ve always been. And that’s what will help us grow for years to come.

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