The Partnerships That Helped Vaughan Cutillo & Eric Moss Grow Montauk

It started with a bike, a cart, and kegs on the eastern end of Long Island, but capitalizing on discovering gaps in their portfolio along with creating key production and wholesale partnerships, Montauk Brewing has risen to become one of the fastest-growing craft beer brands in the country.

Located in a picturesque former woodworking building that has a small outdoor patio and a taproom with no televisions, it’s hard to believe that Montauk is one of the Top 50 largest breweries by production output in the country.

A lot of that growth came with planning in 2014 to see 2015 production numbers more than quadruple by the end of 2017 — from 7,000 barrels to 32,000. Since Montauk has seen positive growth even through the pandemic, now churning out nearly 50,000 barrels per year.

“We’re extremely fortunate that we cracked that list,” said co-founder and Marketing Director, Vaughan Cutillo. “We have a small team here, we could have never imagined where we are today.

“We always kind of say we threw our crystal ball out basically on Day 1. That’s a testament to our fans and the quality of the beer.”

Cutillo even admitted that having that much growth with just two wholesalers and a fairly small footprint in the country — it only serves New York City and Long Island — is fairly astounding.

“We’re in a big population, but a tight market,” he said. “I think we always had that Top 50 in our sights as kind of a cool milestone. But it was certainly very cool to be on that list with such amazing breweries that we’ve looked up to.”

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There’s no large system on-site. A seven-barrel facility creates beer for the taproom. The first delivery vehicle when Montauk launched in 2012 was a beach cruiser bicycle with a keg trailer and kegs were delivered to a handful of accounts in town.

“The regulations in our town … nobody had ever tried to build a brewery,” Cutillo said. “It wasn’t even in town code. They weren’t necessarily against the idea, they just didn’t know how to categorize it.”

With no town sewer and lots of red tape and regulations that would stymie growth, contracting brewing was a key, and creating the right partners would be needed to facilitate any sort of larger production for canning and wholesale operations. So the company opted to work with contract partners Wachusett in Massachusetts and Two Roads in Connecticut to help build growth by producing core brands 50 and 100 barrels at a time to help service the New York City market.

“We were very fortunate that the brand started to really take off,” Cutillo said. “Everything is born and brewed here and if we need to scale certain beers up that are working, we do that off-site.

But all the brands were born and bred at the seven-barrel facility in Montauk, with co-founder and head brewer Eric Moss.

“​We picked people​ where​ we respected their companies, ​and ​what they’re making on their own​,” Moss said. ​“​I’m on the phone with them constantly. We have weekly meetings and we have a lot of trust in those guys but we also are constantly testing everything ourselves.​“​

All the brands — like top-selling Wave Chaser IPA along with Driftwood Pale Ale and Summer Ale Blonde — started on-site with Moss fretting over the small details. Those have graduated on to be made with Montauk’s partners and scaled for servicing through wholesalers Boening Brothers and SKI Beer.

​“We had the Montauk brand, but what you see today has evolved over time,” Cutillo said. “Boening Brothers, quite honestly, took us in from the rain. We didn’t have distribution or a sales force. We were lucky to meet them through local accounts in Montauk that said, ‘Hey, you guys should really talk to Boening.’ and we just immediately knew that they were a great fit from upper management to boots in the street. They’re just good people that had some good brands, but no real, true local [beer]. So it’s been about building on a partnership.

“Eric and I started this, and then we realized we needed to put people in place to win and succeed.”

Using a small in-house sales force with two dedicated salespeople in the New York market that work directly with SKI and three salespeople working Long Island with Boening, Montauk brought in veteran Terry Hopper to lead the charge with the wholesales department.

“It’s been very much a collaborative effort on growing this thing,” Cutillo said. “It’s been a rocket ship and it’s certainly been a great partnership with both Boening and SKI Beer.”

Hopper joined the company in 2020 and he said the branding and vibe given by the brand are what helps in sales despite such a small footprint. Being in an area that is familiar to the New York City area and the ‘Come As You Are’ mantra echoes a national brand like Corona and its ‘Where’s Your Beach’ campaign.

“​People just automatically relax when they get here​,” he said. “It’s this outdoor setting. You can hear the waves crashing on a busy day down the road. And people just love it.​“​

Hopper noted that Montauk is a top performer in their wholesalers’ portfolio so it kind of gives the brand an ability to be a little bit more important and punch a little bit above their weight.

“We mean a lot of them,” he said, “and we kind of view our distributors as our largest customer. I look at retail, and I say, that’s the distributors. Customers, the end-user, is the retailer’s customer. We really spent a lot of time working hand-in-hand with the distributors to develop distribution programs and display incentives and all of these things that help drive them and focus them on what we’re trying to do.”

Hopper pointed out that Moss’ creation of Wave Chaser really changed the game for Montauk.

“As Wave Chaser has developed, it is by far one of the top craft SKUs in the marketplace, and that just lends credibility to everything else we do,” Hopper said. Seeing that IPA is by and far a brand builder, branching out to find gaps in a portfolio is a key next step for growth and the addition of a Belgian White was the next logical step for Montauk. Easy Riser was launched in September while the development of a successful Double IPA is the next in line for finding new cores to help boost even more growth in the future.

“It started at first with beers that we like to drink ourselves and then we’ve kind of whittled it down to the ones that were really selling the best,” Moss said. “Now we’re trying to develop something else, we try to find a hole in our portfolio.”

Montauk looks at a lot of data to try to identify where they need to go.

“Right now we did a Belgian White,” Hopper said. “If you look at the craft data in this marketplace, it’s the second-largest style of beer outside of IPA. So that was a hole that we had in our portfolio, we felt like we could do a really good local version of a Belgian White inspired by the ones that have been out there for a long time.

“[Now] we’re looking at the fact that in the IPA sub-segment, Double IPAs and Triple IPAs are growing like weeds. So there’s another area where we’re saying, ‘Okay, how do we develop a Double IPA and give it its own kind of feel and story and vision to play in that segment.”

That’s where Montauk has a brand called Ocean Series that are LTOs (Limited Time Offers) where the brew team at the Montauk seven-barrel facility are making and canning a new beer every month.

“We get the line culture of people coming out,” Hopper said. “We get to see it firsthand because they respond to us through social media or just watching them out on the patio and seeing their face light up when they drink this magical liquid. It gives us the strength and the wherewithal and the fortitude to push forward. There’s a lot of time and energy and effort put into something before we take it to market.”

Cutillo handles all social media and marketing, and he said he kind of sees who Montauk’s customers are.

“It’s just a wide range,” he said, saying that the travelers from New York City blend right into the locals of Montauk seamlessly through the summer while the brewery can focus on sending more product in the winter to NYC to help remind those visitors of the times they spent there which helps with repeat buys.

“The bright-colored cans really lend themselves to all sorts of demographics. So we’re very fortunate,” Cutillo said.

Creating a quality look mattered and it was the first partnership that gave Cutillo and Moss confidence in using others outside of themselves to be successful.

“I think it was the first real check that we wrote,” he said with a laugh. “We knew beer, and we were growing the brand, but we really wanted to put our first big investment in a design firm that could really take us to the next level.

“Being born and raised in Montauk, I was concerned about just letting somebody else develop a brand on their own. And it was the exact opposite experience. It was so much fun to have the team out from a New York City firm.”

He said they interviewed friends, family, fishermen, hedge fund managers … whoever happens to be in Montauk, “just a wide range,” Cutillo said.

“They came back a few weeks later, we sat in the taproom and they pinned up five or six iterations of brand direction and I think all of our eyes immediately went to the yellow X, and that was the first Driftwood Ale that really got us off the ground.

“Since then, it’s developed into Summer Ale with the bright blue/nautical-theme with welcoming colors and it really helped propel us, especially when we got into places like Whole Foods where they were willing to put almost a billboard effect on the shelf. The one style on its own was maybe one color, but they could have five colors next to each other. That really drew in customers’ eyes and that really helped us get to the next level.”

Moving that brand look outside of where they are now heading into 2022 isn’t on Montauk’s brain trust at this time. It’s a small footprint, but the ability to go deep continues to help.

“I mean, we get a lot of requests for New Jersey, Connecticut, even, you know, Florida, Texas, California​,” Cutillo said. ​“Quite honestly, we’ve been doing our best to not run out of inventory on our home market. We figure it’d be a huge mistake to be able to service New Jersey and run out of our local market in New York, we just have so much work to do, especially rebuilding the on-premise as it comes back where we are, that it just didn’t make sense to go outside of the market.​“

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