Raising the bar

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Raising the bar
Bad Martha makes delicious ready-to-enjoy charcuterie boards that go great with a crisp beer. — Courtesy Bad Martha Brewery

After last call, after the chairs are stacked, the floors are swept, and the big barn door is shut and locked, Bad Martha Brewing Company brewer Cal Scarfone starts his shift with a smile.

It’s quiet around that time — 1 am, when the fun begins. Scarfone walks over to the mill, pulls some fresh malt from the large pyramidal grinder, and heads to the mash tun. The whole brewing area is filled with steam as the milled grains are slowly turned to wort, which is then transferred to the brewing kettle to be boiled.

All this, and following a bit of canning, you have a distinctly Martha’s Vineyard product that any practiced beer drinker would give two thumbs up. Now, Bad Martha is looking forward to the busy season, with a number of classic beer offerings and some delicious food to complement your brews. 

The brewing process requires quite a bit of heat. — Jeremy Driesen

Scarfone is in his fourth year brewing with Bad Martha, a job he stumbled upon by happenstance, but has since taken on the role with great enthusiasm (he’s becoming somewhat of an adept). “I joke around with people about this, but pretty much every job I’ve ever had has just been someone saying ‘Hey, can you do this?’ and me saying ‘I’ll give it a shot,’” Scarfone said. “I really do enjoy it, especially now that I have a few years under my belt — I can experiment more and have more fun with it.” 

Instead of working with a more automated brewing system that often requires more button-pushing than mixing or mashing, Scarfone said he is happy to work with a manual method that allows him to feel close to his product. 

“I have to go around and open valves and turn levers and press buttons. It’s not a big fancy computer or anything,” Scarfone said. “I have to actively monitor temperatures for fermenting and transporting between tanks.”

Bad Martha takes pride in its mermish origin story. — Jeremy Driesen

The other aspect of the process (the brewing itself) involves tossing various ingredients into a big still, almost like cooking a big batch of soup. Scarfone has a whole list of base recipes that he has narrowed down over the years, and will occasionally mix in some variations that give the brew a unique kick. Even making the herbal stuff like seltzers is a simple and fun job for Scarfone, who picks and chooses different fruits and herbs to combine for the perfect, refreshing seltzer. 

On a given night, Bad Martha has about six or seven beers on tap that are brewed at the Martha’s Vineyard location, while three or four selections at the Edgartown brewery are concocted at Bad Martha in Falmouth — both try to keep around 10 different beers on tap. The 508 IPA, the Mischievous Mermaid, and the Martha’s Vineyard Ale are all beers that come from Falmouth, because that is where the large batches are made that get distributed to retailers. 

The Martha’s Vineyard Ale, the 508 IPA, and Blonde Ambition Ale. — MV Times

After several iterations of the brewery/restaurant, Scarfone said, the entire experience has shifted from a small facility with a tasting bar and some light bites, to a full-fledged artisanal eatery with beautifully made charcuterie boards and thin crust pizzas. Plus, Bad Martha has an outdoor seating area that’s perfect for a hot day and a cold beer, or a cool evening and some tasty pizza.

“Through the years, we figured out that people are hungry and are staying longer and longer,” Scarfone said. “When COVID came and the regulations required people to have food with their drinks at restaurants, we knew we were one step ahead.”

One of the most desirable things about Bad Martha beer is their specialty seasonal brews. When Island farms reap their seasonal bounty, Bad Martha gets a little bit of that goodness to put in their beers and seltzers. Each year, when the strawberries are brilliantly red and plump at Morning Glory Farm, the Bad Martha Strawberry Blonde is born. Scarfone even gets beach plums on occasion from the Farm Institute (where his fiance works) and other farms to whip up the tart and hoppy Beach Plum Dubbel (a Belgian-style brown beer). Even if an ingredient is out of season, Scarfone has some on deck to make sure he always has fresh brews. 

Bad Martha beer offers growlers so you can take home your favorite brew. — Tina Miller

“Almost half of our beer menu is from local ingredients,” Scarfone said. “I worked with the guys over at Cottage City Oysters to do an Oyster Stout. I get like half a bag of oysters and they go right into the pot. The beer gets a little smoky, a little briney. People seem to love it.”

Mia Benedetto, general manager of Bad Martha, said now is the time she is going through the sales and distribution list and talking to all past vendors to see what they want for the season. “It’s really all about forming those relationships, dropping off samples for any new or potential vendors, and getting the word out,” Benedetto said. 

It’s Benedetto’s third season at Bad Martha, and she is having a great time acclimating to her place at the head of the establishment, and transitioning the whole operation back into a less-restricted experience. “This year, it’s all about getting back to normal,” Benedetto said, adding that there will again be yard games, a standing bar, and a large outdoor seating area for anyone looking to soak up some sun. 

Ever since Bad Martha threw a pizza oven into the mix, they’ve been trying out different recipes to see what sticks. Benedetto said the pizzas are a seriously popular menu item, with six staple pizzas and a specialty pizza available every two weeks or so. The restaurant arm of the brewery is always implementing new and fun items, like a lobster roll in the middle of summer, along with different varieties of charcuterie and snack mix.

The charcuterie plate consists of hard salami, prosciutto, tasso pork, and locally caught and smoked bluefish by MV Smokehouse. The meats are served alongside fresh-baked ciabatta, an array of crackers, and a specially made spicy beer mustard from Scottish Bakehouse, as well as spreadable hot pepper relish, dried apricots, and kalamata olives. 

Cheese plates at Bad Martha are made up of four varieties of cheese: a mountain gouda, cave-aged cheddar, goat cheese, and locally produced Eidolon from the Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark.

Bad Martha makes fresh-baked pizzas to accompany your beer. — Courtesy Bad Martha Brewery

As for pizzas, there’s traditional cheese, mellow mushroom, a pesto and veggie pizza with fontina cheese, sauteed white onion, and zucchini alongside spring mix drizzled in local honey, and a favorite of many — the beer bacon pizza with crispy bacon marinated in Bad Martha beer. Cauliflower pizzas are also available for those who need a gluten-free option and anyone looking for a lighter base. 

And, of course, Bad Martha is the place to go for live music and other events like trivia, bingo, and other community offerings that are meant to bring people into the brewery for beer and good times. “We have done a good job integrating families, people our age, older people — we really have all those bases covered. There’s something for everyone,” Benedetto said. 

One of the things Benedetto said she loves most about Bad Martha is being able to meet new people every time she walks through the door, and make people happy with great beer, great food, and great service. She noted that many of the staff have returned year after year, and have grown into a tight-knit team that takes pride in their work. “We always have fun together, and everyone that is returning is very hard working, which is good because it’s hard work,” Benedetto said. “It’s all totally worth it once we open up those doors.”

The Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery and tasting room is located at 270 Upper Main Street in Edgartown. Bad Martha is still working out their vendor list, but brews are available in most liquor stores on the Island, and are on draught in many bars and restaurants.