Yes, you heard right: Tod Mott is leaving the Portsmouth Brewery. After toiling for eight and a half years in our little submarine-hull sized brewery, producing a seemingly endless river of fine beers and sharing his deep passion for his craft with an eager and growing audience, he has decided to move on. I enjoy reminding people that I hired Tod Mott at precisely the same time the Red Sox signed Curt Schilling. The Sox thus took a first step towards ending their 86-year World Series drought, and we at the Brewery embarked on a journey that has led us to become one of New England’s premier beer destinations. Tod arrived shortly after the Brewery had entered its second decade in business, at a time when the craft beer industry was picking itself up and dusting itself off after the brutal shakeout of late nineties had flushed a lot of small breweries and crappy beers out of the marketplace.
|Peter & Tod in the Portsmouth Brewery's "fishbowl" - 2003|
I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Tod, but the circumstances have become hazy with too much time and too many beers. It was probably in Northampton, Massachusetts, at one of the early Great New England Beer Festivals, which my sister Janet, along with Chris O’Connor, Joanne Francis and I produced, around ’92 or ’93. After four years as Head Brewer at the Northampton Brewery and with the opening of the Portsmouth Brewery, my own brewing career had come to an end, just as Tod’s was on the ascent. Like everyone else who came into his orbit, I was drawn to him immediately. Over the years, we crossed paths at numerous beer-related events, and during his time at Back Bay Brewing I made it a point to stop into that establishment whenever I was near Boyleston Street to enjoy one or two of Tod’s excellent beers.
In 2003, we needed to fill the Head Brewer’s position at the Portsmouth Brewery. After we put feelers out in a number of directions, Dave Yarrington, Director of Brewing Operations at Smuttynose, who had offered to help with the search, suggested that we contact Tod, who was brewing at the Tap in Haverhill, to see if he knew of any qualified brewers we should interview. I thought that this was a fine idea, given Tod’s extensive connections in the brewing community, but I never would have anticipated Tod’s two-word response: “Yes. Me.” Words can’t fully express how charmed I was at the idea of Tod Mott - THE Tod Mott - joining our little family at the Portsmouth Brewery.
During Tod’s tenure at the Brewery a lot has changed. Interest in craft beer has exploded. Closer to home, business in the restaurant, and along with it the demand for beer, has increased dramatically. Sales of bottled beer and growlers has skyrocketed. The number of employees at the Brewery has increased from about 65 to over a hundred. And without an ability to increase the capacity of the physical plant, due to space constraints, Tod has been challenged to keep the beer pipeline filled, supplemented with hand-selected guest beers. He has met that challenge not by taking the safe route of falling back to a shrinking portfolio of safe, predictable beers, but instead has expanded the range of offerings to include a vast array of seasonal, traditional and experimental styles. And that’s not to mention the once-quiet annual release of an obscure beer style called Russian Imperial Stout that has become the phenomenon known as Kate Day.
I’ll be perfectly honest: I could not do what Tod has done every day for all these years. And I am not just talking about his skill as a brewer. My brewing career ended over two decades ago when the industry operated at a very primitive level and standards of quality were, to put it politely, in flux. No, I’m talking about plain physical work. Tod and I are about the same age. What age is that? Let’s just say we were both born during the second Eisenhower Administration and leave it at that. And although he’s a remarkable physical specimen, working in a small brewery is hard, stressful work. That’s a long way of saying that I was not entirely surprised when Tod came to me a few weeks ago and said he was ready to take a break from it. Frankly, I think he’s earned it, though I know he’s not going to sit still. I understand that he and Galen intend to open their own brewery in southern Maine. So far their plans are at an early, formative stage. And that’s about all I know myself, but I can say that I am excited to watch their progress and sample their wares, among which will be his world-class imperial stout, no doubt.
What will life at the Portsmouth Brewery be like after Tod’s gone? Permit me to refer back to baseball again: Ted Williams roamed left field at Fenway Park for nineteen seasons and retired in 1960, hitting a home run in his final at bat as a grace note to his unparalleled career. No one expected that the young man who jogged out to left field on Opening Day in 1961, the man who replaced the Splendid Splinter, an oddly-named rookie born in 1939, the same year that The Kid broke into the majors, would be able to fill William’s shoes. No one could know then that Carl Yastrzemski would earn legendary status himself, playing another two-plus decades in the shadow of Fenway’s iconic left field wall. I’ve been in the craft beer business for 25 years and have seen a lot of changes, both within and outside of the companies I’ve been involved with. If I’ve learned anything along the way, it’s to embrace change and befriend it.
Tod’s successor is Tyler Jones, whom many of you knew as Tod’s long-time assistant, before he left the Portsmouth Brewery and took a position at Smuttynose Brewing in late 2011. Tyler’s credentials are impressive in their own right, but assuming the role of Head Brewer at the Portsmouth Brewery is a kind of homecoming for him. Will he be Yaz to Mott’s Kid? Time will tell, but I’m confident that Tyler will make his own mark at the Portsmouth Brewery, and it will be a fine one, too, and I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Farewell, Tod. Thank you for your excellent beers and even better company. Welcome aboard, Tyler. Left field awaits you.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
July 13, 2012