Friday, July 13, 2012

Tod Mott - A Farewell and Appreciation

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
Brewers who survived those dismal times began to dare to think that maybe, just maybe, our ships might actually come in, that small-batch, handcrafted beer might finally emerge from its beer-geek ghetto and draw the attention and appreciation of a wider audience.  Tod Mott could not have arrived at the Brewery at a better time.  We were looking for a rock star, and he was looking for a stage that fit his big personality and his boundless enthusiasm for fine beer and comestibles, not to mention his magnetic physical presence.  It felt like a match arranged by the beer gods.  And it almost didn’t happen.

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.

Peter Egelston
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
July 13, 2012


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the good times

Anonymous said...

We will miss you Tod! But I think you have taught Tyler well!

Bierman9 said...

Bravo! Well said, Peter! I'd like to thank Tod for all his great biers over the years, from Commonwealth to Quincy to Portsmouth. I hope to enjoy his wares in the future as well. Meanwhile, I'm sure Portsmouth is in very good hands with Tyler at the helm.

All the best!!



Tameri T. said...

Indeed. Thanks for all the great beers Tod, and be well. We will toast you.

Sean said...


Thanks for sharing this amazing story.

Good Luck in your next adventure Tod!

Tyler's got some big shoes to fill, but he will do well!


Anonymous said...

Thats too bad you guys are losing such a great brewer, lets hope the new guy is just as great, but if he is coming from Smuttynose he must be!

I met Tod a few times and he is a great character in the brewery world! Hope to see his new endeavor work out so we can keep drinking his great beers.

Well written article, makes me wanna jump in the car and take the three hour trip up before all his beers are gone, just to say i had one last Tod Mot beer at Portsmouth!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tod, for all the great brews. Good luck with your next endeavor.
Steve in Sandonw.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tod, for all the great beers. Good luck with your next endeavor.
Steve in Sandown

Adam Hanna said...

Tod is my beer God. I am sad that he is leaving but look forward to Tyler hitting one out of the park!

Peter said...

I look forward to visiting when I'm on the East Coast every year. Thanks for the great suds, and looking to continued satisfaction!!

Anonymous said...

Be well,keep up the good work and the unbounded enthusiasm for beer!!
Good luck to Tyler.

Anonymous said...

What a great farewell.

I have long considered myself lucky to have Todd and the PB as my "home" brewery. Todd, I will be joining all of Portsmouth and the seacoast (and beyond) in toasting your great work at the Brewery. Thanks for all of the great beer, I look forward to drinking your next adventures in brewing.


Dave B