Massachusetts Beverage Business

Article By: Brandy Rand


MATT LAMBO is one of those people who can truly say he’s had a hand in building a brand from the ground up.  Lambo is a jack of all trades (sales, events, marketing) who has spent 1O years as Boston’s face for Cisco Brewers, Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyard.  He’s seen the evolution of craft beer go from niche to mainstream with more and more retailers and on-premise establishments making room for craft brands.  What used to be just one draught line has evolved in to multiple choices, with places like Flatbread in Somerville dedicating their entire beer menu to Massachusetts’ distillers.  And what used to be a few options in the beer cooler have become entire aisles.  Many liquor stores, like the unique Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, have begun to focus intently on the vast array of craft beers on the market.  Lambo considers himself lucky to be part of the movement, and says education is a key factor in the craft beer explosion.  With a dedicated group of passionate on-premise beer advocates in the market providing consumers with handcrafted brews (Publik House, Bukowski’s, Lord Hobo, Deep Ellum, and Art House, to name a few), he doesn’t see any signs of slowing down. 

BRANDY RAND What drew you toward a career in beer? 
MATT LAMBO A distain for cubicles and the corporate world landed me tending bar at Harper’s Ferry in Allston in the late ’9Os.  I loved the vibe and energy of live music and good beer.  At the time, Long Trail, Tremont Ale and Sam Adams were the only craft beers we had available.  Tremont was my favorite.  I would have one for my shift drink every night while we counted our tips.  Little did I know I was laying the groundwork for a fulfilling career in the craft beer industry.

BR What’s the best part about your job? 
ML I get to do so many things.  Every day is different.  Our company and industry has evolved a lot over the last decade and so has my role.  I used to drive around and call on accounts in a 1975 VW camper.  It was awesome.  We would do deliveries, events and marketing right out of the bus.  The VW now lives on Nantucket and our deliveries come from Craft Brewers Guild and United Liquors, but that “little guy” attitude and spirit still lives in us and our brands.

BR Most memorable beer moment . . .
ML Sipping a Grey Lady Ale this summer, in late August, at the Mass Brewers Fest with my wife and co-workers.  The event was at the Seaport and the sun was setting on the Boston skyline; a gorgeous late summer evening with live music jamming, great beer and great people.  This state has really grown in its production, appreciation and consumption of quality, local craft libations.  It really is gratifying to be a part of that transformation.

BR There have been big changes in the craft beer scene over the past few years.  How has that impacted your business? 
ML  It has been great.  Our facility on Nantucket is packed every day with craft beer lovers making the pilgrimage from the mainland.  The rise of craft beer has allowed us to broaden our product line into higher end barrel-aged specialty beers like Cisco’s Woods Series and Island Reserve Series.  We have also moved into the canned beer market where consumers are excited to finally have great craft beer in a convenient and cool can format.

BR How has the learning curve been for consumers and trade in terms of appreciating and understanding craft beer? 
ML It has taken a long time and is still happening.  Consumers are driving the movement.  They are now aware that there is more to beer than yellow fizzy products of the ’7Os and ’8Os.  Draft lines and beer coolers are about 2O to 3O% craft brands right now.  I believe this will continue to expand to 5O%+ craft brands as restaurants and retailers strive to give the customers what they want.  That is a broad selection of quality craft beers that span the taste spectrum.  From light and smooth to hoppy and aggressive and everything in between.

BR Beer cocktails – yeah or nay? 
ML A big YEAH!  Our favorite is the Blue Haired Lady.  It is our Grey Lady Ale with a float of our Triple Eight Blueberry Vodka [made with real blueberries from Maine].  The color is subsequently a beautiful dark blue.  It easily floats on top of drinks and beers and the Blue Haired Lady is gorgeous – two-toned  – blue on top, golden wit on the bottom .  Try one on Nantucket or at new hot spot and craft beer supporter, The Granary Tavern in Boston.

BR Have you found that people tend to switch up their beer choices based on the seasons and limited edition options out there? 
ML The new consumer is open-minded and experimenting and definitely jumping around to new styles and flavors and brands.  I like the seasonal offerings brewers are coming up with and believe it helps foster innovation – but I also believe a good summer beer will taste good in the winter too!

BR If you aren’t drinking a beer, what do you drink? 
ML Triple Eight Vanilla and Diet Coke.  We call that one the Skinny Guinea because one of the vanilla beans in the bottle is from New Guinea and I am half Italian.  Wish I could say I was skinny‚Ķ!
I also drink a lot of water.  Hydration is critical.

BR You offer tours and have a bar at the brewery on Nantucket.  How was business this year?
ML It has been crazy out there!  The secret is out, we are an island destination.  It is a great mix of people and one of the coolest places on earth with three bars (brewery, winery and distillery) and a stone drinking courtyard in the center.  Live music nearly every day and tours most days at 4pm.  The crowd is a combo of locals, tourists, yuppies, beer geeks, CEOs, and average Joes.  There are dogs and kids and bikinis.  It’s so much fun.  We love to host industry.  If they make arrangements to visit in advance and carry our products off-island we give them VIP wristbands and let them enjoy all our libations straight from the source.  Our facility is our best means of educating and creating brand loyalty with consumers and industry alike.

BR What do you think about “beer sommeliers”? 
ML It is where it is moving.  My hope is that all the servers – or at least the bartenders – have a strong knowledge of the beers available at their bar.  I find that most of the time the consumers are still more educated than the servers.  That too is evolving and changing as the industry learns this is not a fad but great craft beer is here to stay!

BR Best idea for a beer that hasn’t been done yet? 
ML Buckwheat Beer, it just sounds cool.  Our Island Reserve Saison is based with buckwheat fermented in Chardonnay Barrels with wild yeast.  So I guess it has been done, but we aren’t playing up the buckwheat thing!                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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