North Fork brewers join the viticulture set in offering sip-and-savor sessions

10/20/2011 11:00 AM |

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Beattie Hayes (left) and Scott Braseth, both of Greenport, enjoy a tasting at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company Sunday.

Patrons at the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s tasting room have only six choices to sample — well, maybe seven if you count the trays of pretzels on the bar — but that doesn’t stop it from filling up on many weekends.

That’s probably because beer aficionados won’t find this deal in any restaurant or bar.

For $8, tasters get a pint glass ­— which they keep — and can taste whatever is on tap that day, be it the orange blossom and honey-infused summer ale or the more traditional harbor ale. It’s a deal that draws a lot of repeat business.

“I’ve got quite the collection of pint glasses,” said Greenport resident Scott Braseth, a frequent customer who was sampling the brewery’s offerings Sunday afternoon.

In a region where tastings have long been associated with wine, interest in craft beer breweries and their accompanying tasting rooms is growing. Two North Fork breweries recently opened their tasting room doors, Greenport Harbor in 2009 and Long Ireland Beer Company in Riverhead this summer. Steven Wirth, owner of Digger O’Dell’s restaurant and bar, has plans for another beer tasting room and brewery in Riverhead.

Greg Martin, co-owner of Long Ireland Beer Company, said he first became interested in beer tasting rooms when a friend told him the samples were free at the brewery they were visiting.

“Free beer? I said, ‘What are you talking about’ ” he recalled. “I had like eight of them [that day.] I was like, ‘That’s fantastic.’ ”

Long Ireland offers tasting visitors five free samples in addition to the growlers it sells, a common practice at many beer tasting rooms.

But there is more to tasting rooms than free beer, Mr. Martin said. Those interviewed at Mr. Martin’s Pulaski Street brewery and at Greenport Harbor Brewing said the draw is the atmosphere and the freshness of beer almost straight from the source.

“Beer for years has been this monolithic corporate product. It was soulless,” Mr. Martin said. “[But craft beer] is a very local, grass roots kind of thing. We’re in the neighborhood.”

Isabella Romero and her fiancé Matt Johnson, both of Shelter Island, stopped into the Riverhead brewery recently to pick up a growler of pale ale and sampled the pumpkin ale while they were there.

Click to see a slide show of what’s on tap

The couple says they always try to visit local breweries when they travel.

“If there’s [a brewery] in the area, we try it out,” Ms. Romero said. “I like the local flavors and it’s always fresh.”

At Greenport Harbor Brewing’s Carpenter Street tasting room, located on the second floor of a renovated firehouse, patrons can sit on cushions placed atop kegs and look out over the village. The interior is decorated with local artwork featuring whales, the animal featured on the company’s logo.

But John Liegy, who owns Greenport Harbor Brewing with his business partner and best friend Rich Vandenburgh, stresses that the establishment is not a bar.

Those looking to get smashed should travel elsewhere. The tasting room closes at 6 p.m. and patrons cannot fill their pint glasses to the top.

Customers don’t seem to mind, Mr. Liegy said, and business has boomed in the past two years.

“We get to a point where we have to keep people out,” he said. “It gets pretty crowded.”

Beer tasting rooms also allow customers to ask questions about the brews on tap and learn about their different flavors. It’s an experience that draws a diverse crowd, young and old, Mr. Liegy said.

Mr. Braseth and his friend, fellow Greenporter Beattie Hayes, said their frequent visits to the Greenport tasting room have made it so they no longer like the taste of draft beer unless it’s fresh from the brewery.

“It’s kind of ruined tap beer for me,” Mr. Hayes said.

vchinese@timesreview.com