As the East End continues to polish its image as a leading wine region, a new effort’s a-brewing to turn the region into a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.
Last month, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named the North and South Forks one of the world’s top wine destinations for 2013. In concert with that, two new Riverhead breweries are in the works, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company is expanding, and local farmers have begun to grow hops, an important ingredient in beer.
“If you have three, four or five breweries out here, then people can make a day trip out of coming to the area for craft beer,” said brewer Greg Doroski of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. “Its becoming a destination similar to the vineyards.”
Mr. Doroski noted that the expansion of the local beer industry is similar to what’s happened in Brooklyn, with its trendy craft beer scene. And, he added, Greenport and Riverhead seem to be developing similarly to the way Brooklyn has been gentrifying.
“Growing up out here in Greenport, I can notice the difference. Greenport and Riverhead used to be a little more rough around the edges, but things are changing,” he said. “In Riverhead you have the hotel, the aquarium, the apartments, Long Ireland Beer Company, The Riverhead Project and out here you’ve always had Bruce’s, but now you have places like The Blue Canoe and First and South — there’s more high-end farm-to-table stuff going on.”
When it comes to brewing, Riverhead has an advantage over the rest of the North Fork, Mr. Doroski said, because it offers sewer connections.
“Having sewers makes it an easier place to open breweries,” he said. “There’s also more commercial industrial space.”
Riverhead’s Crooked Ladder Brewing Company is well on its way to opening its doors. Digger O’Dell is about to install a new 16-beer tap system to serve Crooked Ladder and other local brews, and the people behind Moustache Brewing Company recently entered into a lease for a commercial building in Polish Town.
Does Riverhead believe it’s on its way to grabbing the craft beer crown?
“Absolutely,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said. “One hundred percent. There’s a method to our madness about how the downtown is coming up. Becoming a craft brewing mecca will have a positive effect on both Polish Town and downtown. I love the wineries and I do like my chianti or a glass of merlot, but I’m a beer drinker so I concentrate on what I know.”
Mr. Walter said he is happy to see the camaraderie between Long Ireland, an established local beer maker, and brewers just starting out. Long Ireland, which opened in 2011, seems to be thriving, he said.
The Central Islip couple behind Moustache brewery, Matt and Lauri Spitz, said they chose Riverhead over other Long Island locations because of the town’s encouragement.
“Riverhead was one of the only towns to welcome us with open arms,” said Mr. Spitz. “A lot of the towns we talked to weren’t sure what to do with a brewery.” But Riverhead, he said, “is trying to revitalize and pull small businesses in, which is great.”
Through Kickstarter, an online fundraising website, the couple pulled in more than $30,000 in start-up capital for their brewery, which Ms. Spitz said she hopes will contribute to the “blooming” of the East End as a craft beer destination.
“Now we have two breweries and a brew pub in Riverhead,” said Ms. Spitz. “Between that and the wineries, it’s going to be great.”
Growing along with the craft beer industry is its sister business, cultivating hops. Hops, the flower of the Humulus lupulus plant, are used in the brewing process to offset the sweetness of malt sugars and add aroma to beer. A century ago New York produced most of the hops grown in the U.S. Today, that distinction is shared by the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.
Wading River farmer John Condzella wants to change that and make the burgeoning local beer industry even more local.
However, the fourth generation farmer had a difficult time making the most of his farm’s first 800-pound hop harvest this past spring using nothing but human hands.
“We were even having hops-induced nightmares from the picking,” he said, laughing.
And because Mr. Condzella’s hops plants are still maturing, he estimates they will produce between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds next season.
“It takes about an hour for someone to harvest one plant and we’re going to be doubling our hop yard this spring,” he said. He plans to plant an acre’s worth of Willamette, Perle, and Fuggle hops varieties to bring his hop yard to two acres.
He is currently raising money through Kickstarter to import a Wolf WHE 140 Hopfen Pflückmaschine harvester from Germany for cooperative use among North Fork growers.
One of these growers is Peconic hops farmer Andrew Tralka.
“We just got our license for Farm to Pint,” said Mr. Tralka. “We hope to educate people about hops, to show them what they look like, and the North Fork is the perfect spot for it.”
A harvester would mean more local hops, enabling the growing number of local breweries to make a wet-hopped ale, which requires fresh hops.
“The Wolf has the ability to harvest an acre of hops in an eight-hour day with two people operating the machine,” Mr. Condzella said. “If hand-picking, it would take about 500 hours for the same two people.”
Mr. Condzella said he is in a rush to raise $27,000 to bring the harvester to the North Fork and eliminate “a serious barrier to producing local hops. We want to create a sense of urgency because we feel that sense of urgency and want to show we’re very serious in what we’re doing,” he said. “We want to show the local beer movement is strong. It’s an exciting time for craft and local beer on Long Island. The people involved are very passionate.”