10/18/13 7:00am
10/18/2013 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Ireland Brewery co-owner Greg Martin (center) harvests hop cones with assistant brewers Liam Hudcock (left) and Fred Keller at Condzella Farm in Wading River last year. Long Ireland is one of a few local breweries to spring for a farm brewery license, which requires a specific amount of local ingredients to be used each year.

If you build it, said the voice in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” they will come.

Such is the state’s hope as a growing New York beer industry builds itself up. Now, the state is also trying to spur interest in growing products – namely, hops and barley — to create a truly local beer.

And so far, a few local breweries have ordered up one of the state’s new farm brewery licenses, created last year by legislators to promote local hops and barley cultivation— and one more plans to do so soon.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the first round of farm brewery licensees last week, noting that Riverhead’s Long Ireland Beer Co. was among the first 14 in the state to be granted the new classification. Distinct from microbreweries, farm breweries are expected to use a certain percentage of New York State-grown ingredients each year, with thresholds for each key ingredient, excluding water, increasing from 20 percent to 90 percent over the next 10 years. In return, their beer earns the label of New York State-made product, and breweries are eligible for incentives such as the ability to sell pints of beer for consumption on premises and exemptions from certain state fees and tax filing requirements.

Greg Martin, Long Ireland co-owner, said the Pulaski Street brewery obtained its new license several weeks ago. And while the incentives to use New York State-grown hops and barley may prove beneficial, he and others say working enough local ingredients into their brews is posing some difficulties.

“It’s a little challenging now,” said Mr. Martin, who opened Long Ireland in 2010 along with partner Dan Burke. “We’re trying to lock in suppliers so we can hit our compliance rate, but we’re getting a lot of people who are saying, ‘We’re out of product for the season.’ ”

While much has been written recently about the increase in hops production on the East End, barley — one of the other main ingredients in beer — remains less attractive to growers.

“I don’t think if we bought all the barley in New York State that would be enough to support us,” Mr. Martin said.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Ireland brewmaster and co-owner Dan Burke brewing in Riverhead.

David Katleski, president of the New York State’s Brewer’s Association, said a task force led by the state’s deputy commissioner of agriculture and markets has said that sustaining the state’s farm brewery industry would require 30,000 acres a year of pale two-row barley, a base grain used in many beers. He estimates that less than 1,000 acres of barley are grown currently in New York State.

Dale Moyer, agriculture program director at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said that barley could be grown on Long Island — it would take to the soil and climate just fine — but would be expensive. “With the cost of land on Long Island, it doesn’t lend itself very well to growing grains,” he said, adding that grain takes up a relatively large amount of space compared to other crops. Getting brewers to pay more for the homegrown product, he noted, might be difficult and could help explain why barley isn’t being grown locally.

The high cost of land has John Condzella — a Wading River hops farmer who purchased a $27,000 hops processor earlier this year — wondering how much more investment would really be worth it. Mr. Condzella is doubling the size of his one-acre farm in the coming year, but if he knew that New York State-grown hops would be worth the effort, increasing the farm 20-fold instead of twofold wouldn’t be out of the question.

It’s difficult to balance the economic needs of start-up breweries with those of hops and barley growers, and that challenge could lead to changes in the law.

“It’s certainly aggressive,” said Rich Vandenburgh, co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, and a member of the New York Brewers’ Association board of directors, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the thresholds required to maintain a farm brewery license adjusted or increased more slowly over a longer period.

But, Mr. Katleski said, “the state recognizes that brewers won’t be able to fulfill their obligations unless local ingredients are readily available … and [the state] won’t hold their feet to the fire if supply can’t meet demand.”

Mr. Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing in Syracuse and a member of the task force looking into the future of craft beer in New York, said that pelletizing hops — which increases their efficiency for brewers and makes the ingredient more marketable — is currently a solution that’s being explored to make the investment in hops growing more worthwhile. And creating either multiple small malting facilities for processing barley or one large centralized location is another possibility the task force is exploring.

“This forces the hands of farmers and everybody else to step up and make it happen,” Mr. Katleski said.

Gov. Cuomo’s office said that over $2 million has been invested statewide in hops production over the past couple of years, including the hiring of a full-time hops specialist, who recently made a trip to Wading River and met with 20 to 30 people interested in growing hops.

And while work remains to be done on the supply side of locally grown ingredients, not all brewers say they won’t be able to meet the initial 20 percent threshold. Moustache Brewing Co., expected to open soon in Riverhead, will be a much smaller operation than Greenport Harbor or Long Ireland. Co-owner Lauri Spitz said she and her husband, Matt, will be able to find enough locally grown grains to hit the 20 percent mark, and some of the perks that come with the new license stood out as they were filing their initial paperwork.

The same goes for Duffy Griffiths, co-owner of Crooked Ladder Brewing Company, which just opened in downtown Riverhead. Mr. Griffiths said that while his brewery is currently classified as a microbrewery, he and partners David and Steven Wirth, after reviewing the pros and cons, will likely apply for the new license soon.

“The tax incentives are a lot better and we try to buy local anyway,” Mr. Griffiths said. “So now, hopefully, we can create more of a market for them local growers, and this is an incentive for them to take care of it.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

01/30/13 8:00am
01/30/2013 8:00 AM

Moustache

The Crooked Ladder Brewing Company, which plans to open soon next to West Main Street’s Digger O’Dell’s pub, may not be the new kid on the block for very long.

Moustache Brewing Company, the brainchild of Central Islip couple Matt and Lauri Spitz, went from a pipe — or rather, barrel — dream to a dream all but realized after a successful kick-starter campaign brought in more than $30,000 in startup capital this past spring, the owners said.

“We’re excited and of course a bit nervous because this is all brand-new territory for us” said Matt Spitz, whose moustache matches the company’s handle-barred logo. “We plan to start small with a one-barrel brew system and build things up over the next few years, as far as the volume of our production goes.”

This is the couple’s first business venture. Mr. Spitz is a musician who plays bass guitar in a reggae band. Ms. Spitz is a health information manager for a medical practice.

Moustache Brewing has leased a commercial building on Hallett Street in Polish Town, which they plan to use mostly for production. Mr. Spitz isn’t expecting a lot of walk-in traffic.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO  |  Co-owner Mike Spitz stands in front of the future site of Moustache Brewery in Riverhead's Polish Town on Tuesday afternoon.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Co-owner Matt Spitz stands in front of the future site of Moustache Brewery in Riverhead’s Polish Town on Tuesday afternoon.

“There won’t be a bar or a fancy tasting room,” he said. “We’ll just have some taps on the wall where people can get samples or growlers and go.”

Lauri Spitz said signing the lease on Saturday brought an exhausting search to an end.

“We’ve been looking for a place since June of last year,” she said. “So it’s really exciting to have found a home.”

The Spitzes, who have been married for over five years and home-brewing for eight, originally wanted to build their brewery in Nassau County, which Mr. Spitz said currently has only one brewery. He cited Riverhead Town’s enthusiasm for their proposed venture as a reason for landing on the North Fork.

“They were 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 the town of Riverhead has been great.”

Riverhead’s first brewery, the Long Ireland Beer Company, not only welcomes the new business but has also helped the first-time entrepreneurs.

“When we heard they were considering coming to Riverhead we directed them to a few possible locations,” said Greg Martin, Long Ireland co-owner. “We don’t see them as competition. We want Riverhead to become a destination for craft beer. Look at the wineries. People will come out here and hit multiple wineries during their visits.”

The addition of Moustache Brewery will bring the number of breweries in a half-mile radius to three.

“There’s us and Long Ireland, and then Digger’s and Crooked Ladder are on their way to building a brew pub,” said Mr. Spitz. “It’s going to be fantastic.”

The owners hope the new brewery will open by the end of this summer.

“That would be optimal,” he said.

gvolpe@timesreview.com

08/09/12 9:26pm
08/09/2012 9:26 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | The former Northville School House on Sound Avenue.

The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals denied an application by McCarthy’s on the Green to run a microbrewery out of the Old Northville School House on Sound Avenue Thursday night.

Or did they?

The board, which is already one member short because the Town Board has yet to fill a vacancy left the by resignation of Charles Sclafani, had only three voting members on this issue because ZBA member Leroy Barnes recused himself since he dealt with the property when he was the town building department head.

Of the three remaining members, ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin and ZBA member Otto Wittmeier voted in favor of a resolution rejecting the application, while ZBA member Frank Seabrook voted for that resolution, meaning he supports the microbrewery.

In casting his vote, Mr. McLaughlin said the appeal had been denied.

But after the meeting, former town Councilman George Bartunek and former Riverhead school board member Angela DeVito, both of whom had spoken in opposition to the microbrewery, said they believed that unless there is a three-vote majority against the application, it is not necessarily denied.

ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone had left by then, and could not immediately be reached for comment,  and town building and planning administrator Jeff Murphree said he’d have to research the issue.

Either way, it’s not certain if the would-be brewers are still interested.

Applicant George Greene of Wading River said after the meeting, “We have somewhere else we’re looking at, and it’s not in the Town of Riverhead.”

Mr. Greene and Tim McCarthy of Lake Grove, who own McCarthy’s Pub in Centereach, planned to lease space in the school house from its owner, John Reeve Jr., and build a microbrewery there.

They acknowledged that they would not initially be growing the grain and hops needed to make the beer, but would instead purchase it from elsewhere, possibly from East End farms that grow those ingredients.

During the course of about four public hearing on the proposal, representatives from a number of civic and environmental organizations voiced opposition, saying, among other things, that without growing the ingredients on site, the microbrewery couldn’t constitute an agricultural use and would be akin to a tavern, and that allowing it would set a bad precedent on Sound Avenue.

They also said it failed to meet the stringent criteria for a use permit, which the ZBA can grant to projects that don’t meet zoning requirements, so long as they meet a number of difficult criteria showing why permitted uses for the land wouldn’t work.

The application sought, among other things, a ZBA ruling on whether a microbrewery could be considered agricultural production.

John Ciarelli, the attorney for the applicant, said the building had been running into disrepair until Mr. Reeve bought it in 2009 and began fixing it up. But, he said. Mr. Reeve has been unable to find a suitable tenant that conforms with the uses permuted in the agricultural protection zone, in which it is located.

The ZBA decision said they did not feel the proposed use constituted agricultural production, as defined in the town code.

They also rejected the use permit application, stating that “the applicant, based upon the record presented, has failed to demonstrate competent financial evidence the property owner cannot realize a reasonable return for each of the permitted and specially permitted uses in the APZ,” as they must do in order to get a use permit.

The ZBA also rejected their request to convert an existing use that is non-conforming with zoning to another non-conforming use, saying they presented no evidence to show that a non-conforming use legally exists there in the first place.

tgannon@timesreview.com

05/19/12 3:21pm
05/19/2012 3:21 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | The former Northville School House on Sound Avenue.

Does a microbrewery constitute “agricultural production?”

That’s the question the Riverhead Zoning Board of appeals will have to answer following an upcoming hearing on turning a nearly 100-year-old former Sound Avenue school house into a microbrewery.

A company called McCarthy’s on the Green is seeking to convert the old Northville School House into the “Old School House Brewery,” said attorney John Ciarelli, who represents property owner John Reeve Jr.

Town planning director Rick Hanley rejected the company’s application on March 21 on the grounds that the brewery would be an accessory use to agricultural production and as such the 3.9-acre property falls short of the town’s seven acre minimum.

The hearing is scheduled for the ZBA’s May 24 meeting beginning at 7 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.

For additional information read next week’s edition of The Riverhead News-Review.