Beer buds are brewing some fine suds

08/05/2010 12:00 AM |

Rich Thatcher (left) and Donavan Hall move one of two new 60-gallon fermenters Rocky Point Artisan Brewers purchased for the operations they run out of a house. Longtime home brewers and pals Mike Voigt (right), Uri Janssen and Mr. Hall formed the company to develop high-quality craft beer in large quantities.

Motoring up the driveway of a nondescript Rocky Point home, it’s hard to imagine some of the finest beer on Long Island being brewed just a few tire rotations away.

Even as you park and walk past the recently purchased 60-gallon fermenters sitting in the front yard and the high-tech brewing system resting near household hardware in the detached garage ¬­– where the beer is brewed — you might be skeptical of what’s going on at this isolated Hallock Landing Road property.

It isn’t until the first sip that you realize the three local men who formed Rocky Point Artisan Brewers aren’t messing around.

“They’re great brewers,” said Rich Thatcher, president of Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts. “They say they don’t drink commercial beers. Well, they brew better than you can buy.”

Mr. Thatcher knows what he’s talking about. The store manager at Bellport Cold Beer and Soda, a craft brew landmark on the Island that boasts more than 800 varieties of beers, he’s so committed to cold beverages he claims to have once quit a job in the banking industry so he could attend a beer festival.

Friends Donavan Hall, Mike Voigt and Uri Janssen formed Rocky Point Artisan Brewers two years ago this month. Previously, the trio of Rocky Point residents made their own home brews for more than a decade.

Believing that if they pooled their talents and resources they could brew larger quantities of one great brand, the self-proclaimed “beer geeks” decided to team up.

They now meet every other Saturday at Mike’s father’s house on Hallock Landing Road to brew 60 gallons of a variety of beer flavors.

Still an unlicensed product, Rocky Point Artisan Brewers beer can’t be sold anywhere. Mr. Hall said the company doesn’t plan to pursue a beverage license until the three brewers feel they’ve mastered their product. The easiest way to pour the company’s tasty ales and lagers down your throat is to work your way into the inner circle of local craft beer enthusiasts.

“A lot of times someone will come by and help us out and we repay them for their time with a keg,” Mr. Hall said.

Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts, which the brewing company’s founders helped create, was formed as a way to bring together Long Island’s craft beer community. The group organizes educational sessions, trips and beer dinner nights, among other activities.

And sharing a good craft beer with friends is what Mr. Hall said Rocky Point Artisan Brewers is really all about. While some local brewers are motivated by winning awards or making a few bucks from the product they create, Mr. Hall says he just enjoys the beverage.

“I do it so I can have some really good beer on tap at my house,” he said.

It wasn’t always that way for Mr. Hall. He said he didn’t like beer in college. It wasn’t until graduate school, when a friend introduced him to a wider variety of brews, that he became a beer man.

Today, the company brews many of the flavors Mr. Hall has grown to love over the years. This past Saturday they made a German-style Weisse beer that is fermenting this week and will be on tap Aug. 14 at the North Fork Craft Beer Festival at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead.

On other brew days they’ve created batches of pilsner, helles, Vienna or swartz beers, among many other varieties.

The brew day starts at 7:30 a.m. and lasts until late afternoon. While the batch is making its way through the system, the brewers — and the occasional friend who drops by — chew the fat about beer, food, music and other interests.

Of course, they also tap a keg of one of their recently brewed beers.

But Mr. Janssen warns that one should never drink too quickly or start drinking too early on a brew day.

“You have to be careful drinking and brewing,” he said.

Mr. Thatcher tells the story of another group of local brewers who began drinking early one morning before they started brewing an India pale ale for an upcoming tasting event. Though this time, drinking and brewing seemed to work out for the guys.

The men, who were eating doughnuts and losing their inhibitions, decided to get a little creative. One of the inebriated brewers threw a double cream doughnut into the process.

“They showed up [at the event] with what they called double cream doughnut IPA,” Mr. Thatcher recalled. “It was actually really well received.”

For Rocky Point Artisan Brewers, the process is equally experimental and methodical. Mr. Janssen says he believes his and Mr. Hall’s experience as scientists, mixed with Mr. Voigt’s creativity, gives the group a proper blend of discipline and imagination.

Mr. Thatcher agreed, as he praised the trio’s work while sipping a pilsner they tapped Saturday. He said introducing the casual beer drinker to the Rocky Point product is always an enlightening experience.

“It’s like if someone was used to chocolate and vanilla ice cream,” he said. “Now you’re introducing them to chunky monkey.”

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Want to try their beer?

A limited number of tickets are still available for the annual North Fork Craft Beer Festival on Aug. 14 at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead. Rocky Point Artisan Brewers will be among more than 50 craft breweries showcased during the event. Check out for more information.