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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.”

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08/17/12 2:30pm
08/17/2012 2:30 PM

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | While weeding, Jaclyn Van Bourgondien and fiancé Andrew Tralka examine the leaves of one of their hops plants.

Between Greenport Harbor Brewing Company in Greenport Village and Long Ireland Beer Company in Riverhead, the North Fork has its brewery bases pretty much covered.

But new to the area are hops growers interested in serving Long Island’s burgeoning craft beer market.

John Condzella of Wading River recently harvested hops for special batches of ales that can only be produced from fresh, wet hops, as opposed to dried hops.

“We just harvested for Long Ireland this morning,” Mr. Condzella said Tuesday of the some 25 pounds of hops he sold to the Pulaski Street-based brewing company. “One guy was getting the brew ready while we were picking the hops. It went really well. They rushed them over to the brewery to get them into the kettle to make a special batch of wet-hopped pale ale. A limited edition type of thing.”

The farm also recently worked with the Port Jefferson Brewing Company and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Westchester for a similar purpose.

One huge goal for farmers and brewers alike is to create a truly local beer.

Until recently, fresh hops weren’t being grown on Long Island’s East End, making wet-hopped ales difficult to brew, and a local ale impossible. But a truly local product is still impossible without local production of malted barley, which usually comes from Massachusetts.

Mr. Condzella believes North Fork malted barley is something that’s just on the horizon.

“We have a few friends involved in [barley],” he said. “We might work on malting a small batch this winter in order to make a true Long Island beer. That’s definitely on our agenda.”

Until a completely local beer becomes possible, Long Ireland Brewing Company co-owner Greg Martin said he’ll be happy with a partially local product.

“The fact that we’re local gives us the unique opportunity to brew a beer with fresh-picked hops,” Mr. Martin said. “It’s awesome.”

To the east, Southold couple Andrew Tralka and Jaclyn Van Bourgondien are growing an acre of bines — which is what hops vines are called — in Peconic. Unlike at Condzella’s Farm’s acre, which was planted last year, the couple only planted its acre this year after an incubating period in a greenhouse.

“It’s always been a part of Andrew’s dream to grow hops,” Ms. Van Bourgondien said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from our families and the community. We’re hoping to get a yield this year, and as Andrew likes to say, ‘We’re just a couple of thirsty farmers looking to cultivate the local craft beer movement from the ground up.’ ”

The acre, which includes five different varieties of bines, sits beside a brown and white sign that reads “Farm to Pint,” something Ms. Van Bourgondien described as an homage to “Farm to Table,” a local produce marketing slogan.

The couple has been in talks with Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and has been approached by several home brewers, she said. The acre might be able to supply as many as five local companies with a batch each this year, depending on how much the acre produces, if anything.

At peak production, an acre could produce about 3,000 pounds of hops, the growers say.

“It takes three years to get to full production,” said Justin Wesnofske, Greenport Harbor’s account manager, who himself planted two-tenths of an acre of hops last spring — centennial, nugget and santium hops to be precise.

In two weeks, he expects to harvest 30 to 50 pounds to use in a batch of wet-hopped ale, he said. A typical batch of “hoppy” beer requires about 60 to 100 pounds of hops for one batch in a seven-barrel system, brewers say. Mr. Wesnofske said he would likely add his small crop of hops to supplement other hops.

Dale Moyer, director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension agricultural program in Riverhead, said that vegetable specialist Sandy Menasha received a grant this year to evaluate the different hops varieties. Mr. Moyer believes the crop has potential as a niche market locally, though he doesn’t think it will expand past that point.

Ms. Menasha said the evaluation has been going well.

“We’re looking at disease and insect resistance,” she said. “Which varieties hold up better against, say, downy or powdery mildews and which are less attractive to insects.”

Initial findings show that one variety, called chinook, seems to be more susceptible to downy mildew than are other varieties.

She added that aside from some people who may be growing some hops in their backyards, Pat McBride of Cutchogue is growing about three quarters of an acre and John Zilnicki of Riverhead about a quarter of an acre.

Asked if hops could be the next big thing in East End agriculture, Joseph Gergela, executive director of Long Island Farm Bureau, said it’s possible.

“Over the last 25 years, there’s been a few people who have tried it, but certainly the micro-brewery movement has not only been happening here, but across New York State,” he said. “Is it doable? Yes. But I think it might prove a difficult crop to grow with Long Island weather, what with fungus and mildews.”

Mr. Gergela added that historically, hops had been a New York State crop, particularly in the Finger Lakes region.

Ms. Van Bourgondien provided a bit of history.

“In the late 1800s and early 1900s, New York was the biggest producer of hops, but through Prohibition and two huge outbreaks of mildews, the business collapsed and moved to the West and Pacific Northwest,” she said. “It’s starting to come back around out here and it’s literally been a growing experience for us to be able to provide a truly local ingredient to local breweries.”

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07/30/11 6:04am
07/30/2011 6:04 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Long Ireland Beer Company co-owner Dan Burke entertains customers in the tasting room by flashing his 'fake' smile as he fills a growler with Raspberry Wheat beer for Kim Cioch, 39, (far right) of Riverhead Friday afternoon.

Long Ireland Beer Company co-owners Dan Burke of Shoreham and Greg Martin of Port Jefferson opened their long-awaited Pulaski Street tasting room Friday afternoon.

The pair began brewing two weeks ago they have so far made about 3,000 gallons of Celtic Ale, Pale Ale, Raspberry Wheat and Breakfast Stout— a sweet stout and is made with coffee. Their brewery assistant Fred Keller says it is great with an egg sandwich and only has 3.5% alcohol.

Long Ireland had about 40 customers Friday who had either heard from friends that they were opening or on the company’s Facebook page.

Julia Harmon, 28, of Hampton Bays stopped in to buy a growler of Celtic Ale for her father who had never tried it. “He likes to try different things,” she said.

Kim Cioch, 39, of Riverhead stopped in to buy a growler of the Raspberry Wheat. “I love it and it is a nice summer fresh taste,” Ms. Cioch said. We also got a tour of the brewery — my first.”

The tasting room at 817 Pulaski Street will be open on Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m.

02/13/11 8:00pm
02/13/2011 8:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Long Ireland Beer Company owners Dan Burke (left) and Greg Martin pose with kegs and five fermentation tanks in their Riverhead brewery.

The kegs are stacked. The ingredients are stocked. The fermentation tanks are in place.

And in about six to eight weeks, the owners of the Long Ireland Beer Company expect to get their state liquor license and get to work on brewing beer on Pulaski Street in Riverhead.

Co-owner Greg Martin said the neighborhood air “will have a slight scent of baking bread” once their brewery and tasting room is up and running in the 8,800-square-foot former Agway building.

The brewery is now outfitted with five large fermentation tanks, and other beer-making equipment that Mr. Martin and his partner, Dan Burke, purchased through eBay.com from the shuttered Pennichuck Brewing in New Hampshire.

Construction began in October.

The company’s first and most popular release, Long Ireland Celtic Ale, is currently brewed in Connecticut and is available in some 120 bars and restaurants across Long Island. They’ve been storing their beer in Port Jefferson.

Mr. Martin, of Port Jefferson Station, and Mr. Burke, of Shoreham, said their beer is brewed in one day and takes two weeks to ferment before it is put in kegs and shipped.

The two buddies had worked together at Marran Oil in Holtsville, when they began brewing beer as a hobby during their down time but at that point they couldn’t imagine one day owning their own brand of craft beer. “We never got into this to get rich,” Mr. Martin told the News-Review in October. “It was something my partner and I did for years together and we enjoyed it. It was something we wanted to pursue on a grander scale.”

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Want to know more about the business of brewing? Check out the Business page in the Feb. 17 edition of the News-Review.