Rise Of Craft Beer On Long Island

On Long Island, there exist certain institutions that help define our culture, build our communities and establish our relationships with one another. Included within, but not confined to this, are our historic landmarks, our school systems, our safety departments and our healthcare facilities. As of late, however, a new segment has emerged—one that may seem unlikely, but perfectly displays the connection between the land and the people that inhabit it—craft beer.

What Is Craft Beer?

Craft beer is produced by craft brewers, who are defined by the Brewers Association as “small, independent and traditional.” The Brewers Association—an organization of brewers, owners, distributors, allied trade members and suppliers with the intent to protect small and independent brewers within the United States—further dissects these three governing criteria as:

1) Small: Annual production of less than two million barrels,

2) Independent: Less than 25% of craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who themselves is not a craft brewer,

3) Traditional: Craft brewery offers an all-malt flagship (represents their beer of greatest volume) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all-malt beers or in beers, which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

While “small” and “independent” primarily involve guidelines in production and proprietorship, and are more associated with the business side of a brewery’s operation, it is the concept behind “traditional” that serves as a true representation of craft beer and the ideals it encompasses. Here, excellence has precedence over all else, with the intent being to create beer that explores flavor, aroma and other variables, utilizes natural ingredients like malt, barley and hops, is prepared with innovative, yet tradition-oriented techniques, and, perhaps most importantly, exudes the artistry, or craftsmanship, of those involved—from the brewer who cultivates it, to the community who supports and consumes it.

Sounds like an ethos instituted by the Founding Fathers and practiced religiously by all within the beer industry since, right?

Not quite.

While beer existed primarily as a cottage industry prior to and during the 19th century, with production on local and regional levels, and distribution confined to only surrounding areas, industrialization, the era of Prohibition (which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol for consumption in the United States from 1920 to 1933), strict government regulation, grain rationing during World War II and brewery consolidation all contributed to the shift toward our current mainstream market—a large, corporate-run structure emphasizing the maximum production of minimal flavor.

“There were breweries in every locality, a situation that was compromised by Prohibition, and later, big brewery consolidation,” says Alex Hall, columnist for Ale Street News and organizer of several New York cask ale festivals. “It’s only now we’re reinventing it the way it was—and should be—with quality beer brewed on a small scale.”

The reinvention Hall refers to began in 1978 with House Resolution 1377 (Senate Amendment 3534), which legalized tax-exempt home brewing for personal or family use. Brew pub legalization in individual states and small brewery tax cuts followed, enabling a viable market for people to experiment with forgotten styles, develop new, more complex recipes, share ideas with fellow enthusiasts, and of course, provide quality beer for those who want to drink such.

This movement continues today and has experienced an explosion as of late, with several examples found in our very own backyard.

Craft Beer On Long Island

The microbreweries and brew pubs residing on Long Island (totaling twelve at the time of publication) best resemble a cluster of snowflakes descending from a vast evening sky in January—no two are alike. From ingredients to style development, operating space to annual production, each local craft possesses a unique identity, equipped with its own interpretation of beer and its own ideals about brewing.

Black Forest Brew Haus of Farmingdale uses traditional materials and recipes from Privatbrauerei Hoepfner in Germany to create their own old-style offerings, while Paul Dlugokencky’s one-man “nanobrewery” Blind Bat produces wood-smoked and rustic ales out of his home’s garage in Centerport.

Each story is different. Each is one of a kind.

However, regardless of variations in style, square footage, equipment size or manpower, the philosophy amongst those involved with craft beer on Long Island is identical throughout—for community, by community.

“Making beer has always been more of a hobby, a passion for us—something to do on the weekends for our own entertainment and that of our friends,” states Donavan Hall, one-third of Rocky Point Artisan Brewers. “That’s why we pledged to keep small and to self-distribute our beers only to places that are close to home.”

Rocky Point Artisan is not alone in their desire to establish home as its apex. Oceanside-based Barrier Brewing Company’s Evan Klein envisions his product as locally exclusive and hopes enthusiasts from around the country will travel here to obtain some. “I like the idea of not being able to have a certain beer unless you come to Long Island, or Barrier Brewing, and there’s a cask in our walk-in that you can’t find anywhere else.”

It becomes quite clear upon further examination of the breweries, brew pubs, home brew clubs, bars and beverage centers encompassing both Nassau and Suffolk Counties that “Drink Local,” Blue Point Brewing Company’s infamous craft beer credo, signifies much more than just the consumption of Long Island suds.

When Bellport Cold Beer & Soda hosts its annual community club fundraiser for youth charities, or Great South Bay Brewery donates sales from its debut party to Bay Shore’s Southside Hospital, “Drink Local” stands for the cultivation and strengthening of bonds, and the helping of others. When specialty bars The Good Life and T.J. Finley’s pair dishes with appropriate-styled beer during monthly dinners, or Starfish Junction Productions organizes festivals showcasing everyone from home brewers Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME) to large craft player Southampton Publick House, “Drink Local” stands for the promotion of our businesses, our hobbies, our passions and livelihoods.

“You’re part of a larger process that goes beyond just appreciating good beer,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association.

But can such an industry, one fueled by substance, not profit, continue to be successful, especially in today’s sluggish economy?

Recent statistics suggest yes.

Future Of Craft Beer

In a mid-year analysis released by the Brewers Association, dollar sales in craft beer were up 12% after the first six months of 2010, compared to 9% during the same period in 2009. Furthermore, while overall United States beer industry sales decreased 2.7%, craft brewer sales increased by 9%.

As of July, 1,640 breweries were in operation within the United States—over 100 more than in 2009 (1,525) and the highest number since 1910 (1,498). On Long Island alone, Barrier Brewing Company, Blind Bat Brewery, Fire Island Beer Company, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, Long Ireland Beer Company and Rocky Point Artisan Brewers were all established in the last three years (joining mainstays Southampton Publick House and Blue Point Brewing Company, established in 1996 and 1998, respectively).

Craft beer continues to flourish, especially here on Long Island, and with good reason—there is a demand for quality.

“People are waking up to the fact that they do not have to succumb to the marketing messages put out by the big brewers,” believes Jeff Glassman, president of Fire Island Beer Company. “Instead, people are increasingly making their purchasing decisions based on the quality and taste of the beer instead of how many times they’ve seen a particular advertisement.”

Local consumers are now craving art, passion, variety and self-expression in their beer and thus far, our craft scene has sufficiently provided just that. Etched in chalk along the rear wall of one of New York City’s most notable beer bars, Rattle N Hum, is a quote from Alex Hall that states “Welcome to the craft beer revolution, you’ll enjoy it.”

Long Island couldn’t agree more.

Where to Drink Craft Beer

70 West Main St, Patchogue
(631) 447-7744, bobbique.com

DEKS American Restaurant
605 Route 25A, Rocky Point
(631) 821-0066, deksrestaurant.com

Effin Gruven
2562 Sunrise Hwy, Bellmore
(516) 409-1415, myspace.com/effingruven

Fadeley’s Deli Pub
440 West Main St, Patchogue
(631) 758-8882, myspace.com/fadeleyspub

The Good Life
1039 Park Blvd, Massapequa Park
(516) 798-4663, thegoodlifeny.com

The Lark Pub & Grub
93 Larkfield Rd, East Northport
(631) 262-9700, thelarkpubandgrub.com

Legends Restaurant
835 First St, New Suffolk
(631) 734-5123, legends-restaurant.com

The Loyal Dog
288 East Montauk Hwy, Lindenhurst
(631) 225-1535, theloyaldogbar.com

Mr. Beery’s
4019 Hempstead Tpke, Bethpage
(516) 579-7049, mrbeerys.com

Pentimento Restaurant
93 Main St, Stony Brook
(631) 689-7755, pentimentorestaurant.net

T.J. Finley’s
42 East Main St, Bay Shore
(631) 647-4856, tjfinleys.com

Waterzooi Belgian Bistro
850 Franklin Ave, Garden City
(516) 877-2177, waterzooi.com

niko krommydas

Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.