When Spider Bite Beer Company unveils its eight-legge, err, eight-draft taproom on Saturday, for the first time in over three years, people will drink its beers—not at some bar in Massapequa Park or some restaurant in St. James, or any venue where the alcohol stage is shared with other breweries, but at its headquarters in Holbrook, a bright-ass singular spotlight. At 920 Lincoln Avenue, the menu will always only feature Spider Bite.
This is undeniably a milestone for Larry Goldstein and Anthony LiCausi, the two longtime friends and neighbors who started the company in 2011, but it’s not the only one to celebrate tomorrow. The other milestone occurred last month, when Goldstein, brewmaster, began brewing in the adjacent warehouse space previously used for storage. Spider Bite has cleared the cobwebs to make beer in Holbrook!
When I visited their 1,500-square-foot operation last week, seven 1.5-barrel fermenters were happily filled with developing beers, while the taproom—essentially a small room with a small bar and a few stools—was still morphing from its previous form (the brewery’s office). As the duo swiftly painted its walls an airy beige-ish color, I asked about their first major event appearance in 2012, at TAP New York. TAP annually awards one brewery the F.X. Matt Memorial Cup for “Best Craft Beer Brewery in New York State” and that year, from a pool of over 50, Spider Bite won. This effectively announced the brand’s arrival with a bullhorn.
“I was ecstatic,” Goldstein recalls, “but not entirely,” he quickly adds as his tone shifts to irked. “‘They don’t even make their beer, so how can they win?’ That’s what I heard some people say about us.”
The hissy-fitters, to some extent, were correct. Since launching Spider Bite, Goldstein and LiCausi have contracted the production and packaging of their core offerings—first with Butternuts Beer & Ale, then with both Butternuts and Cooperstown Brewing simultaneously, and now with Mercury Brewing. This practice is generally accepted in the wineiverse, but it’s often a target of harsh (and sometimes childish) criticism in the craft-beer industry—not only from drinkers, but also from brewers, who claim the liquid yielded is inauthentic and inferior. I’ll refer to a quote from Cigar City’s founder, Joey Redner, for my stance on the contract-brewing issue: “There is nothing magical about owning the equipment you brew on … The beer is either good or it is not good. A beer is not more good because you own the gear it was made on.”
While the host brewery has changed during Spider Bite’s three-plus years of aliveness, its base has remained at 920 Lincoln Avenue, located in an industrial area near Sunrise Highway. When Goldstein and LiCausi started leasing the unit, one of many in a large brick warehouse, the goal was to start brewing to supplement their outsourcing within a year. That didn’t happen.
“Time just flew by,” he reflects. “You start dealing with the matters involved with contracting your beer, making sure everything is working out on that end, and you start losing sight and steam on the building of your own thing. Before we knew it, it was three years later.”
Despite the flak-wrapped poop flung from some, Goldstein does not regret their decision to outsource production: “It helped us get the ball rolling. It gave us a faster initial start being able to supply more locations from the beginning.” He pauses. “But things taste sweeter now, definitely.”
The sweetness Goldstein is tasting likely derives from Spider Bite’s plans for Holbrook, which include not only brewing a slew of new recipes, but also recipes that were only brewed once or twice as exclusive offerings for major local events, like the North Fork Craft Beer, BBQ & Wine Festival. As its core “alerachnids”—the newest is Fundur, a crushable light-bodied and low-alcohol IPA presenting wonderful grapefruit and floral aromas—will continue to be contracted elsewhere on a large scale for distribution (they will also appear at the taproom occasionally), only experimental species will be bred at the brewery, for the brewery, in small amounts. The idea, Goldstein says, is to offer “stuff you can’t get anywhere else but the taproom.”
“I already know a ton of beers we’re making soon,” he continues. He reveals some before I leave: the five dissected below this story, and Bohemia Raspberry, a bottle-only blonde ale spiked with Brettanomyces yeast and aged with fresh raspberries. There are also plans to pour stored kegs of Boris The Spider, my favorite of Spider Bite’s beers, from the last four winters simultaneously.
As a brewmaster, Goldstein is the sum of his recipes. Whatever he chooses to make at Holbrook, each will taste sweeter than anything he has ever brewed before.
Larry Goldstein discussed some of Spider Bite’s new beers made at, and made for, Holbrook (some are available this Saturday, Feb 21.):
Silk Spinner Porter//5.1% ABV: I don’t want to call this a “session” porter since most porters fall into that category to begin with, but the label seems to fit the profile of this beer perfectly: light, refreshing, and way too easy to drink; the last is especially true. This hits all the buttons on a traditional porter: dark brown color, roasted cocoa aroma and flavor, and again, just easy to drink. We brewed this a few times in 2013 and plan to keep it around in the tasting room regularly.
P.I.T.A. IPA//6.6% ABV: This is the first beer we brewed on the new system, and everything that could have went wrong that day, it went wrong: bloody hands, hurt backs, yeast splattered all over the walls. Despite all the chaos, though, the finished product tastes great. It has a golden color, medium body, moderate bitterness, a dry finish, and we hopped it with Citra and Centennial the whole way through—finished off with tons of dry-hopping. This lends big citrus and tropical fruit aromas to the IPA and makes it pop out of the glass.
Ale X//11.5% ABV: We brewed this beer for our friend and neighbor, Alex Beauchamp, whose been a big supporter of the brewery before we were even a brewery, back when we were just brewing in my garage. He’s a huge fan of Simcoe hops, so we decided to make an imperial black IPA that’s intensely hopped with it. Whenever we make a black IPA, our goal is to have it look black but not have the roastiness that can occur in the style; this way, the hops can pop out. Ale X is no different: it’s somewhat dry, the alcohol is mostly hidden, and the hops are at the forefront. I get a nice lemony character from the Simcoe, actually.
Melba’s Toasted Imperial Brown//7.0% ABV: Another beer brewed for one of our dear friends, this is for Melissa Barrett, who has designed most of our labels, six-pack holders, posters—anything you can think of, she’s helped out. This is our way of saying thanks. Melissa’s favorite style of beer is a brown ale, so that’s what we made: a medium-bodied brown ale with a smidge of sweetness and some nice chocolate flavors. We were thinking about adding coconut to play off the “Toasted” part of the name, but we figured that would be too much. Here, it’s just all about the brown ale. We hope she likes it enough to get “toasted” off of it, because she’s really important to us.
Rophenia//10.0% ABV: Anyone that knows me knows I’m a huge fan of The Who. We’ve named three or four beers after them and Rophenia, our Belgian quad, is a play on their album, Quadrophenia. Here, the Belgian yeast provides fruity esters which gives those dark fruit flavors synonymous with the style. It’s ruby-colored, full-bodied with a light sweetness, and despite the ABV, it’s really easy to drink. We made this originally in 2012 for the North Fork Craft Beer, Wine & BBQ Festival at Martha Clara, and again, this will be a regular beer in our tasting room, only made in limited amounts. Yet another reason to come visit us.
Spider Bite Beer Company’s taproom opens Feb 21, from 3:30pm to 7:30pm. It will sell pints and flights in-house and growlers to-go. Its regular hours of operation are: Thursdays, 4pm to 8pm; Fridays, 3pm to 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays, 12pm to 4pm.