One Brewer is Putting Beer in Its Place

DESPITE THE REMARKABLE RESURGENCE of craft beverages nationwide, beer remains largely a global product made by ingredients imported from across the country and around the world. But this longstanding placelessness is beginning to be challenged, and brewers are starting to use locally grown ingredients to create distinctive beers defined by geography and terroir. On Long Island, Holbrook’s Saint James Brewery leads the charge by incorporating hops, grains and fruits from the surrounding area in an effort to imprint its seasonally driven Belgian-style beers with the flavors and aromas of New York.

Related Content: 7 Surprising Facts About Beer to Brew Over

Jamie Adams, a native of Commack, honed his recipes for nearly 20 years before launching Saint James with his wife in 2012. Saint James (named in honor of James the Greater, not the town) is a state-licensed farm brewery. The law, enacted just three years ago, requires that a farm brewery source 20% of its ingredients from New York. It has been credited with the recent upswing of hop farms and malt houses throughout the state. Adams considers his fierce emphasis on local ingredients—including a proprietary farmhouse-style yeast strain gathered and propagated himself—essential to both being Belgian in style and also for connecting drinkers to his brewing process. “Sourcing local and working with our area’s growers and knowing how they grow our ingredients helps us tell a story of where we’re from and what’s important to us,” Adams said. He told us about three of his beers to find this summer and early fall, all of which are made with state-born hops and malts and spotlight produce from Long Island.

Local Harvest Ingredient: Peaches
Source: Richter’s Orchards, Northport
What to Know: This is a new addition to the line-up, but not the first time fruit has been sourced from Richter’s Orchards for one of Adams’s recipes; Saint James also makes a beer with their apples called Pomme. The brothers in charge now, Louis and Andrew Amsler and their family, have been growing fruit on Long Island since 1934 and the orchard has been in operation since 1900. For Pêche, 100 pounds of whole-pitted peaches were added during secondary fermentation. Adding fruit at this stage allows for the natural sugars to ferment out while the aromas and natural tartness of the acids shine. Here the delicate flavor of the peaches is accentuated by a simple grain bill (ingredients used in brewing); utilizing only one type of locally grown barley and local noble hops to balance, not overpower, the sweetness of the star ingredient. Pêche’s golden color and a refreshing taste represents the very best of Long Island’s thriving agricultural society.

Local Harvest Ingredient: Watermelon
Source: Sang Lee Farms, Peconic
What to Know: This is another new addition, created because of Sang Lee’s reputation for having outstanding watermelons. Pronounced “Mel-Ann-Doe,” approximately 100 pounds of organic watermelons are used. The quality of the fruit and the farmer behind it play a large part in dictating the lineup and the ales chosen to brew. The star ingredient takes a lead role for the flavor profile—watermelons are supported by a base of locally grown pale-malt barley and noble hops. The barley adds rich malty sweetness, while the hops are added simply to counterbalance the residual sweetness of both the watermelon and the malted barley. Melon D’eau will be auburn in color, display a light body and be refreshing, perfect for this time of year.

Local Harvest Ingredient: Wildflower Honey
Source: Promised Land Apiaries, Mattituck
What to Know: Saint James Brewery makes this complex blonde ale twice a year, coinciding with Promised Land’s early and late season harvests. Early-season honey is lighter in color and more subtle in flavor; late-season honey is more robust and darker in color. Chris Kelly, the head beekeeper at Promised Land Apiary, has been tending beehives for more than 40 years and his honey is harvested from hives nestled amongst patches of local wildflowers.

Seventy-five pounds of Kelly’s honey are added per batch, more than 20% of the entire grain bill. The honey is added during secondary fermentation, allowing its natural flavor to retain its character into the finished product. Many people find that beer made with honey is too sweet or cloying, but here the result is a waft of honey sweetness on the nose that’s quickly subjugated to sublime honey flavor, notes of clove and a moderate alcohol warmth on the palate courtesy of the yeast, all of which dissipates to a very dry, smooth finish.

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.