Over the Barrell: Riverhead Vital to Long Island Beer Revolution

Long Island’s beer community has grown like a runaway hop bine in recent years. New breweries both small and infinitesimal have been popping up every few months all across the island—from Oceanside to Greenport to Montauk and all points in between.

Luckily for those of us on the East End, Riverhead is fast becoming one of the centers of the Long Island beer revolution, with Crooked Ladder Brewing the most recent addition to the scene.

Crooked Ladder opened its doors in July, but the project has been years in the making. These things take time, even for people familiar with the local hospitality industry. A few years ago, David and Steven Wirth, who also own Digger O’Dell’s restaurant next door, along with their friend—and now brewer—Duffy Griffiths, decided they wanted to open a brewery.  Duffy owns two local delis that bear his name. It took the trio a few years go navigate town codes and renovate the location.

The brewery and tasting room, located at 70 West Main Street in downtown Riverhead, is open seven days a week (3–7 p.m. Monday through Wendesday, 3-8 p.m Thursday and noon–8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday) for tastings, pints and growler fills.

So far, they’ve released more than a half dozen beers, which you’ll find not only in the tasting room but at other bars and restaurants that support local beer, including  The Riverhead Project right down the street. The beers are approachable rather than over-the-top with alcohol or hops. Look for Peconic Bay Pilsner or the recently release Outta My Vine Pumpkin Ale.

Riverhead’s other brewery, Long Ireland Beer Company was founded by Greg Martin and Dan Burke in 2010. The production facility and tasting room are located at 817 Pulaski Street in Polish Town. The tasting room is open from 3–7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 1–6 p.m. on weekends.

Long Ireland makes more beer than most of the other new beer kids on the block, but they are still tiny by industry standards. What has impressed me most about Long Ireland isn’t even the beers. The beers are good, don’t get me wrong, but Burke, Martin and their team have done an incredible job selling local beer out in the market place. They were producing beer well before opening the tasting room, so they had to find other places to sell beer—and sell they have. You can find it all over the Island. That’s not easy to do, but they worked and worked—and it worked.

If your local restaurant or bar only has one tap devoted to local beer, there’s a good chance that it’s Long Ireland. And if it’s Long Ireland, there’s an even better chance that it’s their Celtic Ale, the first beer they ever made and what has become their flagship brew. It’s described as “old traditional Irish ale…brewed with ingredients the way beer was brewed a few hundred years ago in Ireland.” If I’m out and the tap list is heavy on macrobrews like Budweiser and Coors, I turn to this beer instead. Drink local, people.

Less readily available, but my favorite of their lineup, is the Breakfast Stout. At only 3.5% abv and brewed with a bit of coffee, it’s a gulpable, balanced stout that isn’t going to overpower food or your liver.

Rounding out the Riverhead brewing trio is Moustache Brewing Co., which is set to open before the snow flies this winter. The brainchild of Lauri and Matt Spitz (who really does have a mustache that matches the brewery’s logo), they got some attention in the spring of 2012 with one of the first local Kickstarter campaigns in the food and beverage arena. They raised more than $31,000 ($25,000 was their target). The brewery is currently under construction at 400 Hallet Avenue, and will target beer geeks a bit more than the other breweries in town. Matt told me a while back “We’re going to focus on making beer for craft beer drinkers. We’re also going to try to put out a new beer every other month or so. If it sticks, we’ll brew it again. If not, it was a cool one-off.”

Visit crookedladderbrewing.com, longirelandbrewing.com and moustachebrewing.com for additional information.

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