Below you'll find a few entries from my beer guide. If you enjoy what you read, then consider getting a copy for your personal library. Print copies are available from Lulu.
Blind Bat Brewery
One of my brewing heros here on Long Island is Paul Dlugokencky who back in 2008 launched Blind Bat Brewery out of his garage in Centerport. When Paul went pro he was still using a 10 gallon Sabco brewing system. Since opening his doors for business Paul’s nanobrewery has grown; now he’s brewing on a 3 barrel system (that’s nearly 100 gallons).
Mike and I were still brewing together for fun when we heard about Paul and what he was doing. I don’t think anyone was using the term “nanobrewery” back then, so we used Paul’s term cottage brewery. Mike and I decided we’d start our own cottage brewery. And Paul was kind enough to sit down with us and put us on the right track. Cooperation, not competition.
Last Friday evening, I drove out to Centerport to chat with Paul and to get a look at his 3 barrel system. Paul gave me a tour and showed me the renovations he did to his brewing space to accomodate the larger brewing system. “This is really gorgeous, Paul,” I said not disguising my brew-envy.
We craftbrewers get turned on by equipment. For some guys it’s cars, others guns, but in the craft beer world we tend to be slow and peaceful, so we get excited about brew kettles, pumps, and heat exchangers.
“You guys should really think about getting involved with a farmers’ market,” Paul told me. “Foodies are natural craft beer people.”
“How’s that working for you?” I asked.
“Really well,” he said. “People are really interested in the beer.”
“You gotta have some good locally crafted beer to go with all that locally crafted food,” I said.
Long Ireland: Better at the Source
817 Pulaski Street
Riverhead, NY 11901
Every few months or so our little brewery goes through a number of cylinders of compressed CO2 gas. It’s an easy enough thing to load up the cylinders in the brewery truck and drive out to our compressed gas supplier in Riverhead -- a one man job really, but it’s more fun when there’s two.
When Mike, my brewing and business partner, decided to turn our hobby into something a little more large scale and serious, he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. So the two of us started Rocky Point Artisan Brewers (RPAB) three years ago. Since then we’ve added a third artisan brewer, Yuri. We’re now the three musketeers of nanobrewing.
Right about the same time Mike and I started hatching RPAB I was madly trying to finish the first edition of my beer guide (it was during the 2009 Stony Brook Film Festival, I remember it well since I was proofreading my book during the intermissions between films, hoping that I’d meet the printer’s deadline so I could sell the books at the annual craft beer fest held at Martha Clara in August), I started seeing Celtic Ale taps popping up in bars across Long Island. After a few inquiries I arranged a meeting with Dan Burke and Greg Martin of Long Ireland Brewing Company. It turned out that I already knew Greg (by sight) from the B.E.E.R. Club meetings.
In the last three years Long Ireland has grown to be one of the largest production breweries on Long Island with it’s own brewing facility on Pulaski Street in Riverhead. And for the last six months I’ve been intending to head out for a peek at what Dan and Greg have built, so when Mike said, “Long Ireland’s opening their tasting room for the first time today,” it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pay Greg and Dan a visit at their new digs.
We picked up our gas cylinders and then Mike said, “You know where the brewery is right?" I said, “We’ll find it, don’t worry. I’ve got a nose for these things.”
I thought perhaps there would be a sign. Just cruise up Pulaski Street and we’re bound to see the sign. No sign, but when I saw the red and white building, I just felt in my bones that it was the new Long Ireland brewery.
“They need to paint the building green and yellow,” I said. “To match the company logo.”
Mike parked the car in front of the brewery at 817 Pulaski Street, and I started snapping photos, eager to get back into my role of Long Island’s craft beer documentarian. I could see Greg and Dan through the large plate glass windows of their new tasting room in the front of their brewery. Greg had a spray can of window cleaner and Dan was working on the bar, screwing on tap handles.
We were early, the tasting room didn’t officially open for another forty minutes. “Don’t let us distract you,” Mike said. “Just put us to work.” We’re all in this together, after all.
So I helped pick up the place (to make it look neat) while Mike (the handy man) helped with the drain system below the taps.
When the tasting room was looking spiff, Dan said, “Hey, you guys wanna beer?”
Well, now that you mention it…
Mike started with the Breakfast Stout and I went with the Pale Ale. The Pale Ale was crispy, fresh, delightfully citrusy.
“This is your first time here, isn’t is?” said Greg.
It was. Greg opened the door leading to the brewery to show us the system that he and Dan had put together to brew beer.
The building that Greg and Dan are in is an wooden structure, like a big warehouse. There was something comfortable and homey about looking up and seeing the large wooden timbers holding up the roof. So many breweries are in these pre-fab metal buildings. Mike and I were envious of this space. Despite its size, the building had a charm, and a history. Craft beer is more of a passion and an art than it is an industrial pursuit. Technically, breweries do manufacture a product, but we craftbrewers don’t view it that way.
Craft beer isn’t just a mildly intoxicating beverage --- it isn’t just a product to be sold for money. Craft beer is food; it nourishes the body, and the soul. Craft breweries have to be small. Smallness is essential to maintaining the human contact with the food. Large-scale industrial manufacturing of food and all the packaging that goes with that system severs the connection between nature and humans. This isn’t just some mystical credo propped up by a neo-localist ideology --- you can taste it. Food from a small farm, close to your home, tastes better than “industrial food.” Anyone who’s part of a CSA knows this, experiences viscerally, with the senses: not just the taste, but the look and the aroma. It’s the same with the liquid food: beer. When humans make something with their hands, they imprint themselves on what they make --- soul, humanity, beauty, connection. Machines can’t impart what the body needs.
Greg and Dan’s brewery might look big, but it’s just about the right size to balance what is essential about the beer business. You have to be able to produce enough beer for sale that you can cover your expenses, but you don’t want to produce so much that you lose the human connection. I’ve done the calculations. For two guys to make their living off brewing beer, they need about a 15 barrel brewing system.
“We can boil twenty-two barrels at a time in our kettle,” said Greg. “The system was built as a fifteen barrel system, but it’s oversized. At twenty-two barrels we can brew three times a week and fill our fermenters.”
Greg and Dan bought their brewing system third hand and installed it themselves. Their brewery is a product of conscientious human labor -- it’s a craft itself, a product of art and intelligence. When you build something yourself, you really know that thing.
The parts of the brewery were built twenty years ago --- a custom order for New Haven Brewing, a brewpub. After three years of brewing, the brewpub decided to drop the “brew” part and just be a restaurant. This happened to a lot of places in the early 90s, during the first wave of craft beer growth. At the time, more breweries opened than people were ready for. As a result, many brewers gave up or went out of business. Part of what hurt craft brewing back then was that non-brewers were getting into the business of making and selling a product. As a result, there was a lot of drinkable, but mediocre beer on the market. Many people’s first experience of craft beer were at breweries that didn’t represent the art very well, and people didn’t taste the magic. A lot of very good breweries were brought down with those that were merely okay.
So, New Haven’s system sat in storage for number of years until it was sold to Pennichuck Brewing in Milford, NH. In 2010 that brewery felt the pains of the economy and began shutting down its operations. Greg and Dan bought the brewing equipment from them.
When Greg and Dan got started a few years back, they had some help. The beer community is tight and we help our own. Competition doesn’t really work as a business model if you really care about what you are making and not just the dollars that come out of the process. Rob Leonard of New England Brewing Company showed Greg and Dan the ropes --- how to scale up from homebrew quantities to the volumes that would be needed to sustain a craft beer brewing business. The first batches of Long Ireland’s Celtic Ale were brewed in Rob Leonard’s Woodbridge, Connecticut brewery.
“When we told Rob where we got the brewing system, he couldn’t believe it,” said Greg. As it turns out, Rob Leonard was the brewer at New Haven Brewing Company back in the day, and the brewing system now housed in Long Ireland’s building on Pulaski Street is the system that Rob brewed on twenty (some odd) years ago. “Yeah, Rob’s going to come down and make a batch with us, for old time’s sake,” said Greg. Small world.
I had just finished my Long Ireland Pale Ale as Greg told us that story. “That’s a good story,” I said. “And this is a fantastic beer.”
Mike was done with his Breakfast Stout. “Yeah, I wanna try the Pale Ale next,” said Mike.
“And I think it’s Breakfast time for me,” I said.
Greg led us back to the tasting room and poured us some tasters. Mike and I put our serious tasting faces on and sniffed the aroma. “What kind of hops are you using in the Pale Ale?” asked Mike. “I’m getting citrus. Cascade?”
“That’s right,” said Greg. “We used to use Amarillo, but that’s getting hard to find for some reason, so we changed the recipe at bit. Now we’re blending Columbus and Cascade.”
I was enjoying the roasty, coffee-flavor of the Breakfast Stout. It had a slightly malty nose, and finished with a hint of sweetness.
It was time for the tasting room to officially open and the first customer was right on time. The guy put his growler on the bar. “Can I get that filled with the Pale Ale?”
Greg said, “Sure.” And while he poured the beer he said, “Do you realize that you are our first customer ever? This is the first growler fill we’ve done here.”
“Really?” asked the guy. “I thought you’d been open. I was just driving by with my growler.”
Serendipity? Are there beer gods guiding the thirsty to craft beer oases?
It was about time for Mike and I to hit the road. As much as we’d love to stick around all afternoon and sample tasty beer, duty called. We had our own brewery that needed attention.
“Before we head out,” I said, “can I get a sample of the Celtic Ale?”
Now, I’m very familiar with the Celtic Ale. That beer is everywhere. I’ve been having pints of it all over the Island for the last few years. Greg poured me a small glass. I tasted. It was definitely Celtic Ale, but there was something different. Something about it was fresher, more alive.
“Man, this is seriously good,” I said impressed by the quality. “This is even better than it usually is.”
“Thanks,” said Greg. “I’m glad you like it.”
But deep down, I knew why it tasted so good. Like spring water, there’s nothing better than having craft beer at the source.
Beer Bars & Restaurants
The Good Life
I moved to Long Island so that I would have more time to write fiction. When my path crossed with Lenn Thompson, my beer brewing hobby intruded into my writing life. I started writing about craft beer back in 2005 and up until two years ago I was an active beer blogger, contributing to a number of drinks blogs including (what is now called) The New York Cork Report. For the last two years I’ve not been idle. In addition to publishing a second edition of my Long Island Beer Guide, I’ve been busily writing what you could call “beer novels” --- fictionalized accounts of my beer soaked adventures.
I’ve written three beer novels and I’m working on a fourth. It’s time I started getting these books into the hands of readers. But how?
Recently, I drove down to Massapequa Park to have lunch at The Good Life (1039 Park Boulevard). My buddy, Rich Thatcher, president of the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME, a club we started with Mike Voigt a few years back), has been bugging me for a year now to get down to The Good Life. I’ve been following (from a distance) the activity of the folks behind The Good Life. They’ve become great supporters of the Long Island craft beer scene and are now one of the must-see beer bars on Long Island.
When I pulled up in front of The Good Life the other day I was amused by the entrance which looks just like an English phone booth. The interior of the place is tastefully done in dark wood --- the architecture and design reminiscent of The Lark in East Northport (near Karp’s Homebrew Shop).
My wife and I had taken the whole day off, just to hang out, be together, talk, and generally enjoy each other’s company. The kids are off with the grandparents so we wanted to have a real date. “Let’s sit outside,” said Alice. We sat at a table under a tree and watched the pedestrians and the cars go up and down Park Boulevard.
We could have taken the train, but Long Neck (where we live) is on the northern line and the Massapequa Park LIRR station is on the southern line. Hence the car. The train station is only a half a minute’s stroll from The Good Life, so folks in the city should have no problem paying a visit to this place.
I’m just as much a foodie as I am a craft beer geek, so food is extremely important to me. Alice studied the menu and came up with a selection of item: pot stickers, East Asian salad, and Shepherd’s Pie (which seemed appropriate, not only because we like the dish, but because the British theme of The Good Life we figured the “pub food” would be spot on). And it was.
Being a localist, I try to support the local beers and brewers, so when I saw Canard Noir on tap, I had to start with that. Canard Noir is the Greenport Harbor Black Duck Porter, but fermented with Belgian yeast. The Canard Noir was satisfyingly roasty -- kind of like coffee and toast.
My next beer was a special brew by Ommegang, their “Belgian Independence Day” (listed BID on the menu). The BID was a light, refreshing saison, delicately spiced. While I probably could have settled into several glasses of these, I thought I should probably sample some other offering since we’d driven so far.
While we were sipping our beer and sharing our appetizers, Alice said, “When are you going to start working on the next edition of your beer guide?”
“Today,” I said, half-joking really. “I’ll write about this place.”
“Seriously, you should do some marketing for your guide. A lot of people still don’t know about it,” she said.
“What people want,” I said, “is an app for their iPhone. Not a 250 page book.”
“What about an e-book?” she asked.
“That’s an idea,” I said.
Then the Shepherd’s Pie came.
After the meal we ordered a last round for desert: VUUR & VLAM from Brouwerij de Molen in Bodegraven, Netherlands and Corne du Diable from one of my favorite Canadian breweries, Dieu du Ciel, both IPAs. The VUUR & VLAM (Fire & Flames) is definitely classed in the “extreme” category: lots of citrusy, fruity American (Pacific Northwest) hops and decent amount of alcohol heat. The Corne du Diable (Horn of the Devil) is more subtle, more English in its hop character, a sharp tea-like bitterness rather than citrus fruit.
We took our time over these beers. At this point the sun had retreated into the leaves of the tree we were sitting under. With shade and the gentle breeze, we weren’t in any hurry to leave. I was seriously tempted to stay all day, but I’d promised to take Alice to the Stony Brook Film Festival that evening.
Later that evening, after getting home from a full day out with my lovely wife, I picked a proof copy of my first beer novel and flipped through it. Drinking beer and writing about it. What could be better? This is truly the good life.
Long Island Ale House
The Sports Bar. A couple of weekends ago I got a text message from one of the guys in my soccer club. He and another coach had decided to head out to a bar for a couple of beers. “We’re at Ugly Jacks,” said the message. I texted back, “Grumpy Jacks, surely.”
My phone had been off while I was in the movies so my soccer buddies blamed me for their lack of knowledge about where to go for a beer on a Friday night. “You guys need to get out more,” I said. “Or at least get a copy of my beer guide.”
Grumpy Jack’s is a sports bar not far from the Port Jeff train station. I knew the place because my wife family are football fans and when they visit on the holidays we seem to end up at Grumpy Jack’s for an afternoon of football and beer. They have Blue Point Toasted and Long Ireland Celtic Ale, but the rest is BMC.
I didn’t even have to ask. My soccer friends were nursing pints of Blue Moon -- the default brand for beer newbies who are trying to trade up but can’t take the hops of American pales ales (let alone IPAs) or the roast and toast of the dark ales (like porters and stouts). “Why don’t you drink Blue Point Toasted?” I asked. “Too bitter,” they said. Really?
We stood around in Grumpy Jack’s talking about our favorite sport, ignoring the fact that every screen in the place was beaming images of teams playing “American football.”
I typically avoid sports bars unless I want to catch a game. Sports bars don’t typically cater to the craft beer enthusiast. Even sports bars with 30+ taps seem to think 28 different brands of American Standard and Light Lager is the epitome of variety.
When I heard about the opening of the Long Island Ale House, a flicker of interest stirred inside me until I visited their web site. “Oh, another multi-tap sports bar.” I filed it away on the low priority list.
On Sunday, I met with my business partners to take care of some issues concerning the operation of our brewery. During the meeting Mike mentioned that he’d been down to the Long Island Ale House. “They don’t have anything on tap that I hadn’t had before,” he said. “The food’s okay though.”
Monday evening my plan was to visit C’est Cheese in Port Jeff for a third time in a month. This time I was going to get some photos and write them up proper for the New York Cork Report and my beer guide. (They promised that some of Mike Philbrick’s Port Jeff Brew would be on tap by the time I returned -- a promise I expect them to keep.) But, then I remembered that C’est Cheese is closed on Mondays. I’d already roused the troops (wife and offspring) and they were ready to go out.
“There’s the Long Island Ale House,” I suggested. When my son confirmed that the Ale House served wings (what sports bar doesn’t?) he started chanting “Ale House, Ale House!”
When we arrived at the address I immediately recognized the location. I’d been there before when it was Global Sports Cafe (owned by a Turkish family and supporters of Galatasaray, or maybe it was Besiktas) --- before the place had its Long Island Ale House make over. “This is where I used to come with Franz to watch the Arsenal matches,” I said to Alice. Arsenal is Franz’s passion. We had this international exchange going. He’d watch MetroStars matches with me and I’d watch Arsenal matches with him. It was an excellent excuse to drink beer.
The interior of the Long Island Ale House still had that new look and feel to it. “I can smell the fake leather,” said Alice. It was nice and neat and clean. And mostly empty.
All the screens were tuned to ESPN in anticipation of the big Monday night game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints. “Go Saints!” screamed Alice when she saw the screen. Everyone in the whole place turned to see what the excitement was. She and her whole family are Saints fans. Her uncle has had a set of four season tickets to the Saints games since the franchise began in 1967 when the team played at Tulane University’s stadium. In fact, Alice’s brother and his wife were in New Orleans that night in the Superdome waiting for kick-off. “I wish we could stay and watch the game,” said Alice. I shrugged. “It’s a school night,” I said. “Beside we already know the Saints are going to kill the Giants.” Alice nodded, resigned.
Our friendly server brought the beer list. I scanned the list for anything Belgian that Alice might like and was amused by the creative spelling of Gulden Draak, “Golden Dreak,” it read. The server wanted to be helpful and tried to guide us through the palate of such esoteric offerings as Stella Artois, Palm, and Arrogant Bastard. Without transforming into a Beer Dick (well maybe just a small one), I assured the server that we were familiar with every beer on the list.
We ordered. Since I almost always order local, I went with the Great South Bay Sleigh Ryed, since I hadn’t tasted that one yet. And Alice went with the Blue Point Double Blonde. The GSB Sleigh Ryed was disappointing as a starter. I was hoping for something drier and hoppier, but what I got was spiced and sweet. “It’s a chick beer,” I said to Alice as I offered her a sip. “Eww!” she said making a face. “I like mine better,” she said. “At least yours tastes like beer,” I said. “Light, quaffable.”
“I want wings!” announced my son.
The food was merely okay. Decent pub fare for filling the gnawing void if you happen to be there for the game, but it’s not the sort of cooking you’d go out of your way for.
“I see the intent,” said Alice after reading through the menu. “They’re are working the local angle. Local beers, local ingredients; but points off for execution.” About a quarter of the beers were from local brewers, the big three: Blue Point, Long Ireland, and GSB. Some of the ingredients listed on the menu were from local farms (spinach, for example). But it seemed more like a gesture, rather than an operating principle.
My son was fascinated by the pre-game show on ESPN, mostly involving images of a Syracuse basketball coach. “I used to watch the Arsenal with Franz in that back room,” I said getting into a nostalgic mood. “It’s funny they only have the one channel. All these TVs and one channel. Is this the only game on?” Alice asked if there was any soccer on TV at the moment. “The only match I know about is Sophia versus Ludogorets in the Bulgarian league, but I doubt that’s on TV here.”
About halfway through the meal, our sever returned, this time with a Blue Point Rastfa Rye for me and a “Golden Dreak” for Alice. The Gulden Draak was even in the appropriate glass. My Rasta Rye was in a Bud-labeled shaker pint -- you can’t have everything, I suppose.
When it was all over and we were headed back to the car, Alice asked, “Well? What did you think?”
“Not enough of the local stuff,” I said. “I understand the pressures that these places face. If you’re running a sports bar, you gotta cater to the sports bar tastes, or lack thereof. Craft beer bars, on the other hand, don’t tend to have that many TVs. It’s a different crowd.”
Then Alice asked the all important question. “Would you want the Long Island Ale House carrying your beer on tap?”
“Speaking as a businessman or a craft beer lover?”
“Just answer the question,” said Alice.
“I’ll plead the fifth then.”
216B Main Street
Port Jefferson, NY 11777
phone: (631) 403-4944
Closed Mon. Open Tue-Thur 11am-9am; Fri & Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 12pm-8pm
A few months back, Alice and I were looking for someplace to go after taking in a movie at the Staller Center. “I wish there was some nice quiet place we could go, have a cheese plate, drink some beer, and relax,” she said.
“Let’s try Port Jeff,” I suggested. “It’s been awhile. And you’ve never been to Portside Grill.” Of course, I knew Portside Grill was never going to work on a Friday night. While they would certainly have craft beer on tap, they would be in short supply of quiet. Despite my doubts, I remained hopeful. They could be having a dead night.
We parked, shoved a few quarters into the parking meter, and headed up to the main street. “What’s that?” asked Alice pointing.
There, just a few doors down, past The Pie, was a new place: C’est Cheese. “Looks like a cheese shop,” I said purposefully not commenting about the punny name.
“You want to try it out?” asked Alice.
“You think they have beer?” I asked. “Most cheese shops only have wine.”
“Only one way to find out,” she said.
When we saw Chimay on tap, we knew we had come home. And then we saw Dave standing behind the cheese counter. “Dave!”
Dave Conway-Lama is a fellow beer geek and homebrewer who I met at a Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiast meeting a couple of years ago. The beer scene on Long Island being quite social meant that my path has crossed Dave’s many a time. Most recently, he had visited my brewery to see how slightly larger batches of beer are made.
That night was the first of many visits to C’est Cheese.
The Chimay Cinq Cent (white label) was great, but of the 8 taps the only local brew was the Brooklyner Weisse (which despite the suggestive name is, in fact, a hefeweizen). I said, “You guys have to get Port Jeff Brewing Company beer on tap in here.”
“We’re working on it,” said Dave. “We’d like to get the Porter.”
“Well, when you get it, I’ll put you guys in the guide.”
They made good on their promise, so I’m making good on mine. Which brings us to…
Last Thursday. Alice’s goal is to try every single one of the sandwiches at C’est Cheese. Our first sandwich was the Rueben. Hot, juicy, lots of flavor, a generous portion of cheese (as you’d expect). Last Thursday, we had the Roast Beef sandwich.
The Port Jeff Porter was indeed on tap. “I’ll have a glass of the Porter,” I said. You get these nice little round glasses at C’est Cheese. It’s different, a nice touch, and a definitely improvement over the (nearly) ubiquitous shaker pint. (No self-respecting beer bar should ever serve their beer in shaker pints. The worst is the “frosty” shaker pint.)
I left Alice in charge of the food selection -- salads and sandwiches. And I focused on what might be a good cheese pairing to go with my Port Jeff Brewing Company Porter. Smoked Gouda seemed like cheating. No, I was in the mood for a blue cheese. I asked Dave about the Stilton in the back corner of the case. “I’m thinking an English cheese to go with my English-style beer,” I said.
“This Stilton is nice,” said Dave. He was pointing at a significant wedge of speckled, steel-blue cheese labeled “Colston Bassett.” Dave shaved off a slice and handed me a taste across the bar. “It from an artisan producer in England called Neil’s Yard Dairy.”
The Stilton was mild, but full-flavored -- a perfect partner for my Porter. “Bring it on!” I said.
My son picked out a Cantal, Cantalet Dore, a semi-firm cheese that reminded me of a cross between Swiss and (the French idea of) Cheddar. As it turned out the Cantal (served with grapes) was an excellent accompaniment to Sixpoint Bengali Tiger. I had to order a glass of that too just to see if my pairing instincts were right. And I’m not afraid of two fisting it when I’m working.
That’s part of the fun of going out and having a hundred different cheeses to choose from and a decent tap selection -- finding a cheese you like and then looking for the ideal beer pairing. The smart shop owner will provide a palate for the taster to ply their art. And the smart shop owner will staff their establishment with intelligent folks who can field any question.
My son asked Dave, “What does aging do to a cheese?”
Dave: “How long do you have?”
The short answer is that aging dries out the cheese and concentrates the flavors. Ages cheeses are typically measured in months, but there are some like Gouda that are profitably aged for years. In fact, we ordered a wedge of 5 year Gouda to take home with us.
I’ve got three or four books on cheese (one volume devoted to just the varieties indigenous to France). For me, they are reference books. I consult them after a run to my local cheese shop. The stories I read about the cheese and its history help enhance my enjoyment of the cheese. Of course, I’ve not taken my study of the cheese to the same level as I have the study of beer, but I should. Just chatting with Dave about cheese impressed on me that there is as much to say about cheese as about beer -- so many varieties, so many flavors. And with the artisan food moment and relocalization of food production we’re seeing a dramatic growth in local artisan cheese production, with several producers here on Long Island.
Craft beer and cheese are no strangers. Every craft beer bar I’ve ever been to offers a cheese plate, typically the cheeses are artisan cheeses selected and purposefully paired with a specific beer. So it makes sense that a good cheese shop will offer equally good beer. The fact that C’est Cheese has eight taps pouring (mostly) craft beer gives me hope for the future good relations of cheese and beer.
Tap & Barrel
I had arrived at Tap & Barrel just a few minutes before Rich Thatcher, long enough to have studied the menu of 52 tap offerings -- well, it was 51 that night. Nothing was on tap #42. I had asked the bartender if the absence of a beer on tap number 42 had any special significance. 42 is just one of those special numbers. Just saying “forty-two” can conjure up whole worlds, universes even, in the imagination. Locked inside that number are the deep mysteries of life, the universe, and everything. To contemplate that number is to seek after the meaning of it all. To penetrate the mystery is to taste the good life. And not having a beer on tap #42 just might be a sign that ultimate meaning is unattainable. Or perhaps, there was a beer on tap #42 and the fact that it couldn’t be named was further evidence of this tap’s role as a gateway to the unknown.
I ordered a pint of Greenport Harbor’s Chinook Red. When Rich arrived, he glanced at the taps and ordered a glass of Spider Bite’s Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout. “How is it?” I asked. “Too cold,” he said. “I’ll let it warm up.”
Rich wears a couple of hats in the beer scene. As president of the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts, a craft beer appreciation and brewing club with over 500 members, he commands an army of drinkers who have helped shape the craft beer culture on Long Island through their patronage of craft beer bars like Tap & Barrel. Rich is also craft beer salesman. He works for one of the Island’s largest beer distributorships and he represents a number of craft brands (such as Avery Brewing Company). So when Rich and I get together, he tells me all about the business side of things, and the games that some distributors play to influence what a beer bar puts on tap for its customers.
Even though I’m on a slow track into the beer business (on the beer production side) I will try to hold onto my outsider status as long as possible. The benefit of being an outsider is that my imagination is not inhibited by trivialities such as facts. You see, as someone who is ignorant of the realities of running a craft beer bar (or store or bottle shop) I am free to imagine ideal, beery Utopias where bar owners can put whatever beer on tap that they want.
So it’s a little annoying to me to hear Rich tell me, “No, Donavan, Tony has to deal with these specific distributors and sometimes the beer he wants just won’t make it to him for reasons that have to do with how the system works, or doesn’t work, depending on how you look at it.” Tony is Anthony Celentano, the owner of Tap & Barrel.
Rich already knows about my dream of Long Island becoming the nation’s craft beer Mecca. “I see a future for Long Island where there is peaceful coexistence between hundreds of nanobreweries, all supplying the craft beer bars within twenty miles of the most diverse selection of quality beers available.” In such a dream future, Tony would be able to get any beer style he wants directly from a local brewer. He would be the curator of magnificent collection of locally brewed craft beer.
Despite the limitations of the three-tier distribution system, Tony has done pretty well in selecting a line-up for his 52 taps that balances locally brewed craft beer with the more respected beers available from regional and national craft brewers.
After polishing off the satisfyingly hoppy Red Ale from Greenport Harbor, I wanted something else that was local. “What do you think, Rich?” I asked. “Is Southampton still local?” Rich just gave me a look. “You’re kidding, right?”
A tap just to the left of me promised Southampton Christmas Ale. Regardless of precisely where Southampton Christmas Ale is brewed, I turn a blind-eye and enjoy it each year at this time, during the holiday season. Finding an excellent Bière de Garde isn’t easy. There are not many of them. Bière de Garde is a French-style, well northern French. The border in that part of the world has drifted back and forth over the centuries so northern France and southern Belgium share a lot of the same beer culture. Perhaps by some unspoken agreement France gets to claim Bière de Garde, Bière de Mars, Bière de Anything (?) as its own leaving the more ecclesiastical brews to the Trappists in Belgium --- France, as ever, retaining its status as a secular state. Another of my favorite (the favorite?) beer styles, Saison, appears to be in dispute. Sometimes a Saison is French, sometimes it’s Belgian. So the struggle over borderlines continues, but the modern battlefield is shaped by malt and yeast rather than by barbed wire. And that’s the better way I should think.
Of course it would not be at all appropriate to serve a Bière de Garde in a shaker pint (which would be the equivalent of presenting a fillet mignon in the bottom of a galvanized steel bucket). Our affable bartender presented my Southampton Christmas Ale in an elegant stemmed tulip glass, the reddish beer shaped into an attitude of jubilation by the narrow glass, and topped with a beige-tinted layer of lacy foam. (N.B. On a recent trip out to the Southampton Publick House I ordered a glass of the Christmas Ale and they served it in a shaker pint, so even at the source you aren’t guaranteed proper service.)
Bière de Garde is a nice style for winter drinking. At 7.2% ABV it’s right at the threshold of perceptible alcohol flavor that imparts what we beer geeks call “a warming effect.” In addition to being warming, the beer has a pleasant spicy character that comes from the hops. The hop variety used in this beer is called Strisslespalt and it’s rarely used in anything but French and Belgian-style beers. However, the head brewer at our brewery, Yuri, designed an “English” Ale hopped exclusively with Strisslespalt just to see how it would turn out. Our English-French-Belgian fusion beer spiced with Strisslespalt is on tap at my house. So when I plunge my nose into the tulip glass brimming with Southampton Christmas Ale, I’m greeted by familiar aromas.
My drinking plan was to end with a glass of the Spider Bite Boris the Spider Imperial Russian Stout. Rich was kind enough to share a sip from his glass once it had warmed a little. Boris is a ten percenter, that is, its ABV is up in the double digits. It’s warming, but in a subtle (possibly) dangerous way.
The bartender, quiet rightly, served Boris in a small snifter glass (probably only 8 ounces). The snifter, also on a stem, has a large bowl, but instead of flaring out at the top, it flares in. The idea behind the design of the snifter (as the name might suggest) is to concentrate the aroma of the beer and direct those delectable vapors to the drinker’s nose. It’s a good glass to use for aromatic beers. But it’s also the style of glass we beer drinkers sip strong beers from. Most highly alcoholic beer-styles (Barleywines and Imperial Anythings) will (should) be served in a snifter.
While I was enjoying the smooth, chocolate mocha Boris from my diminutive snifter, I related to Rich my thoughts about the difference between a multi-tap bar and a craft beer bar. Just a couple of weeks ago, I’d visited the Long Island Ale House and I had written an account of that visit for the New York Cork Report. Multi-tap bars (usually sports bars) will typically have a selection of craft beer along with industrially produced beers and major-brand imports. This is a good thing in general, but I have a few concerns. The multi-tap bar, since it isn’t a craft beer bar, doesn’t treat the craft beer any differently than the industrial beer. So when you order a beer in a multi-tap bar, you are likely to get your Russian Imperial Stout in a frosty shaker pint. We beer geeks might snicker at this faux pas, but think about the beer newbie who is craft-curious and just making their first baby steps into the world of real beer. Not only is the beer served incorrectly, the fact that the newbie drinker (used to industrial light lager) will try to knock back his pint of Imperial Stout. It doesn’t taste like it’s overly alcoholic, so he orders another. Then it’s halftime and he gets up and tries to walk.
As a craft brewer and craft brewery owner, I’m connected to my beer. When I send a keg of beer out into the world, that beer is my representative. And I want to impress people. I want my beer to impress them. Putting my beer in a bar that is unable to present my beer the way I envision is a scary prospect. I don’t want my beer served in a frosty shaker pint because I know that it won’t taste the way I designed it to taste. Admittedly, this the the concern of the brewer. It’s not just a financial consideration, I know the work and time that went into making that glass of beer, and so I want to see that the beer gets to the drinker the way it was meant to be. Therefore, a proper craft beer bar with knowledgeable staff and an experienced cellarman will maximize the chance that my beer will be served appropriately and in the best condition.