The North Fork took one step closer to becoming a haven for craft beer this week.
Crooked Ladder Brewing Company in downtown Riverhead, the latest microbrewery to sprout up in Riverhead Town, got the last of its state licenses on Friday to brew beer.
The fledgling brewery plans to begin making beer by the end of this week, after the last of the building’s plumbing work is complete, and will be open by the end of June, said brewery co-owner Steve Wirth.
The brewery began as a chat between Mr. Wirth, who owns Digger O’Dell’s bar and restaurant next door to the Crooked Ladder, and Duffy Griffiths, who owns two Duffy’s Delis in town and is a longtime Jamesport Fire Department volunteer, and its current fire chief.
Mr. Griffiths had experience professionally brewing beer, and both men were looking to get into the business.
“It was just two friends talking and we both kind of had the same path we wanted to get [to] on the way of life,” Mr. Wirth said. “We brought it to my brother, who has a background in construction and engineering … Now three years later, here we are.”
The Crooked Ladder brewery will start with a selection of four beers, said Mr. Griffiths, the brewmaster: an American amber beer called Gypsy Red that will serve as a flagship label for the company, a to-be-named nut brown ale, an English-style pale ale and a seasonal, in this case, summer, beer the company will soon name.
“We’ll play around with them,” Mr. Griffiths said, adding Crooked Ladder will have plenty of seasonal beers throughout the year. “I want to do everything.”
Crooked Ladder uses a seven-barrel system at its West Main Street location to brew its beers, Mr. Wirth said. The beer then goes into a series of fermenters for two weeks; the brewery will have a capacity of about 4,000 barrels a year.
Mr. Wirth said the microbrewery is a great use of the “eyesore” vacant building next to his restaurant. Mr. Wirth’s brother and a co-owner of the brewery, David, built out the brewery over the past year, installing granite countertops and custom accordion doors that will open fully to the street to allow large shipments of beer out the front door.
Digger’s will be a “test kitchen” for the microbrewery and the co-owners have discussed holding beer pairings and dinners at the restaurant to promote their craft beers.
The microbrewery will offer tastings of the beers on tap, and customers will be able to buy the beers they sample in growlers.
The opening of Crooked Ladder comes during an upswing in the local craft beer market. More young people are drinking craft beers, Mr. Wirth said, and the Long Island market is beginning to flourish.
Both he and Mr. Griffiths believe the North Fork could lead the pack in this new age of craft breweries. If the North Fork wine industry is like Napa Valley, Mr. Wirth said, he hopes the area’s beer industry will become like Milwaukee.
Adding to the excitement is the camaraderie among local beer makers, Mr. Wirth and Mr. Griffiths said.
Principals from the already-open North Fork microbreweries, including Long Ireland Beer Company, Greenport Harbor and others, have already approached the trio behind Crooked Ladder to offer support.
Another microbrewery, Mustache Brewing Company, recently raised $31,000 through an online fundraiser to start brewing on Hallett Avenue.
The craft beer industry is not competitive, Mr. Wirth said, because all the owners share the same passion for making beer.
“At the face of it, hanging out and drinking beer is what you do with your buddies,” Mr. Wirth said. “How can you not have fun drinking beer?”
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Crooked Ladder co-owners Duffy Griffiths (left) and Steve Wirth behind the counter of their new micro-brewery.