Greenport Harbor’s head brewer balances art with science

Pat Alfred takes a beer break at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.’s Carpenter Street location. (Credit: David Benthal)

It’s a Friday afternoon in September at the original Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and Pat Alfred is loading kegs of the brewery’s new Respect to Process pale ale onto a pallet.

It’s past Labor Day, but the temperature inside the brewing space is approaching 100 degrees, so beads of sweat drip down the brewer’s face as he labors through the end of his day.

Before he calls it quits, Alfred breaks out a hose. The kegs get sprayed. The floor gets cleaned. Everything gets sanitized.

In the couple of hours we spent with him on this unseasonably hot day — one that started for him at 6 a.m., in part due to the heat — we watched Greenport’s head brewer do just about everything but make beer.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Alfred says of the gig, which he’s held since April 2016. “But I could be doing a lot of worse things.”

That would be an understatement.

The truth is, despite all his custodial responsibilities, the 30-year-old Alfred is working a bit of a dream job. And the hard work is how he earned it.

Like so many others, Alfred’s career in beer started as a hobby. He began home brewing in 2011 while managing a beer distributor in West Hempstead, where he was raised. 

Alfred has a hand in everything from brewing to clean up. (Credit: David Benthal)

He had no crazy ambitions when he first started brewing, but rather was drinking a lot of beer and looking to save some money.

“I was like, ‘I need to learn how to make some beer or something.’ ” Alfred said with a chuckle. “I watched a couple of YouTube videos and was like, ‘I can totally do this.’ ”

His first batches, he admits, weren’t very good. He researched what he might be doing wrong and took a growler of his product to Barrier Brewing in Oceanside. The staff there assured him he was on the right track, but needed to improve his fermentation process.

“The beer got better,” he said. “And I tell people, ‘I’m only here now because I kept with it.’ ”

Alfred ended up taking a job at Barrier, doing everything from filling growlers to cleaning kegs. As that brewery expanded, so did Alfred’s role, and he began serving as an apprentice to brewers Evan Klein and Craig Frymark.

It was through connections he made at Barrier that Alfred was introduced to Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. founders John Liegey and Rich Vandenburgh.

When he first heard about an opening at Greenport, Alfred shied away from it, wanting to gain more experience and confidence at Barrier, where he was finally getting a chance to brew.

But his meeting with Liegey and Vandenburgh opened his mind to a lot of possibilities. At Greenport Harbor, he’d have the brew house on Carpenter Street to try new things, as the brewery’s signature styles were more mass produced at the brewery in Peconic.

“I had an opportunity to take the reins here, start a barrel program and finally get a chance to put my recipes into production,” Alfred said.

(Credit: David Benthal)

Through the barrel program, Alfred is making some of the more unique brews on the North Fork, beers that are sourced locally and barrel-aged. When we caught up with him in September he told us about partnerships with two local vineyards and using their grapes to create beer. This year’s Cuvaison, a saison from Greenport, will feature Croteaux’s rosé pressed fruit, Alfred said. He’s also working on an IPA with sauvignon blanc grapes from Jamesport, as well as an Old World hybridization style called Piquette.

“It’ll be a wild ale that’s fermented with our house culture and whatever is native on the skins of the fruit,” he said.

Alfred credits his West Indian background — his mom is Jamaican, his dad Guyanese — and a skate rat lifestyle with influencing his technique. He embraces the artisanal side of the business.

Childhood dinners — jerk chicken and curry dishes in particular — have influenced his palate and the way he thinks about beer. He enjoys making lighter beers with lower alcohol by volume, knowing it makes for better pairing and a livelier social experience.

“Earlier today, in the tasting room, I was telling someone how I really want to make a light beer with some citrus and chili in it,” he said.

This kind of talk is music to the ears of chef Greg Ling, who recently took over the kitchen at Greenport Harbor’s Peconic location, where he’s working closely with Alfred on an ever-evolving menu that incorporates and complements the brewery’s beer.

“Really hoppy beers are hard to pair well with food because it is too bitter, but Pat has a nice blend and variety here,” Ling said. “His process is really similar to mine and that is why we hit it off so well. I don’t plan anything out too far in advance. I cook what I feel like eating. Pat is the same way. He doesn’t think, ‘Oh, it is December, we have to do this.’ It is whatever he feels like drinking.”

And Alfred likens the process in the brewery to the formulas used at successful restaurants. 

“Every chef wants validation. Every chef wants order. Every chef wants a good team. They want quality,” Alfred said. “These are the things we also search for. It’s that pursuit that we all strive for.”

Liegey, who helped found Greenport Harbor more than a decade ago, said he’s been impressed with what Alfred brings to their operation, marveling at how he looks at every facet of the brewing process, right down to the quality of the water being used. Alfred said they also invested in a new machine that reads oxygen levels and will help them improve the shelf life of their products.

Local bar and restaurant owners said that while they’ve always respected Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. beer, they’ve noticed an improvement in recent years.

“They’ve just been taking it to the next level since Pat’s gotten there,” said Brix & Rye co-owner Evan Bucholz. “Just really good, innovative stuff.”

gparpan@timesreview.com