“Don’t be drinkin’ that Budweiser, cause there are beers that are so much better,” the sombrero-wearing duo sings, as the coolest bunch of nerds this side of the East River clap and cheer and hold up their tiny beer-tasting glasses in approval, their inner geekness on full display.
“And here’s a list we compiled for you, of reasons to drink Long Island brews …”
The beer enthusiasts smile from ear-to-ear now — many of them through facial hair — and back-slap like they’re at the 19th hole, without all that bothersome golf beforehand. This is an annual event, at which beer hobbyists gather to sip suds for a good cause at the Bellport Beer, Wine and Food Tasting, organized by aficionado Dave Schultzer, owner of Bellport Cold Beer & Soda.
Don’t be fooled by the event’s name, though. There’s food, sure, but not much wine.
Beer brewers’ stations encircle most of the large catering hall at the South Shore village’s country club. The tables are draped in logo-bearing tablecloths, with T-shirts, decal stickers and decorated pint glasses scattered among growlers of varying amounts of fluid. These aren’t your father’s light-yellow Coors, Millers or Heinekens, either.
Craft brews are black and brown and orange and amber. They have names like Ghost Cat, Outer Lands, and Riverhead’s own Moustache and Long Ireland brewing companies. And the logos are just as creative as the names. Consider The Brewers Collective out of Ronkonkoma and its Communist party-inspired bottle-and-sickle badge. It’s tongue-in-cheek, sure, but no joke.
“Our logo, in short, represents our philosophy as a worker-owned company,” the collective states on its website. “We are all equal partners who work hard and contribute our own individual talents in order to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
That statement could apply to the entire craft beer industry on Long Island. These talented men (and some women) not only enjoy each other’s company, they’ve got each other’s backs. They’re all fighting for market share, but at the same time support each other fully in the larger quest to out-muscle the aforementioned national brands. Many start as home-brewers or join clubs before making the leap to become brewery owners, and just three — Blue Point, Long Ireland and Southampton Publick House — have reached the ultimate goal of bottling six-packs.
As the night goes on in Bellport, the beer pourers get more philosophical about what they’re doing. Beer supports many other local industries — like farming — I’m told. Beer helped a once-depressed Patchogue Village turn the corner, after Blue Point Brewing Company — the largest craft brewery on Long Island — put Patchogue on the beer map.
The suds are doing the same for downtown Riverhead, where by year’s end three craft brew houses will be within walking distance of one another on Main Street and in Polish Town. A beer-tasting room on Patchogue’s Main Street, called Hoptron Boutique, is packed most nights of the week, further evidence that the craft beer-sipping trend is spilling out of the brewery tasting rooms and into storefronts.
Most all of the pourers last week said they aspire to bigger things and are at some stage of a permitting process at the state or local level. If Patchogue is beer central for the South Shore, Riverhead and the North Fork are fast becoming the beer Mecca of the north. Many brewers gush about how welcoming and supportive Riverhead Town officials have been to the craft beer industry. It’s not like that elsewhere, apparently.
One brewer I spoke to said his company has been trying to open a brewery and tasting room in a vacant building in a western Suffolk town I won’t name. He called the town the “Land of No.” The company’s backup plan is to open in Riverhead.
“The politicians [in the western town] aren’t really understanding what we are,” he said. “They think we’re going to have underage kids in here drinking and fighting. It’s just people who are passionate getting together.”
Besides, I interjected, kids don’t have the cash for this kind of beer.
The craft beer brewers and drinkers, on the other hand, have a few nickels to rub together. I’m not saying they’re rich, but there’s no Bachelor of Science degree in brewing beer yet, so these aren’t college kids or entry-level workers.
Most of the hobbyists-turned-small-businesses-owners have already built careers for themselves in fields like engineering, education or law enforcement. Everything brought to Bellport last Thursday night — food, beer and wine — was donated so the event could raise money for charities handpicked by Mr. Schultzer. Those charities are Lighthouse Mission, an Island-wide Christian mobile food pantry that also operates in Riverhead, and Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck of Center Moriches, a summer camp for children with physical and developmental disabilities.
The event was sponsored by Bellport Beer, South Shore Wines & Liquors, and Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts.
And a the numbers rolled in, it looked like the groups raised some $8,000 for the charities.
I’ll drink to that.
Michael White can be reached at [email protected].