Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. plants its first crop of local barley

Photo by Joe Pinciaro | Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. co-owner Rich Vandenburgh, left, and head brewer DJ Swanson, right, in the field where they are planting barley.

Photo by Joe Pinciaro | Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. co-owner Rich Vandenburgh, left, and head brewer DJ Swanson, right, in the field where they are planting barley.

Four years after brewing its first batch of beer, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company is now planting its first crop.

The North Fork’s first craft brewery planted four acres of barley last week on the south side of Main Road at Peconic Lane, across from Greenport Harbor’s new brewing facility. This effort represents the area’s first foray into producing local grains for local beer. 

“We’re really interested in continuing to cultivate the complete farm-to-table experience,” said Greenport Harbor co-owner Rich Vandenburgh.

Wet hop beers – those brewed with hops used within 24 hours of being picked – have become an annual local offering in recent years, with four Long Island breweries serving them.

But in an industry that’s seen rapid growth since it started in 2009, local barley has remained out of the picture.

“There hasn’t been a market for it,” said Sandy Menasha, a vegetable and potato specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Due to this light demand, Cornell of Suffolk has no field crop specialist in barley and wheat on staff.

But with the craft beer market expanding, New York State is changing to keep up with demand. Recent legislation passed in Albany creates incentives for breweries to use locally grown products, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of New York has hired a full-time hops specialist, who recently visited Long Island to speak with interested growers.

Ms. Menasha said Greenport Harbor’s four acres represent the first time in her eight years on staff — and probably the first in about 40 years — that barley will be grown in such volume in Suffolk County. Close to 2,500 pounds of grain should be available to the brewery.

But while that may sound like a lot of barley, Greenport Harbor head brewer DJ Swanson said he’ll be lucky to get 30 barrels of beer from that yield. With its new brewery now under construction across Main Road from the barley field, Green Harbor expects to produce about 25,000 barrels a year, which would require a lot more barley.

But it’s a start, said Mr. Vandenburgh. He said his co-workers at the brewery had laughed at him when he started talking about producing barley, but “you gotta start somewhere.”

This fall, the grain will take root, and come next spring, it will be able to sprout with a stronger structure. As a matter of fact, Ms. Menasha said, “it’s relatively easy for growers on Long Island to grow the crop.”

Next July, the barley will be harvested, cleaned and dried, then sent away to a malt house — likely in upstate New York — where it will be converted to use for beer.

And one day, Mr. Vandenburgh says, a malt house may even be right on site at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company.

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