Craft beer bars multiply to meet demand.
“This is not a fad,” Bobby Gulinello said, his eye contact conveying the conviction behind his words. I took another sip from the pint glass in front of me and nodded in agreement.
“It’s kinda like the wine explosion,” he continued in his gravelly voice. “There’s a finesse to it. It’s not just ‘chug, chug, chug.’ For the most part our customers are into trying new stuff.”
I was sitting at his Bay Shore taproom, the Cortland, drinking a RipRap Baltic Porter from Barrier Brewing, a beer that Bobby had described to me as “badass.” He was prepping for his first cus- tomers but had agreed to talk about Long Island’s flourishing craft beer scene—something he ardently supported by exclusively serving New York beers at the Cortland. Meanwhile, samples of con- coctions like an intoxicating spiked vanilla shake gradually began to line up on the bar.
He only had two options on draught when my friend Bill and I turned up one early summer afternoon, but when we ed asking questions, he encouraged us to choose from any of the kegs in storage. In spite of the heat, we went with the RipRap, brewed by Craig Frymark and Evan Klein in Oceanside, and honestly, Bobby was right—the sable-colored, full-bodied con- coction was a drink to be reckoned with. Not unlike the growing number of pubs and taverns that have decided to dedicate them- selves to local food and beer.
Donavan Hall, author of the Long Island Beer Guide and a co- founder of a young nanobrewery called Rocky Point Artisan Brewers, says he’s observed a real shift in recent years. Gone are the days when a few dedicated advocates (many of whom would go on to form the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts) were preaching the good news of craft beer to skeptical publicans in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. “The beer community isn’t big,” he said, “but it’s the collective effort of about a hundred folks that have taken this island from being a craft beer desert to being an Eden.”
Phil Ebel, director of sales and operations at Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore, also sees a lasting trend in a movement that favors small and handcrafted over mass-produced.
“With the boom of all these breweries, bar owners are seeing the positive effects of serving local beers in their establishments. Craft beer drinkers are more likely to spend more money in the bar as well as eat food. Craft beer drinkers are also less likely to start fights and cause problems. It’s all about community for us, and the enjoyment of the process, the product and the people. Long Islanders want something better. And with this economy it just doesn’t make sense to drive or ride the train into the city to enjoy something great. We have a wealth of great beer, wine and food here on Long Island, and I think people are really starting to take notice.”
One place that’s already been noticed is the Lark Pub & Grub in Northport. Since June of 2009, this upscale bar and restaurant has lured a steady stream of customers with a tap list that features seasonals from Brooklyn Brewery,
Greenport Harbor and Empire Brewing, as well as classic styles from international brewers like Paulaner of Germany and Brouwerij Huyghe of Belgium. Regu- lar events have been another key to their success. On the second Tuesday of each month, the Lark serves a five-course beer dinner that creatively pairs appetizers, entrées and desserts with a variety of ales and lagers.
After our stop at the Cortland, Bill and I arrived in time for the June installment of their monthly event, where we were met by Eileen Heffernan, the Lark’s general manager. Tall and friendly with a ready smile, she introduced herself as a Belgian fan before admitting an additional weakness for Blue Point’s Oatmeal Stout. With the tables in the small space repositioned into a long, fam- ily-style arrangement, the restaurant can only accommodate 30 people, a fact that probably helps this event sell out in advance on almost every occasion. Nevertheless the setup encouraged conver- sation and added just the right amount of intimacy.
“We actually pick beers first,” Eileen explained before showing us to our seats, “and then my chef comes up with everything. We definitely have people who travel here for dinner.”
The room wasn’t quite full during our visit, but chatty tablemates along with a soundtrack that included the Clash and the Decemberists lent the evening a lively mood that made the expe- rience akin to a big meal with friends. “Big” being the operative word. Half-pints of beer seemed appropriate for the five courses that awaited Bill and me, but there was considerably more food than I could finish in one sitting: coconut shrimp with peach salsa, honey-marinated grilled chicken, a chorizo- and rice-stuffed baked tomato, homemade applesauce, and a fontina- and ham- stuffed pork chop. Plus a starter and dessert, which might have been the most successful pairings—an orange vinaigrette over crab and watermelon salad matched with a refreshing Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer, and a chocolaty banana split ac- companied by a tart, crisp serving of Founders Cerise cherry ale.
Beer dinners have started to appear elsewhere on the East End, too. On Monday nights in Garden City, Waterzooi Belgian Bistro pairs dishes such as herb-roasted salmon and Tahitian va- nilla crème brûlée with beers like Hennepin, Ommegang’s spicy saison and Brouwerij Huyghe’s unusual Banana Frubee, an intensely sweet banana witbier. Ebel declared the food “out of this world,” and went on to commend the Good Life in Massapequa Park.
“Owner Pete Mangouranes does a beer dinner every month with a different brewery. We’ve done two dinners with him and spend a good amount of time attending dinners he does for other brands. The time and effort put into artfully preparing the meals to pair perfectly with the beers is something you really need to experience to understand.”
Now that craft beer has taken root, Long Island brewers are also beginning to experiment with limited releases and tap-only offerings. This of course, makes visiting bars like Croxley’s Ale House in Farmingdale, T.J. Finley’s in Bayshore, or Sapsuckers in Huntington, a necessity for dedicated connoisseurs. Hoping to understand how yet another hoppy new establishment had be- come so popular, I dropped by Sapsuckers for lunch a few weeks later. Choosing a spot near the front of the house, I noticed the little woodpecker mascot poking out from between the liquor bottles near the ceiling, but took a much greater interest in the leather-bound Field Guide to Beers resting on the bar. This was a good sign. The grub, most of which is sourced seasonally and locally, also seemed promising.
Hungry, I ordered the classic cubano sandwich and then asked James, the red-bearded barkeep, for a drink recommendation. He asked me what type of profile I was looking for and warned about a few “heavy hitters” that were high in alcohol. Ultimately I went with the hazy, burnt-orange Field Mouse’s Farewell (from Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project), and as James filled a tulip glass with my aromatic saison, he revealed that when Sapsuckers opened, the first few patrons were bewildered by the tap list. “Some people were pissed,” he told me candidly, “they’re like ‘Why don’t you have Guinness, why don’t you have Heineken?’ Well, every bar’s got Guinness. I tell them I’ve got something similar they might like.”
Spoken like a true trendsetter.
Pull Up a Stool at these Pubs
Corry’s Ale House, 3274 Railroad Avenue, Wantagh
The Cortland, 27 W. Main Street, Bay Shore
Croxley’s Ale House, 190 Main Street, Farmingdale
Effin Gruven, 2562 Sunrise Highway, Bellmore
The Good Life, 1039 Park Boulevard, Massapequa Park
The Lark, 93 Larkfield Road, East Northport
Sapsuckers, 287 Main Street, Huntington
Tap & Barrel, 550-8 Smithtown Bypass, Smithtown
T.J. Finley’s, 42 E. Main Street, Bay Shore
Waterzooi, 850 Franklin Avenue, Garden City