CENTERPORT—The 350-square-foot garage exists amid discernible suburban residential elements: adumbral trees, multiple automobiles stationed on an asphalt driveway, patio furniture and a single-row garden to sprout produce. It is detached from, and adjacent to, a two-level house—the type of space typically used by homeowners for storage or small-scale personal handiwork.
But not Paul Dlugokencky, founder of Blind Bat Brewery.
Within his garage-converted brewery in Centerport, Dlugokencky creates one-man artisan batches of “wood-smoked and rare, rustic ales” for distribution across Long Island. “It’s like working in a submarine, but the backyard commute is convenient,” says Dlugoknecky, who established Blind Bat Brewery in 2008 after 10 years as a homebrewer.
Though Dlugokencky’s production of beers such as Vlad the Inhaler, a Grodziskie-inspired, oak-smoked wheat ale (a nowdormant style originated from Poland), still occurs from home, instead of a commercial property, his operation is licensed by the New York State Liquor Authority and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The procurement of both government consents, which Dlugokencky admits was “a difficult process due to, well, everything,” enables Blind Bat Brewery to distribute and sell to retail markets.
“Rent was too high for commercial spaces, so I decided to license my garage,” says Dlugokencky. “It’s a detached building, so the federal government could tax the property, and it fit my business model of part-time brewery. It made sense to start small.” Dlugokencky, a full-time supervisor at the American Institute of Physics, is among an expanding collective of beer hobbyists who have transitioned to professional brewing—seven breweries (Barrier Brewing Company, Fire Island Beer Company, Great South Bay Brewery, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, Long Ireland Beer Company, Port Jeff Brewing Company and Spider Bite Beer Company) have opened on Long Island since 2009, and according to the Brewers Association, 1,753 breweries have operated for “some or all of 2010,” the highest total since the late-1800s.
Blind Bat Brewery’s core objective, though, transcends practices solely dedicated to beer-making.
This aim, according to Dlugokencky, lies in its function as an environmentally conscious brewery, achieved via involvement with, and appreciation for, local, sustainable agriculture and ecologically friendly principles. “I look to Long Island and its resources for inspiration, so using local ingredients, including my own, in a safe manner, feels natural and allows me to connect with my beer,” says Dlugokencky, a native of Levittown. “It’s about the bigger picture.”
A primary force for Blind Bat Brewery’s sustainable methodology—which includes “secure by-product removal” (e.g., spent grain used as mulch or food for a friend’s flock of pastured chickens; cardboard used for mulching crop paths; a rudimentary gray-water filtration system for rinse water), is Dlugokencky’s wife, Regina. An avid gardener since childhood and an advocate of the locavore movement (individuals interested in the consumption of locally produced food, created by methods that attempt to preserve the environment), Regina is CSA manager at Fox Hollow Farm in Huntington, where she grows and harvests fresh produce used in Blind Bat Brewery’s beers. Examples include organic potatoes
for Long Island Potato Stout, a 3.9 percent ABV dry stout with notes of dark chocolate and coffee, and coriander for Hell Gate Golden Ale, a smooth, citrus-like, floral-hinted interpretation of a Belgian strong ale, using Vienna malt instead of the traditional pilsner malt associated with the style.
Referred to as Blind Bat Brewery’s “moral support and tasting panel,” Regina is also the impetus behind Dlugokencky’s venture into brewing. “She purchased my first home-brew kit for Christmas in 2001,” he recalls. It is this relationship, which allows exploration in their respective
spheres, and encouragement to ignore creative boundaries, that enables a continual evolution of Blind Bat Brewery.
“We tend to push each other to the edges of experimentation, because in our own pursuits we’ve found that nothing ventured is nothing gained,” says Regina. “Small is beautiful, and the opportunity for creativity in developing a plot of land or a style of beer is wide open.”
A congruous platform used to display this shared progression is the Northport Farmers Market, a showcase of community farmers and artisan businesses offering season-fresh and peak-flavored products devoid of intermediaries. From June to November, Dlugokencky sells hand-prepared bottles of Blind Bat Brewery’s portfolio, including its newest offering, Honey & Basil Ale, to a myriad of similarly principled customers.
“It provides exposure to people who share our same values on community agriculture and the environment,” he says. “It’s nice to interact with people who buy your beer for the first time and want to pair it with fresh food from the market that night.” Honey & Basil Ale, earthy and tea-like with a “sweep of nectar and floral undertones,” is brewed using Regina’s basil, and honey from High Meadow Honey Farm in Huntington (test batch only). The 3.8 percent ABV ale debuted at a four-course collaboration dinner in May between Dlugokencky and Keith Luce, executive
chef of Luce & Hawkins in Jamesport. “Paul knows where his ingredients are from, and has truly crafted his beers from base to glass,” says Luce, who paired Honey & Basil Ale with an Alsatian tart, seafood sausage, and boudin blanc. “People like Paul are important, not only to the sustainability movement, but also to the world, because he brings goodness into it through his beliefs and his gift.”
While Dlugokencky continues to generate regionally inspired recipes (he plans on brewing a stout with fresh North Fork oysters) representative
of his convictions, and Blind Bat Brewery’s presence in craft-beer-pouring establishments increases (active accounts now exist in Brooklyn and New York), there remains a restriction on output by allowable equipment amount and size. “I can only brew twice per month, which yields between 10 to 16 kegs,” he says. “The brewhouse [a three-barrel system and two fermenters] is just not enough to supply the demand.”
As a result, Dlugokencky has developed an expansion plan that satisfies both his necessity for space, and Blind Bat Brewery’s model of environmental preservation: to operate, full-time, on a Long Island farm.
“It’s been a natural progression for us,” says Dlugokencky of his proposed integration of farm and brewery as one resource-sharing entity. “Farming on Long Island has transitioned to sustainable, organic practices, and we follow the same guidelines. It’s the next logical step.”
Dlugokencky hopes to find a location in Western Suffolk County in 2012, but is also scouting commercial spaces in Huntington, because “it may take time to find a suitable farm.”
“We’re looking at some type of space for next year, so we can upgrade to a 7-barrel or 10-barrel system. The plan is to quit the job and brew full-time.” Whether Dlugokencky chooses an expanse of crop-columned field, or a commercial property, to expand his craft operation, his ethos remains unchanged: Blind Bat Brewery will be comprised of, and created on, Long Island.
Niko Krommydas lives in Selden, and runs “Super Neat Beer Adventure, Yes!!,” a Long Island craft beer blog, nikokrommydas.com.