As recently as a decade ago, New York had fewer than 40 breweries scattered across its 62 counties. Today, there are more than triple that number. Nationwide, the U.S. is closing in on 3,000 breweries—an astonishing figure that points to a surge of interest in liquid culture and local commerce. When I contributed my first story to Edible East End in 2010, Long Island was about to experience its own beery comeuppance. Southampton Publick House, Blue Point Brewing Company, BrickHouse Brewery and the Black Forest Brew Haus have long been favorites among Suffolk County beer drinkers, but they’re far from alone any more. In the three years since I wrote “Suds and Sand,” no less than 10 breweries have opened for business on Long Island, and more are sure to follow.
The aughts were good to beer lovers throughout the northeast, not just in the Empire State. Talented hobbyists went pro, veteran brewers struck out on their own and industry leaders diversified, adapting to changing tastes and emerging trends. Noticing this larger shift, I decided to write a book about the visiting the region’s breweries, working with photographer Bethany Bandera on The Great Northeast Brewery Tour, which Voyageur Press will publish at the end of the year. Together we spent weeks and weeks on the road, traveling to breweries large and small from Washington, D.C., to Belfast, Maine. At each stop I sampled beers and interviewed brewers while Bethany hurried around snapping landscapes and portraits. Back at home we devoted even more time to transcribing notes and editing images, occasionally, but not always, with a glass of craft beer nearby.
A small budget and a fairly tight schedule prevented us from including every brewery we wanted to feature, and as we closed in on the finish line, a few others we planned to cover ended up on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, we hope we captured this exciting moment in words and images, showing not just the beers themselves, but the people who make them, the places they come from and the food they can be enjoyed with. We delivered a manuscript back in the spring, and saw our page design for the first time last month. As it happened, the entire project began at Greenport Harbor, where Rich Vandenburgh and DJ Swanson politely walked us through their beer range, posed for photos and offered encouragement.
Copies of the book won’t appear on shelves for a few more months, but at the end of such an involved project, Bethany and I felt like celebrating. So in August we put together a casual evening of food and drink and invited a small group of friends to her Bushwick studio. Keeping things simple, we stocked up on paper plates and plastic cups and shouldered bags of ice up to the third floor. I found a good selection of styles at Beer Boutique and chose bottles from Allagash, Flying Dog, Thomas Hooker, Weyerbacher, Captain Lawrence, Brooklyn, Southern Tier, Dogfish Head, Ommegang and Flying Fish, while our food stylist friend Maeve Sheridan whipped up a bunch of simple yet delicious bites. After a few hours we had nearly exhausted our beer supply, and people started to trickle off into the Brooklyn night. Reflecting on our first event as we cleaned up her studio, Bethany and I were reminded of why we wanted to publish an illustrated guide in the first place. Yes, craft beer provided us with inspiration and a theme, but from the beginning, The Great Northeast Brewery Tour was meant to be a book about people, too.
Ben Keene is a beer journalist, travel writer, and the author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour. A licensed outdoor guide who rarely goes anywhere without a pair of hiking boots, he also blogs at Where and Back. Follow him on Twitter @whereandback