A tasting room is a different animal from a bar. You need to know this before you enter one and order a pint and some chicken wings. First, if you’re used to the typical tap selection of foreign and domestic ales and beers, you’re out of luck.
Second, if you want food, usually you’re out of luck, too. What matters when you visit a brewery’s tasting room is one thing: the beer. Crooked Ladder in downtown Riverhead, one of the newest additions to the East End’s blooming craft brew scene, gets quite a bit right then, and if you want some food, you can go next door to Digger’s and get a decent burger and some wings.
The best part about Crooked Ladder is the place itself. Partner David Wirth renovated the space, and what I like most is that there is no separation between the street and the bar and the workings of the brewery. Look up and you’ll see Duffy Griffiths, the brewer, hard at work on his newest batch. Look out and you’ll see partner Steve Wirth loading kegs for distribution around the island. For the time being, they are self-distributing and have had some success making sure Crooked Ladder’s beers can be found all over Suffolk County, but I wager you’ll find Crooked Ladder’s beer everywhere you find Southampton’s or Long Ireland’s soon.
Crooked Ladder’s flagship beer is an American red ale called Gypsy Red. I’m not a big fan of the style, but Crooked Ladder, as with their nut brown ale called Downtown Brown, makes sure all their bases are covered. Of particular interest to me is their 70 West IPA. This beer is a fine example of a West Coast India pale ale and one of the more aggressive beers on the menu. The flowery nose and the hoppy character make this worth a taste. They also brew Outta My Vine, a pumpkin ale, and Hampton Golden Ale; drinkers interested in those styles will find nothing to complain about.
My experience with breweries is they sometimes have a hard time balancing the problem of catering to beer enthusiasts and welcoming Joe Budweiser. Crooked Ladder’s menu has enough for the interested amateur and the expert to make a trip worthwhile. When I was there, the $9 flight comprised seven generously poured beers and came with a souvenir pint glass, from which I have been drinking ever since. Come the warmer weather, when the big French-style doors open onto the street, I expect a more satisfying experience still.
Finally, I want to praise the efforts and hospitality of Lisa Walter, who served as our guide through Crooked Ladder’s offerings. It’s essential in a dive bar or a beverage center to have an informed person behind the counter. And beer is about community, and in the end, community is about stories. Walter, who pours generously, tells a good story. Always friendly with a big smile, she made us feel at home. Because of her, I’ll go back to Crooked Ladder. Good beer is hard to come by, but good service inspires loyalty.
Crooked Ladder Brewing Company, 70 West Main Street, Riverhead