There are few things that will distract from the lure of the Long Island Sound on a beautiful day, but this summer something special is brewing. There’s a new, larger destination and tasting room for fans of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company opening in Peconic. The original tasting room and brewery in Greenport, which opened in 2009, was rapidly outgrown due to demand for popular beers such as Leaf Pile Autumn Ale and Otherside IPA. For two friends that decided to make their college dream a reality, they never expected it would have gone so far.
John Liegey and Richard Vandenburgh met 32 years ago. Back then, they drank beer of questionable quality and always joked they wouldn’t have to buy any at all if they owned their own brewery. In 2008 they spotted an old firehouse for sale (next to the old jail) on Carpenter Street in Greenport and renovated it themselves into a rustic, yet modern, brewery and tasting room. They began brewing 300 kegs per year in 2009; fast-forward to 2013 and they’re now maxed out at 6,200 kegs annually.
Looking to expand, there were two things the men would not compromise on: location and quality. Brewers have two choices when demand becomes greater than capacity: contract brew or find a bigger space. “We chose the latter,” says Liegey. “We like to be in absolute control of what we do, so having someone else brew our beer was out of the question.” While staying local limited their search, it was nonnegotiable. “We were determined to stay on the North Fork, and while it would have been easy to locate some factory warehouse in the middle of the island,” says Vandenburgh, “we believe in being a part of the local scene from our involvement in charities to cultivating crops to creating jobs.”
When looking for a location, their focus was on square footage, with only 1,800 square feet in their current location; the shy three acres of the old Vail Bros. car dealership—later Lucas Ford—at the corner of Route 25 and Peconic Lane, delivered. It even has history as one of the first filling stations on the East End circa the 1930s.
With more space comes more opportunity. Looking under the hood, the former filling station boasts a new super-powered setup: a 30-barrel four-vessel system complete with a mash tun (used to convert grains into fermentable sugars), a lauter tun (separates the liquid from the grain), a kettle (boils the liquid wort) and whirlpool (separates hops and any solids from the liquid again); four 90-barrel fermenters (that is where the magic happens); and two 90-barrel brite tanks (used to carbonate the beer). In layman’s terms that’s a whole lotta Leafpile—90 barrels equals 2,790 gallons!
This picks up production to 108,000 kegs a year. All the while production continues in Greenport with three 15-barrel fermenters. Even more exciting, the brewery is now able to bottle. “We will be installing a new bottling line manufactured by GAI, which is an Italian company. It can bottle at a rate of 30 cases an hour…and has the lowest oxygen pickups ever recorded in a bottling line, which ensures the best, freshest tasting beer in a bottle,” says Vandenburgh.
With this growth, Greenport has taken on two full-time employees and will select a few interns for their annual internship 90-day program. “It allows someone who is sincerely interested in learning about the process of crafting beer to work side by side with our brewers and staff,” says Vandenburgh. “They learn everything from cleaning kegs to the distribution process. The key component that we hope to teach is that every single part and job in the process is vitally important to protect the quality and integrity of the beer.” The new location will also be home to a brewpub in the summer of 2015. Liegey says a number of chefs have already approached them about the job.
Moving on up does not come without a price. Liegey, Vandenburgh and their families have sacrificed to bring this location to life; getting a loan was not easy. “Unfortunately, passion is very hard to translate to banks,” says Liegey. “So we began two years of soul-gutting meetings with every bank that would meet with us. In the end we raised the money ourselves through basically trading in everything we owned and through reaching out to friends and future friends.” Besides the initial start-up money, the new brewery also needed a lot of renovation to meet their needs. Because there are no sewers in Peconic, they had to build 47 drainage pools under the parking lot. But Vandenburgh thinks the initial costs are well worth it. “While we have had some pretty big incremental costs in developing the Peconic property,” he says, “we see only great benefits in return with the added space and room to grow. The new space will allow us to brew more of our favorite styles in a simultaneous fashion.”
“We are very happy and feel ridiculously fortunate to be expanding,” says Vandenburgh. “Peconic will allow us to be as adventurous as we want. And that makes for happy brewers.”