Shelter Island Craft Brewery is the latest addition to the growing East End craft beer community. I got a chance to meet up with Jim Hull, owner and brewmaster. Hull’s name is appropriate because he is a retired charter boat captain for fly fishing and light tackle out of Montauk. He retired earlier this year to focus on the brewery after his wife of 30 years, Clarissa Hull, passed away in March. She was beloved by the Shelter Island community. “The island’s daughter,” says Hull. At first, he admits, he took on the venture “half-heartedly.” Now he has renewed purpose to honor her memory and to keep himself going.
His first days open, Independence Day weekend, Hull sold through every drop of the 30 kegs of beer on hand and had to close for the next week to make more. “I totally underestimated the amount of beer that people drink,” says Hull.
Like most brewers, Hull buys grain from out of state, but all of his beers include something grown or produced on Shelter Island. For instance, his plum ale, Nude Beach, has acacia honey from a local beekeeper, wild beach plums he picked himself, lemon verbena from his backyard and Golding hops grown right by the South Ferry. “Beer is all about flavor, and I’m a flavor person,” says Hull, “and there is a pride and goodness in using locally sourced ingredients.”
Even after brewing, the beer stays local. Hull puts his spent grain at the roadside for Sylvester Manor Educational Farm to pick up to feed their pigs. Besides scavenged acorns and grubs, the pigs get a tasty treat, which also makes them a tasty treat. The pigs become pork for sale this month; Hull closes the circle when he enjoys a pork chop dinner with his beer.
“Food, wine, beer, rum, and vodka all have come a long, long way in the last few years. Your restaurants and beer have become much better, artisans and artists are coming out of the woodwork on Shelter Island, the Hamptons, and the North Fork. You see new interest, new people are coming out from New York City, the culinary capital of the world. Here they come to offer their talents. Locals that have talent instilled in them are coming out. The wine speaks for itself. The East End is becoming like a mix of Napa Valley and Hudson Valley. There are beautiful, great ingredients being used.”
New beers join the list along with crème brûlée imperial milk stout, Chesnut Brown Porter and Scallop Ale made with pan seared Peconic Bay scallops fresh off Monday’s boat.
Shelter Island Craft Brewery has been well received by visitors and the island’s inhabitants, who are not known to like change. “Now it’s as if a nice bakery opened up on the island or a restaurant,” says Hull. Just then a man walks in with a cane in one hand and a growler in the other. “People meet their friends, relatives, new friends,” he adds. “There could be a two-top table, and another couple sits down. Sure enough by the next time I stop over, the two couples are passing beers and phone numbers.” Originally visitors were just East Enders, but word has spread, and people are coming out from as far west as Huntington.
Hull brews in five-gallon stainless steel pots using handwritten recipes from a growing stack. Some mornings he wakes up with a “zen” for a new beer and it joins the list along with crème brûlée imperial milk stout, Chesnut Brown Porter and Scallop Ale made with pan seared Peconic Bay scallops fresh off Monday’s boat.
Hull looks at the glass half full, because he usually drinks half a glass of beer and that’s it. He’s “not a beer drinker, but a good beer taster,” due his responsibilities as a captain, and to his customers. All the bars and restaurants on the island are eager to serve the beer, and he’s promised he’ll get it there in due time. “Quality, not quantity, is exactly what brings me happiness at sixty-four years old,” he says. “It’s all about if I can do it within my artistic parameters. This is all about me and the product I make, and that I can be proud of it. That beer is me.”
French Kiss. An imperial milk stout made with crème brûlée, burnt sugar, burnt coriander, cream and butter.
Liquid Sunshine. A Belgian wit beer with Sylvester Manor honey and Shelter Island hops. This light beer was the most popular this summer, says Hull. “If you don’t listen to the Belgians, you aren’t going to make good beer. I follow everything they do.”
Twin Forks Harvest Ale. A Belgian double with five grains, orange, cumin and seeds of paradise.
Me So Hoppy. A double-IPA with a lot of malt, two rows of American Pacific Northwest hops, finished with Shelter Island hops.
Dune Cottage. A saison with lemon thyme, lemon verbena and crushed black peppercorn. “The lemon verbena has a perfume 1940s opulence to it,” says Hull. “You use all of your senses and the beer makes you happy all the way from your nose all the way down through your throat.” I found all the beers creative and delicious, but this is a sophisticated standout.
114 IPA. Hull boils the wort for 114 minutes (just like the road, Route 114, that crosses Shelter Island) while constantly adding hops. One devoted consumer comes for a glass of the stuff every day.
Forbidden Fruit. Hull offers this apple ale in contrast to the ubiquitous pumpkin beer. “I’m not making apple pie or pumpkin pie,” says Hull. He starts with a base mixture of Munich and Pilsner malts, two opposites he says; the former is “soft, like comfort food” and the latter is “very crisp, sharp, and dry. These balance immediately, he says. Then he adds coriander, lemon peel and four different apples: Alkmene, Fuji, Blitzenberger and Rome. His big green apples come from trees in his neighbors’ yards. This guy is the man!
Nude Beach. A plum ale made from wild beach plums collected in late August and puréed (now frozen). Often tart, this year the plums were sweet, he says. “They’re part of us here, I wanted to make a drink that is part of us.”