To get the backstory on this collabo beer, we asked Chad Walsh—beverage manager at Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch—to document his brew day at Greenport Harbor’s Long Island facility, and had FWF photographer Liz Barclay (@Liz_Barclay) tag along to snap some photos.
With the opening of his newest restaurant, Little Park, chef Andrew Carmellini (AC to those who, like me, are on his staff) decided to collaborate with a brewer on a special beer to pour on draft. While looking for a rental on the North Fork of Long Island—where he goes for a bit of respite from running a burgeoning restaurant empire—he coincidentally met John Liegey, owner of the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. After a summer of being neighbors, Carmellini reached out to Liegey to brew a double IPA.
“John and the guys at Greenport make some of the most honest beer, locally,” says Carmellini. “The bitterness of the IPA balances with my food at Little Park, and I liked the push and pull of the flavors.” I put it on draft at The Dutch, and for the first time since we opened, something outsold the old stand-by lager Narragansett on a Saturday night. Maybe it was a reflection of changing tastes, or, perhaps, it was just really that good.
Thankfully for us, Liegey—who grew up in the restaurant business before going into advertising, and his lawyer partner, Rich Vandenburgh, were just getting comfortable in their much larger brewery facility down the road from the harbor space—a former car dealership that they were able to get retrofitted in time for their fifth anniversary. Starting a brewery in the middle of the recession may have seemed like a fool’s errand, but the hiring of DJ Swanson as Head Brewer and a determined “hit the pavement” sales strategy meant that, in just a few years, they were literally banging their heads on the ceiling of the old brewery. With the insatiable thirst for IPA at The Dutch, the second batch needed to get the 30-barrel 930 gallon treatment.
A regular-sized keg is a half-barrel, and a brewery’s size is measured in how large a batch one can make at a time. The new facility has three 90-barrel fermenting tanks, as well as some old 30-barrel tanks from the original brewery.
Transporting these huge tanks into the brewery wasn’t easy, especially with Liegey’s DIY ethos. They accidentally put a hole in the ceiling, which they left as a sort of nostalgic reminder of the brewery’s beginnings.
The new brewery also has an as-yet-unused bottling line. Greenport has been proudly draft-only since the outset, but when I was there, Liegey—who handles the creative stuff while Vandenburgh tends to focus on the various legal issues—was working on the artwork for the labels and six-packs, featuring illustrations by local-boy-artist Scott Bluedorn. Keep an eye out for them at your local bodega later this year.
Scale wasn’t the only improvement made by moving into the new space; the expanded brewing setup makes for much less manual labor. DJ and his crew mostly use a touchscreen interface to control the process.
The new system automates the hard stuff but leaves just enough room for manual labor. Although I was ready to shovel some grains, or carry around some fifty-five-pound bags of malt, we mostly just shot the shit.
A clipboard follows the beer around throughout the whole process, so that DJ and his crew can keep track of which beer is where, when it was brewed, and so on.
Unlike the old brewery, where the mill for the malt was tucked into an upstairs bedroom and bags had to be schlepped upstairs, there is a silo in the front parking lot that fills directly into the mill. We watched the milled malt and gallons upon gallons of water fill into the mash tun.
We were hardcore “mashin’ in,” which mainly meant more shootin’ the shit, when at one point there was some moving the bits around with what was basically a canoe paddle, or giant slotted spoon.
After a couple of hours, in what is called a “lauter tun,” we separated the liquid from the spent grains. Thirty barrels worth of water and malt became wort, and we used a “spyglass” to see how clear the liquid was.
Finally, the wort is boiled in a separate vessel. It’s a shame that there wasn’t any whiskey around, because, as one of DJ’s colleagues explained, a bit of this boiling wort—which smelled a bit like a delicious sort of oatmeal—paired with bourbon makes a delicious breakfast known as “Brewer’s Drink.”
After the oatmeal aroma went away, it began to smell strongly of dank buds (a.k.a., hops). The hops were measured into a bucket, and for those of you keeping score, Target hops went right into the boil, then a little later some Calypso and Chinook went in for the aromatic purposes. Finally, it was dry-hopped with a bit more Calypso, which has a profile similar to the better-known Cascade.
The hardest part about brewing beer at this scale might not be the logistics of turning grains and hops into a beverage, but the difficulty of finding people to drink it in quantities that make it feasible to brew. No disrespect to DJ, who is a patient practitioner of a special kind of magic, but making sure everyone who orders a keg has a tap handle, let alone making sure that distributors have kegs to sell, is what takes a tiny nano-brewery to full-fledged micro-brewery status.
Part of the expansion strategy at Greenport is a new restaurant attached to the tasting room, with the explicit purpose of educating people about beer, and how great beer pairs with food. The brewery is definitely worth a northern detour if you’re heading to the Hamptons.
Perhaps the most manual labor I did on the whole trip was dragging a giant bag of spent grains, still warm and moist from the tun, from my Zipcar into the walk-in at Lafayette. James Belisle, who bakes bread at Lafayette for restaurants in and outside the group, uses the spent malt to bake the bread served alongside the beer at Little Park. It makes for an incredible butter-delivery-system.
Stop by Little Park for the newest batch.