Blind Bat Brewery and The Brewers Collective: From Farm to Bottle and Back Again

Blind Bat Brewery Paul and Regina

Paul Dlugokencky, owner of Blind Bat Brewery, spends summer weekends waking early to get his farmers market table ready. But he’s not selling fresh produce or homemade baked goods, he’s there with bottles of beer. Dlugokencky embraces Long Island agriculture with a little help from his farmer wife, Regina, and often showcases locally grown ingredients in Blind Bat beers.

Dlugokencky’s microbrewery, in the detached garage of his Centerport home for the past eight years, allows him to use local produce and experiment with his recipes. (There are plans to open a larger tasting room in Smithtown.)

Regina Dlugokencky’s organic produce has been a part of the Long Island farmers market scene for years. In 2011, she encouraged Dlugokencky to try selling Blind Bat at the Northport Farmers Market and he hasn’t looked back.

“You expose yourself to a population that isn’t coming to your brewery,” he says. “They’re already open-minded enough to try something local. Variety is something people respond to; they don’t necessarily want to buy the same thing every week.” This gives him the freedom to brew smaller, more whimsical batches of beer like his Long Island Oyster Stout.

The market also allows Dlugokencky to work with local vendors and growers. When he needs coffee for his Brown Joe brown ale, he looks to Gentle Brew of Long Beach. And it goes both ways; his beer is often used by Ridgewood Pork Store in their sausages.

Dlugokencky doesn’t get all his offbeat ingredients at farmers markets; he often looks to Regina for guidance and fresh crops. “She’s currently growing Thai basil and lemon basil for a Thai-inspired pale ale and IPA,” says Dlugokencky. Her yield also makes its way into the Honey & Basil Ale, along with New York State honey. But it’s not just fresh herbs and spices that wind up in his beer.

Blind Bat Long Island Potato Stout is brewed with—you guessed it—Long Island potatoes. Depending on availability, locally and organically grown Yukon or Keuka Gold potatoes add sugar to the brewing process, which results in a dry, roasted stout with a low alcohol percentage and rich, bold flavors.

Keeping with the potato theme, Blind Bat Sweet Potato Saison uses sweets from Ty Llwyd and is their “beer for the harvest season.” The potatoes are first roasted to bring out their sweetness and are then added to the mash during brewing. A healthy dose of spices rounds out the ingredient list.

The DIY doesn’t stop. The base of several of his beers—including the popular Hellsmoke Porter—uses malt that’s hand smoked at the brewery. While still a homebrewer, Dlugokencky read about a smoked porter from Alaska but couldn’t get his hands on smoked malt. Not one to give up, he thought, “Well, I can’t find any so I’ll try making some.” The first attempt involved a window screen and barbecue and did not go exactly as planned; he wound up burning a hole in the screen. Dlugokencky now has two large smokers that “have never seen a piece of meat” and are solely used for malt.

Also spotted at Long Island farmers markets this season is the Brewers Collective, a group of nine homebrewers recently turned pro. In fact, they alternate weeks with Blind Bat at the Babylon market. A slight departure from Dlugokencky, who sells only bottles, the Collective—as they are sometimes known—brings kegs and fills growlers on the spot. They have been pushing the envelope with unique local ingredients since in 2007.

Their Loot Gruit, a lightly hopped ale brewed with hibiscus flowers, sage and lemon balm, uses New York–grown hops. The Collective had an extensive tasting session where they made teas from each herbal ingredient and added them to commercially brewed beer in order to perfect their recipe. The result is a fresh, brightly colored beverage that tastes more like a harvest bounty than a typical beer.

Come fall, the summery, light gruit gives way to their fall version, Witchbinder. Brewed with herbs and Long Island cheese pumpkin, the ale is a dark, earthy brew that is very sage forward. “Once we have a building, I want to start growing this type of stuff myself,” says brewer Tim Dougherty, whose wife, Sarah, is also a part of the Collective.
“You get into brewing because you enjoy the process, not just the end product,” says Blind Bat’s Dlugokencky. These two local breweries are exploring new avenues in beer by going back to Long Island farms.

This article originally appeared in Edible Long Island

Thoughts and Pictures from the Rocky Point Artisan Brewer's Cask Festival – January 25th 2014

Northport Harbor Frozen

As we sit down to type this little article snow is once again falling across Long Island. A blanket of white has covered all of the tress and roads in our quiet neighborhood. It seems to us a perfect time to reflect on the similarly snowy day of January 25th, 2014. That was the day of the Rocky Point Artisan Brewers held their fourth annual Nano Cask Festival & Farmer’s Market.

The boys of Rocky Point Artisan Brewers should be familiar to the readership of Beer Loves Company. We have mentioned them in the past in high regard. Mike Voigt and Donovan Hall (two thirds of RPAB) are fixtures of the Long Island beer scene. As longtime members of Brewer’s East End Revival (the oldest homebrewing club here on LI) Donavon and Mike became known as producers of fine ales and lagers. These two gentleman are firmly connected with BEER in our memory as well.

During one of the first BEER meetings we attended the boys became impromptu guest speakers. That night as the meeting was winding down, when our illustrious president Steve Wynhurst asked if “there was anything else”, from the back of the room came a loud shout of “YES”. Mike and Donavon sat proudly and confidently in the last seats of John Harvard’s Brewery event room. They had something to let the club in on.

Around that same time the boys had received all of their necessary paperwork and licensing needed for RPAB to begin legal production and sales. They had their brewery and were riding high on the excitement. You could taste it in their beer. Chilled growlers were shared by the duo of RPAB after the meeting came to a close. We distinctly recall tasting their Doppel Schwarz, a style they lay a claim on having invented. This is a strong memory for us and it connects with how RPAB conduct their business to this day.

Innovation seem to be a theme that carries through all things Mike, Donovan and Yuri Janssen (the third piece to the RPAB puzzle) attempt with RPAB. They push boundaries of style in search of craft, honesty and flavor. Exploration of this sort is something to behold and to taste.

Such audacity can succeed greatly, birthing something new and enthralling into the world. When it fails it can be a total disaster. Still within that poor tasting mistake there is always something to be learned; a lesson to take away. Experimentation is a good thing. RPAB seems to be more willing than most to take the styles of beer which they love and try to bend, twist and pull them to their will. This core concept of RPAB and their work runs deeply through their Nano Cask festival.

So now we finally arrive back at our point, with some illustrative background in tow. January 25th 2014 was a day seeing light snow falling in Rocky Point. As we arrived at the NSBOA Club House (the site of the event this year and last) these flurries had only just begun. Pulling into the clubhouse parking lot we met with Kevin’s sister, Katie.

Unlike other events we were the sole representatives of our homebrewing club who would be pouring beer and giving out information on the club. Katie was invited to help us out, becoming an honorary member of BEER that day. Together we set up what we thought was a pretty good looking table. The BEER banner and information sheets were set out along with the signs we made for the three beers we would be serving. BLC buttons and shirts were also for sale at the event.  We brought two beers to pour under the BEER banner.

One was A+K (our saison/stout) and the other was our sour/saison/cider-thing Fizzy Lifting Drink. These two brews fit in well with the spirit of the festival and went over nicely with the crowd. We were proud to be pouring these beers as representatives of BEER. The reaction we received was very humbling, especially for Fizzy Lifting drink. Since we had such a limited amount of FLD it was necessary to pour it as a timed release. This generated a lot of traffic at the table and interest in the hybrid brew which the crowd seemed to really enjoy.

Fizz Lifting Drink

Aside from A+K and FLD we also were serving something brewed with our friend Andrew Luberto, a member of Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (a club which was in part started by Mike and Donavon). This LIBME and BEER collaboration brew was known as Saider. This crazy experimental concoction was one of the most popular beers/things at the entire event. It’s popularity could be due to it’s very nature. Loyal fans of BLC will already have read about about this brew and know it is an amalgamation of different beverages within one drink.

Saider was served from a cask though it was not truly cask conditioned. Because of it’s odd creation process this would have been an overly difficult task. We brewed Saider as a saison with a twist, instead of using water for our liquor we used locally produced apple cider from Richter’s Orchards. This finished with a big Original Gravity (OG) and our blended yeast (Wyeast 2:1 French to Belgian) tore through fermentation in four days at sixty-four degrees.

The result of using apple cider in place of water was a very acetic (aka tart) brew. Using a saison yeast brought a spicy character to the beer. We could have happily sipped on this spicy, sharp brew all day but thought perhaps the people to whom we’d be serving it would like something more in balance. Andrew suggested using a pyment (mead made with grape juice) he had on hand for our purposes. Our reaction was  “sounds great” and it was decided we’d blend the cider/saison in a 5:1 ratio with the black currant and pinot noir pyment. All of that going on made for a cloudy product which Andrew wasn’t the biggest fan of, so he hit it with a few finings agents. These products, while providing some clarity, would make carbonating Saider within a cask very difficult. We bit our lip and did what we had to, force carbonating the brew which we then moved into our pin (five gallon cask) using a beer gun.

Kevin was given the honor of tapping the cask at the event and we all had a chance to taste the final product together. For us Saider hit the mark. Serving this collaboration between two of Long Island’s greatest homebrewing clubs was something we won’t forget soon. We were honored to be able to brew it with Andrew and to serve it at the RPAB festival.

RPAB Crowd

Besides our off the wall offerings attendees were also welcome to try pours from local breweries like Barrage Brewing Company, Port Jeff Brewing Company, Blind Bat Brewery and of course RPAB. A welcome new addition to the scene was Big Alice Brewing. This super nano-brewery makes ten gallon (10!) batches at their brewery in Long Island City. Their product is sold to the public directly through a CSA (community supported agriculture) like system. This leaves limited bottles of each batch left for sale to non-members. Keeping in line with the hyper limited nature every batch they brew is different beer.

Beers they have produced range from sours to pales ales and use ingredients like orange peel and dandelion bulbs coming exclusively in 750ml bottles. Big A brought two intriguing casks to the event with them. One was a Belgian pilsner with grapes and beets and the other was a sour golden ale with bitter orange peel and eucalyptus. Their sour was one of the stand outs of the event for us even though it was not all that sour. This LIC  brewery truly got the spirit of the festival by taking styles and turning them on their ear.

The event guests were also able to sample food from local vendors. We saw cheese plates and pickles flying around the our table throughout the afternoon. Apparently sausages or some type of tube meat was being grilled as well. It’s not hard to imagine patrons finding a chair at one of the many tables scattered around the event so they could sit down and relax after sucking down a pickle/sausage/whatever and filling their (awesome looking) tasting glass with some local beer. While taking a load off (or should it be getting a load on?) attendees were treated to music which came in two forms. One was a background volume level mix. The other was multiple live sets of solo acoustic Led Zeppelin. You could say there was even too much Zeppelin and many people did both this year and last year. When the finger picking fury took a break from shredding out Jimmy Page licks we were all treated to A) a break from the Zep and B) a performance by the Beer Amigos who called up Paul Dlugokencky of Blind Bat Brewery for a song. The entertainment was indeed entertaining at times.

The boys of RPAB make sure that their Nano Cask Festival and Farmer’s Market is not to be missed. They truly care about the enjoyment of the attendees and the spirit of this event. We felt that last year’s iteration was one of the best festivals we had attended in a while and this year’s edition lived up to that hype. Each brewery made an effort to bring something truly unique and delicious along with them and took the time to talk with patrons.

The attendees of this event are also always some of the best you could ask for (ever). They are respectful and have a genuine interest in what is being served to them sometimes asking very detailed questions about the brewing process. We are truly thankful to have met some fine people while pouring our brews. If you were there and stopped by our table, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

The RPAB Cask festival is one we would encourage you to attend next year. It’s packed with small breweries pouring beer they have worked hard on for an appreciative public. This is a chance to taste and experience an essential part of RPAB and brewing, fun.

BLC + Katie

(A special thank you to Jim & Jean Thoms for use of their photographs and to Katie for all of her help that day. You guys are the best!)

North Fork Craft Beer, BBQ and Wine Festival @ Martha Clara

This Saturday, August 10th, the 7th annual North Fork Craft Beer, BBQ and Wine Festival will take place at Martha Clara Vineyard in Riverhead, New York. The festival will run from 2 pm-6 pm, with VIP entry starting at 1 pm, giving those patrons an extra hour of tasting, eating and socializing. Unfortunately, tickets are completely sold out, though there are a few pairs floating around on Craigslist if you decide to make a last minute appearance.
north fork beer fest
For those of you who have your tickets purchased and ready to go, this is one of our personal favorite beer festivals so you are in for a real treat. There will be tasting booths set up from virtually all the Long Island breweries, as well as national favorites like Founders, Captain Lawrence, Jolly Pumpkin and more. Additionally, some of these booths will have timed releases of special brews (such as Goose Island Bourbon County Stout), so be sure to set a festival schedule for yourself. If for some reason you need a break from beer, there will also be selections from several Long Island wineries and food supplied by Maple Tree BBQ.
We will be pouring our Hopless Romantic gruit we brewed with Frank F of “Big C Brewery” as well as a small selection of BLC ciders at the Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts table. The gruit is a summer take on our Saint Remo while the ciders were our first venture into the genre, inspired by a seminar we attended at the AHA Conference. In addition to (hopefully) delicious beverages, we will also have custom made “Beer Loves Long Island” T-shirts and an array of buttons for sale. We hope to see everyone there, as it is sure to be a day filled with good beer, food and company.