Cuvaison 2014 by Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.

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GHBC Account Manager Justin Wesnofske and Co-owner John Liegey

Loosely translating as a sense of place, terroir refers to the effect a region has had on the production of agricultural products. In the past such a thing was not possible in beer since brewery consolidation and expansion as well as environmental factors (like downy mildew) caused the closure of many malt and hop producers across the country. In fact, most malt used to brew some of your favorite beer is not made from grain grown in the United States. In recent years however there has been a shift, as in many things culinary, toward local ingredients. Large scale craft breweries like Rogue Ales in Oregon and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in California cultivate their own hops and malt from which they craft beers expressing a sense of place. On a smaller scale, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company has taken the steps toward bringing terroir to the North Fork of Long Island.

Terroir is not a term which normally rolls off the tongue when discussing beer but NYS Farm Brewers, like Greenport Harbor Brewing Company are trying to change that. Each year GHBC uses grape juice and fruit from a local vineyard to brew their Cuvaison, bringing a local quality to the beer. As a NYS Farm Brewery, a license which requires the use of 20% of ingredients produced in NY with the percentage increasing as the years go on, Greenport Harbor not only includes local wine grapes and juice in their Cuvaison but also New York state hops and malt too.

“There are not a ton of all NY beers out there,” said head brewer DJ Swanson when we talked with him about Cuvaison. Each version of this Belgian Strong Ale is unique. It’s a beer which, “captures the whole North Fork thing,” according to Swanson. Co-owner John Liegey commented, “The thing I like about this series is that we do it with a different vineyard every year and it really kinda takes it’s own personality on with the vineyard that we choose.” The 2014 iteration of Cuvaison is a beer that definitely drinks with lots of personality.

This year Cuvaison was made with sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes as well as juice from Jamesport Vineyards. “We’re not the smartest guys, you know. It’s you look next door and, ‘Oh, a vineyard. Let’s do something with that,’ ” noted Liegey while contemplating their creation. This is a beer the affable Liegey “sees” on each drive to the brewery months before it is brewed. “There’s the grapes like hanging from the vines when it’s nearly harvest.” Thinking back to those trips he continues, “they are asking for us to brew with them,” something that comes through in the beer.

Cuvaison 2014 meets the drinker with it’s distinct Belgian yeast character as one approaches the glass. Upon sipping it express the white wine grapes used in it’s creation marrying them to the fruity and ester rich yeast characteristics. The experience of tasting this beer closes with a dry, bracing finish which leaves the taster refreshed. Liegey was really happy with the 2014 version remarking, “It kinda finishes with this good vinous thing at the end where you do kinda get the grapes pretty nicely and strongly but it’s super clean.” We share his view points as this Cuvaison appealed not only to us but our non beer drinking friends and family as well. With a lower ABV and overall lighter body than the 2013 version, which was brewed with Merlot grapes and juice from McCall Ranch, this year’s edition is one that could easily pair with food.

Cuvaison is linked to the local harvest as much as any wet/fresh hop ale. It is a beer which is brewed when the year’s grapes are ready to be brought in. Like the wine they are used to produce, variation will be seen based on weather and climate conditions in the finished ale. Cuvaison appears in the market place in limited quantities then is gone until next year but has, so far, never come back exactly the same. Could 2015 be the start of a new trend? “I actually think, ‘wow this is maybe what we should look at next year to try and hit somewhere in this space’ because I see myself having that beer and enjoying something to eat with it,” Liegey said echoing our enjoyment of his brewery’s beer. Look for Cuvaison 2014 at finer eating and drinking establishments over the next several months. This is a versatile and engaging brew which for us captures a sense of Long Island and a bit of brewing terroir.

Blond on Blonde : November 20 at The Lark in East Northport

Blond on Blonde

Back in May, the Brewer’s East End Revival hosted their 18th annual home brewing competition. Each year beers from around the country are sent in to the B.E.E.R. Brew-Off with the hopes they will receive positive feedback and perhaps take home a prize. Nearly 200 beers were judged in multiple categories at this years event with prizes being given out for best stout of the day all the way to best in show, but there was no award coveted more than the Brewer’s Cup.

“Why?” you may ask. Each year the Brewer’s Cup winning beer, which is selected by a local Long Island brewery, has their homebrew recipe scaled up and professionally brewed. Last years winner was Bobby Rodriguez, who is now getting ready to launch his very own venture: Poboy Brewery. His award winning Imperial Force was brewed by Port Jeff Brewing Co. and has now been aging for over a year, with a bottle release coming soon. At 2014’s brew-off, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company selected and would ultimately brew the wining beer. After a long day of deliberations where DJ Swanson, head brewer of GHBC participated in the judging, a winner emerged: Jim & Jean Thoms’ Belgian Blond Ale.

The Thoms’, who have been brewing together for years, frequently show up to monthly B.E.E.R meetings and festivals across Long Island with delicious and meticulously crafted homebrew. The Blond was no exception and a couple months ago it was recreated at the new Greenport Harbor Brewing facility in Peconic. In case you’re wondering about the spelling difference, J&J spell their Blond the Beglian way (no “e”) while Greenport went with the Americanized version Blonde.

The Thoms are avid fans of Belgian style beer trying everything from Blond Ales, the lightest brews, to Tripels, the strongest, and even sour ales. Like the brewmasters of Belgium they have razor sharp focus when it comes to brewing, always striving to make a better beer. Each ale they create is brewed again and again the recipe being tinkered with each time in an attempt to come close to their ideal. Since the competition, Jim & Jean have brewed their Blond five more times at home based on the winning recipe. They have cultivated and used the same yeast bed for each batch, making small tweaks along the way to perfect the beer.

Thursday will offer patrons a unique opportunity to taste both the homebrewed and professional versions of J&J Blond(e) Ale side by side at The Lark in East Northport. Additionally, Greenport IPA and 2014 Cuvaison will be on tap. Cuvaison is brewed using local wine grapes and this will be one of the first times it’s available this year. Specials for B.E.E.R members will be running throughout the event, and Karp’s was generous enough to donate grain for a raffle. We will be there, will you?

Greenport Harbor Brewing Company Grand Opening of Peconic Brewery & Fifth Anniversary Party

First appeared on Edible Long Island


The GHBC Team, Triumphant

The GHBC Team, Triumphant


Greenport Harbor Brewing Company celebrated their 5th anniversary and grand opening of their 13,000 square foot brewery on Main Road in Peconic this past Saturday. Since purchasing the building in April of 2012 co-owners and friends Rich Vandenburgh and John Liegey endured “about a year of tearing our hair out,” before gaining traction and being able to start construction. Hundreds of Long Islanders joined them at the festivities which included local food trucks Noah’s & The Roaming Fork, music and of course, plenty of GHBC beer. 

Lots of Mobile Eats & Drinks Being Served at GHBC

Lots of Mobile Eats & Drinks Being Served at GHBC



Most notably on tap was #5, an anniversary Belgian Dubbel fermented with tart cherries. Liegey accurately described it as “clean, nice, refreshing; didn’t hang on the palate.”  Bitter Monk, a wheat beer using trappist yeast, was the first offering from new brewer Joe Hayes and a crowd favorite. Later in the evening, a keg of their Baltic Porter that had been aged for two years was unveiled as a treat for those who had stuck around.

Augie Hoffmann Serves the VIP Crowd

Augie Hoffmann Serves the VIP Crowd



Though Peconic just officially opened, the large scale brewing system is already in place and brewers DJ Swanson and Joe Hayes have begun to test it out. On Saturday, two fermenters were housing beer and they hope to continue with production at a rapid rate. Leaf Pile, their fall seasonal, is slated to be brewed within the next couple weeks in addition to the rest of their lineup. As attendee Greg Woody put it, “Anything that allows them to pump out more stuff like the Black Duck Porter I’m all for.”

Tim Holden and Greg Woody Take in the Festivities



The overall celebratory mood of the event was really solidified by speaking to both owners who shared the sentiment that they couldn’t have done it on their own. Vandenburgh remarked that, “we’ve been just so lucky to have friends, fans, investors, accounts and everybody that’s been behind us the whole way,” with Liegey adding, “our backs alone have not been enough to get this place open.” They received congratulatory calls from national breweries Lagunitas and Ballast Point as well as their local colleagues, citing the sense of community has been great. 

Rosemary Martilotta & Emily Parrella Pouring Some GHBC

Rosemary Martilotta & Emily Parrella Pouring Some GHBC



The original facility at Carpenter Lane in Greenport will remain open as a tasting room and brewery, with its brew system used for smaller, experimental batches. Peconic is not done growing yet either, with plans to add an on site restaurant within the next year. Big things are coming from Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and it’s all beginning with the new tasting room and brewery.

Attendees (plus pooch) enjoying GHBC

Attendees (plus pooch) enjoying GHBC



Peconic is currently open 12-7 pm on weekends with weekday hours coming soon.

Enjoying GHBC Beer

Enjoying GHBC Beer



 

Holy Hops, the Dynamic Brewmaster Duo of DJ Swanson & Joe Hayes Team Up at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company

The North Fork of Long Island fixture Greenport Harbor Brewing Company will be hosting the grand opening of their new Peconic brewery on July 12, 2014. While this massive brewery growth (which will eventually include a restaurant) is big news, there’s an expansion going on behind the scenes too. DJ Swanson, head brewer since Greenport’s inception 5 years ago, is being joined on the island’s east end by Joe Hayes, former brewmaster at Black Forest Brew Haus in Farmingdale. To say the pair is happy about the union might be a bit of an understatement.

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Recently we stopped by both the new GHBC Peconic location and the original downtown Greenport outpost. The goal was two-fold for us-check out the new brewery and have a chance to talk with two of the most entertaining people brewing on Long Island: DJ and Joe. Listening back to our “tape”, there was an obvious air of excitement in the brewery. In fact, the majority of our recording was filled with Swanson and Hayes telling stories, laughing and tossing playful sarcastic barbs toward each other. We knew getting to talk to these two pillars of the Long Island brewing scene would be educational as we traced their paths from start to joined finish, but the sheer joy these two exude makes us extremely excited for what Greenport Harbor Brewing Company has ahead of them.

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Our interview started with Hayes introducing himself as Swanson’s boss and later joking that he would be reprimanded “off the air” for the assertion (all in good fun of course). The two became fast friends after meeting saying, “we both hated everything and everybody and it just clicked.” So like Will Farrell and John C. Reilly’s characters in the 2008 epic “Step Brothers” the pair quickly bonded over a common interest, hate. The chemistry is evident even if you spend a short time around these two established brewmasters whose pasts followed parallel tracks to Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. DJ Swanson says,

“I never had one of those epiphany moments. I always liked beer”

of his brewing history. A Boy Scout trip in 5th grade took young Swanson to the Merrimack Anheuser Busch plant. This was framed as a trip “to see the clydesdales” by the boy’s fathers but today Swanson knows why they were in Merrimack: beer. He was captivated by the smell of the brewing process, starch being extracted from grain and converted into sugar. This was a memory that would stick with him.

Years later, Swanson visited Boston Beer Works before a Red Sox game with his father and was again hit with the aroma of beer being crafted, the mash steeping. These experiences grabbed a hold of him and soon after he bought a homebrew kit and was hooked. Eventually Swanson started his professional career as an assistant brewer at Union Station in Providence, Rhode Island. He spent only a year there before being offered the job of brewmaster at another part of the John Harvard’s brew pub chain, in Lake Grove, New York which he accepted.

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Laughing, Hayes says his brewing history was “nothing as regal as that”. He got to a point in his life, after the realization he was not going to be a professional drummer, where he either had to get a real job to afford beer or start making it himself. He chose the latter. “I wish I could say I was doing it for the palate in the beginning,” says Hayes recounting a trip with his brother and friends to a beer and vodka festival. What was to be a bonding moment ended with him being carried home (which sounds like bonding to us). Originally Hayes was on a quest to make the next Pabst Blue Ribbon, but fate intervened leading him to work in the tasting room of a winery/brewery near Yosemite in his home state of California.

After working there for a time, Hayes unknowingly chatted up the owner about beer and impressed him with both his knowledge and jovial personality. “You know so much why aren’t you making it?” was the question the proprietor had before he promoted Hayes on the spot to head brewer. While maybe not “regal”, Joe’s rapid accession through sheer knowledge and like ability is impressive. Even after this promotion his he was challenged by a girlfriend at the time who asked,

“If you love beer so much why don’t you do that for a living?”

Hayes met that question with a spiteful, life altering “challenge accepted.” To bring this goal to fruition he went on to study at nearby UC Davis, graduatng from the brewmaster program and working with nearby Sudworks Brewery. Shortly after, he was offered a job at the German owned Black Forest Brew Haus in Farmingdale, New York. This brought Hayes both to Long Island and eventually to Swanson.

Once on Long Island, Swanson & Hayes met almost immediately. Swanson recalled, “every festival was basically the same 6 guys pouring beer,” with the brewing community of the early 2000’s being tight-knit. Events and festivals were sometimes hosted as an excuse for brewers to gather and share their beer. Though they were not directly working together, the close friendship they formed (over hate) was maintained and occasionally a collaborative beer or two was produced. Swanson & Hayes both spent the next several years chugging away in their individual corporate brew pub settings, brewing in different methods and styles and gathering knowledge. As time passed both men yearned for a change, feeling they had done all they could in their current situations.

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Swanson moved on first and briefly spent time in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Massachusetts. Hayes told a more colorful tale of that period saying, “don’t let him sugar coat it-he was making drugs.” Unable to sell his home on Long Island, DJ moved back to New York and was put in touch with people who were opening a vodka distillery. Swanson was able to secure employment despite the fact he had never distilled vodka in his life. He did that for a time but missed brewing beer and was put in contact with Rich Vandenburgh and John Liegey of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company by Donovan Hall (of rocky Point Artisan Brewers fame). In the beginning, DJ was a sounding board, an unofficial consultant, answering Liegey and Vandenburgh’s questions. This eventually lead to Liegey and Vandenburgh hiring Swanson as their first and only head brewer. DJ was it from the jump, cleaning and filling kegs, brewing and selling his beer (they did not have a sales guy at that point). Over the next few years staff was brought on and brewer Greg Doroski came and went leaving DJ once again as top cheddar.

Now, with the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company expanding, Swanson needed to find brewer with experience. He and the brewery needed someone who could do the job without any training, who could hit the ground running. Swanson contacted UC Davis for his search hoping to find a candidate who could handle the load and work alongside him. DJ never thought to reach out to local brewers whom he assumed were happy in their current situation. Hayes, being a Davis graduate, saw the ad and had been toying with moving on for some time. He placed a call to DJ “SWAN!” who was shocked to receive the call and the rest is history.

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Having two brewmasters under one roof could, in most cases, be problematic. Not at Greenport Harbor however, as Hayes says “This is the house that DJ built and I’m cool with that”. Coming from similar yet diverse brewing backgrounds and with a combined twenty plus years of brewing experience between them gives Swanson and Hayes the ability to fill in each other’s weaknesses while pushing boundaries creatively. One such example is this year’s fifth anniversary beer (Five), a Belgian Dubbel that has been aged on tart cherries. This limited one-off will be released at the combined grand opening/5th anniversary party on July 12, 2014 and, after having tasted it from the conditioning tank with DJ & Joe, we can tell you it is one you will want to try. With this modern day rendition of Abbot and Costello at the helm you can be sure bigger and better things are on the horizon for Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. Though Swanson may be the boss he and Hayes will compliment each other as well as malt and hops. We can’t wait to see what they brew up in the years to come.

Long Island Fresh Hop Beers of 2013

Well guys, the Long Island hop party is over (for this year, at least). Plants have grown, hops have been picked, brewing commenced and now the fun part is here-drinking the fruits of everyone’s labor. Act fast, because fresh hop ales are brewed in limited quantities and really taste best if you can drink them as close to kegging as possible. Though some Long Island brewers also bottled their fresh hop beers, we tried these four on tap. Sadly, two people often times can not drink all that the beer community has to offer (tragic, we know), so there were a few local options we did not get to this year (we are looking at you, Blue Point and Southampton). Luckily, there is always next year and we look forward to see Long Island hops blossoming again soon.

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Great South Bay Wet Hop Massive IPA was the hoppiest of the bunch, though we have tried the dry hopped version so we were expecting a bit of a hop bomb. And with a name like “massive”, how could you not? As you can probably see, this beer pours a copper color with orange hues and a thick, white head that leaves behind substantial lacing. Though it is not a seasonal brew, at least in the pumpkin/Oktoberfest sense of the word, it definitely has the look of autumn. The aroma is super hoppy, with some light citrus notes that give way to tropical fruit scents as the beer sits for awhile. The body is mildy carbonated with hoppy fruit notes, accented by light bread and malt flavors.

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Long Ireland’s Wet Hop Pale Ale for this year was brewed to the recipe of their classic Pale Ale, but amped up a notch with fresh hopping. The hops definitely make themselves known in the aroma, with a bit of earthy, grassiness present. This is actually a charachteristic of newer hop plants, so it will be interesting to see how the hops mature in future Long Island wet hopped beers. The taste has a malty, bready backbone with notes of caramel and hops. Bitterness comes through in the finish, making the wet hop presence known, but overall they enhance the pale ale rather than overpowering it.

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Port Jeff’s Fresh Hopped Ale was the first one we sampled this year, as it was released a few days before the other wet hop offerings. It has the classic look of an IPA or well hopped ale, with a golden yellow body and persistent white head that slowly falls, leaving behind ample lacing. However, the aroma is a bit of a departure from what you would expect. Notes of vanilla, a faint spice and floral hoppy notes dominate the scent, with the taste following suit. The body is smooth with a fair level of carbonation, with a bit more of a malty, woodsy taste than the aroma lets on. It finished on a bitter note that stays with you, in case you needed a reminder you were drinking a wet hopped ale.

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We vote Greenport’s Fresh Hopped Harbor Ale most likely to be enjoyed by people who aren’t huge hopheads. Though they brewed this batch of their flagship beer with fresh hops from Wesnofske Farms, they did not overpower the malty backbone that makes this beer delicious. It pours a rich amber color with a quickly dissipating head that leaves a bit of a foam cap ontop the beer as you sip it. The aroma was more roasted and earthy than floral and hoppy, though a bit of the latter two did come out. This beer has a very smooth mouthfeel and elements of light bready malt throughout. A light hop presence comes in for the finish and aftertaste, making this a balanced, easy drinking brew.

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Long Ireland Beer Company + Greenport Harbor Brewing = Local Hop Support

Tomorrow, Friday September 20, 2013, Long Ireland Beer Company & Greenport Harbor Brewing will both be releasing their recently brewed fresh hop ales. Long Ireland will be hosting a release party at their brewery in Riverhead (817 Pulaski St) from 3-9 pm where both beers will be for sale. All proceeds from wet hop beer sales during the event will be donated right back to Condzella Hops and Wesnofske Farms, who supplied the hops for these brews. John Condzella and Justin Wesnofske will both be in attendance talking about hops and ready to field any questions you may have. Fresh hopped ale is best consumed when it is fresh (go figure) so don’t wait to pick up a bottle. The supply is limited and once it is gone you will not have a chance to try it again until 2014.

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As has been the theme this entire hop harvest season, brewers and farmers are really working together to make Long Island a stand out in the hop farming scene. Though hops still need to be brought in for the majority of day to day brewing, its clear that the local ingredient base is growing. We are anxious to see how many farmers have already planted the seeds, literally, and will be harvesting their very own hops next year. In the coming years who knows, West Coast breweries might be clamoring for a fresh picked batch of Long Island hops.

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So head down to the brewery tomorrow and buy a pint, bottle or growler and do your part to support Long Island hop farming by drinking some delicious local beer. Also, while you are there you can check out Long Irelands new 12 tap system. Hope to see some (or all) of you there!

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