While sitting at that table, sipping a merlot, you know you’d rather be hanging out at the bar with those two guys having fun, drinking beer and grooving on Irish pub music.
Buddies from work, Long Ireland Beer Company’s Dan Burke was an oil burner mechanic and Greg Martin was the service manager. “It was around 2005,” says Burke. “We bonded over love of beer and hatred for our day jobs. We were both at a point in our lives where we said I would rather try and fail than be an old guy who said ‘I should have.’”
They started out home brewing, making their first batch of beer together on Burke’s kitchen
stove. “The beer was good! We drank it, and then we continued to make more.” They really enjoyed the process. “I like to make things out of raw ingredients—put them together and make something else,” says Burke. “And I am production-minded: bigger, better, faster, more!”
The men went from brewing 2 1/2 gallons at a time to 20 gallons a week. “That was more beer than two guys could drink in a week, so we went to barbeques and gave it away, as we were developing this whole idea of starting a brewery.” At that time there were only three local breweries. “It was a new idea then,” Burke says. “Not now.”
They got lots of encouragement, but with no money to pay a professional business developer, in 2005 Greg educated himself, and wrote a business plan to help them move forward. They took an internship with a brewery in Connecticut, commuting every Saturday. “We incorporated in 2008, sold our first keg in March of 2009,” while still brewing in Connecticut.
“We worked all day, spent time with the kids at night. Then we would sell the beer door-to-door.” Both men are married; Martin has twin 17-year-old boys and a 12-year-old son. Burke’s daughter is 8, his son is 4.
As he recounts the path to their brewery and tasting room on Peconic Road in Riverhead, Burke occasionally plunges a large paddle into a vat of mash, checking the temperature for the Celtic Ale he is brewing. “It’s a balance between timing and temperature,” he says through the steam. And division of labor. While Burke is making the beer, Martin, who handles the business end of things, is upstate in Dutchess County opening a new territory.
The men, feeling the pressure and knowing they had to make the leap to full-time soon, had been developing private investors. In January of 2010, when the same equipment they had learned to make beer in became available on eBay, they had the capital to buy it but no place to install it.
They purchased the old Riverhead Agway building and Martin and his father did all the renovations themselves. They were still transporting 40 kegs every other week to supply their accounts on Long Island. “The bar owners loved us—we would deliver right to their door, with tap and glasses. “We were one-stop shopping,” says Martin. Then they grew from 40 kegs to 300.
“We started construction in October 2012, and we brewed our first batch in May 2011.” Their production level is now “just shy of 5,500 kegs for the year and we plan to produce upwards of that this year…” Burke says matter-of-factly.
“I don’t think I ever felt scared about it,” he said when asked about their success. “It’s always been this sheer determination—whatever I have to do to make this happen, I was gonna do it….This is not a hobby or lifestyle,” he says emphatically. “This is my livelihood. It’s how my kids go to the dentist, how I put food on the table.”
As the popularity of craft beer gains momentum, small breweries like Long Ireland benefit. Last March they reached a turning point and signed with a distribution company because, as Martin puts it “I didn’t want to be in the trucking business, I wanted to be in the beer business.”
And they sure are.
For more info, visit longirelandbrewing.com.