North and South Fork Breweries: A Tale of Two Tastings

Breweries are popping up all across Long Island, and both forks boast their own local favorites. I visited Crooked Ladder Brewing Company in Riverhead and the Southampton Publick House in order to see what the buzz is about (and maybe get one for myself).

The Southampton Publick House

The Southampton Publick House is a friendly neighborhood staple, and it offers a wide range of food, beer and cocktails to keep its patrons in high spirits. This brewpub only serves its own beer (brewed in-house and available both on draft and bottle-distributed by Manhattan Beer), but no one’s complaining.

Bartender Chris Brady started me off with the Publick House’s signature tasting flight, featuring five year-round favorites and three seasonal brews. The flight began with the Double White Ale, Publick House’s flagship brew, a witbier with a spicy aroma and a sweetish orange flavor. Owner Don Sullivan assured me that this beer paired especially well with the seared tuna salad (served rare with a sesame crust and wasabi dressing), which I sampled and found to be a perfect complement to the Double White.

Burton IPA is a tribute to the original English-style India Pale Ales, drastically different from the hop-loaded zest of American IPAs. The brewers replicate the water from famous English brewing town Burton-on-Trent by adding calcium, and use only English-style hops in order to achieve the desired flavor. Finishing on a bitter note, this was noticeably drinkable (as IPAs go). Next up was Keller Pils, a German pilsner with a light, malty aroma and a conspicuous taste of noble hops, followed by the Secret Ale, a copper-colored ale, which was malty on the nose and maltier on the tongue.

My final year-round brew of the day was Montauk Light, a low-calorie lager named for the lighthouse at Montauk Point. Though light beers are not my preference, I found this one to be refreshing, easily drinkable and superior to its domestic market competitors. Moving towards the seasonals, I next tried the May Bock, a Maibock designed for late spring drinking. It was heavy, strong, and overwhelmingly malty, making it perfect for those days when you want to feel a little warmth from your beer.

NYDP (New York Double Pale Ale) was a savory brew with the hop character of an IPA but the balance of a traditional pale ale. I definitely wouldn’t have minded a few more pints of this one! Instead, I closed out my tasting experience with the Imperial Porter, with which I was already familiar—the thick, heavy malt and high alcohol content of this beer have led me to buy more than a few bottles in my time.

Aside from these draft beers, the Publick House also carries several high-quality aged beers in 750ml bottles, available for take-home purchase or drinking at the bar. These include Abbot 12, a strong ale with notes of dark rum, Cuvèe Des Fleurs, a specialty ale flavored with numerous edible flowers, Saison Deluxe, a complex farmhouse ale and Grand Cru, a heavily spiced old world ale. The spring seasonal Biere de Mars and autumn seasonal Pumpkin Ale are also still available in bottles for the drinker with a craving for a sweet-spice or pumpkin brew.

I spoke with brewmaster Evan Addario to get a preview of Publick House’s upcoming seasonal brews, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Summer Blonde is an abbey single ale which is already available in bottles at local beer distributors, but won’t be seen on tap until summer begins in earnest (likely the first of July). Next up will be the crisp, clean Vienna Lager, followed by a selection of saisons brewed with various herbs. Sometime this summer, Saison Deluxe will be available on draft and, in August, Addario plans to release a black raspberry wheat beer, though he says he hasn’t worked out all the details of that one yet. This summer is looking delicious at Southampton Publick House—stop in and see what they’re coming up with next.

Crooked Ladder Brewing Company

Jammed into a cranny of Riverhead’s hectic main drag, Crooked Ladder Brewing Company is serving up a cold glass of East End innovation. Space is at a premium inside this brick-walled brewery, where the bar and the brewing equipment occupy the same room, but the crowd of patrons gives the place a friendly vibe as they sit, stand and watch television, and the draft beer flows well into the evening.

Bartender Gia Geraghty smilingly served me the “sample flight”—eight consecutive small pours of the range of beers currently on tap at Crooked Ladder Brewing (CLB).

Brewing partner Duffy Griffiths assured me that these eight are not all CLB has to offer: its seasonal Summeritis ale is soon to come, followed in time by an Oktoberfest brew, a pumpkin ale, a Christmas beer, an amber IPA dubbed the “Midwinter Warmer” and eventually the Innisfada, a March beer brewed specially for St. Patrick’s day and named after the Gaelic translation of “Long Island.” Griffiths added that the brewery, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary this July, will be looking to use locally-grown hops in the fall, “when we start doing wet-hopped beer.” (Wet-hopping refers to the process by which vibrant, fresh-cut hops are added to a brew, rather than dried pellet hops that are shipped from afar.)

The first brew, a German Kolsch, was light, mild and refreshing, with a little hoppy edge to it and a fizzy mouthfeel. Kolsches are not my preferred style, but this was definitely on the higher end of the spectrum. The next—the cleverly named 9.0 Brew 1.0—was a well-balanced California Common, with a good dose of hop bitterness. The Gypsy Red, Crooked Ladder’s flagship beer, was defined by its ending—a delicious caramel aftertaste that kicked in right when it was most needed. (Gypsy Red is CLB’s most popular beer, and is sold year-round). I hit the halfway point with Shinnecock Bock, a highly alcoholic Maibock which holds the title of “brewers’ favorite beer.” This one, though a tad thick for my taste, was a stellar representation of the style, and its heaviness is perfect for a rainy day at home.

The second half of the tasting, which took a turn towards the dark and hoppy, was nothing short of fantastic. Ponquogue Porter kicked off this delight, proving itself to be full, rich, and somewhat hoppier than you’d expect for a porter, adding an unexpected and satisfying kick. Next, I sampled the Sundown Stout, a sweet and smoky brew featuring maple and rye flavors. This particular beer was first brewed in conjunction with Chicago-based DryHop Brewers, but CLB liked it so much, they made it again on their own! (This one was my favorite of the evening. As a personal testament to the merits of Sundown Stout, I snagged a growler full to take home. Did I mention that CLB offers growlers, half-growlers, hydroflasks, pint glasses, and merchandise? Now I have.)

My penultimate sample went by the prolix name of Capone Meets Gotti Black IPA (another combined effort with DryHop Brewers), but proved itself to be substantially more to-the-point than its moniker—this beer is an assault on the taste buds, in the best possible way. Brewed with 10 pounds of hops, Capone Meets Gotti is on the sour side of the scale and much lighter than you’d expect of a standard black IPA. I closed the deal with a brew I was already familiar with—the locally lauded 70 West IPA. This beer’s name is doubly significant; it is a West Coast IPA which boasts a rating of 70 IBUs, and 70 West Main Street is the address of its parent brewery. Featuring four distinct hop varieties, this popular and highly available brew is extravagantly bitter, and merits a second glass.

Crooked Ladder’s beers are currently available in approximately 100 establishments across Long Island, so don’t just take my word for it. Grab a pint.

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