Two North Fork breweries recently celebrated their one-year anniversaries, and after successfully dodging the pandemic’s many curveballs, Peconic County Brewing and übergeek Brewing Company are ready to let the good times roll.
Jeff Schaeffer launched Peconic County Brewing at 221 East Main Street in Riverhead in February 2021 with 10 beers on tap and a full kitchen. A former district sales manager for food distributor Sysco who grew up sleeping in the back of his family’s restaurant, Schaeffer didn’t set out to open his business during a pandemic.
“The plan was in place for years. I left my career, took out a loan, signed a 10-year lease, and construction was underway when the whole world fell apart — and we were looking at ‘14 days to flatten the curve,’” Schaeffer says.
Of course, those 14 days stretched on for months and now years.
“Every challenge you can think of when starting a new business was extrapolated out 10 times,” Schaeffer says. As 2020 went on, there were starts and stops and unexpected pandemic-related challenges with everything from getting windows and carpeting to dealing with inflated prices. But after all he had invested, quitting wasn’t an option, even if Schaeffer wanted to.
“By hook or by crook, we had to get to our opening day,” he says.
About six weeks after Peconic County’s kickoff, übergeek, a previously nomadic brewery, opened a tasting room and production facility in the former Moustache Brewing Company space at 400 Hallett Avenue in Riverhead. Übergeek owner Rob Raffa previously worked for the owners of Moustache Brewing, and he had told them he would be interested in the property if they ever cared to sell.
“It turns out they wanted to switch up their business model, so it was serendipitous,” he says.
Less perfect was the fact that the opening fell in the midst of a pandemic that was continuing longer than anyone expected.
“The pandemic forced us to switch our business model around, which I appreciate now because it has made us stronger,” Raffa says. “Since the retail market wasn’t too strong, it forced us to focus more on wholesale and contract brewing — areas that have given us a lot of prowess and that we otherwise may have neglected.”
Now, the tasting room business is strengthening every day, “and we are in a better spot all around than we would have been if we hadn’t been forced to diversify,” Raffa notes.
Outdoor seating has helped both breweries weather the pandemic. Peconic County’s 2,000-square-foot deck, overlooking the Peconic River, seats 100 people comfortably with heat lamps as needed and sunset views. The brewery’s interior, too, is spacious, with 6,500 square feet of industrial-style space with concrete floors and high ceilings.
Übergeek currently seats about 40 people outside on one side of its building and is adding a seating area for about 30 to 40 more people on the other side in time for the warm weather, Raffa says. The brewery’s unconventional interior embraces local artists with murals, pop-ups, live music and a vending machine that sells swag and trinkets from local artists.
And then there’s the beer.
Raffa says he and his team “work diligently to create thought-provoking beer by using experimental techniques and unorthodox ingredients, all through the lens of math and science.”
The brewery’s top seller is Rockets Don’t Fuel Themselves, which Raffa describes as “clean and crushable and perfect for warm weather.” Other popular brews include A Casualty of Circumstance, an “easy-drinking IPA,” and Space Age Times, Stone Age Minds, an 8.2% East Coast IPA with notes of pineapple, mango and citrus. A few wine, cider, cocktail and soft drink options are also available, and food trucks regularly visit the facility. Übergeek, which has 10 to 12 beers on tap at any given time, is launching an anniversary beer and is celebrating its milestone with a weekend of live music and other festivities April 1–3.
Peconic County continues to offer 10 beers on tap at any given time, with five mainstays and five that are rotated in and out.
“Dream Girl is our most popular year-round beer,” Schaeffer notes. “It’s an American-style IPA that’s easy to drink. Our Colonial amber lager is a crisp, clear everyday drinking beer that’s not overly malty or hoppy.”
Looking ahead to summer, “We’re really excited about our Cooper’s Summer Ale. It was a huge favorite last summer, and we’ll probably have it available in April,” Schaeffer says. “We also have a strawberry blonde ale coming, which will be new for summer. It’s so new that we haven’t even named it yet.”
The brewery’s full kitchen churns out gourmet grilled cheeses, burgers, wings, shrimp skewers and big pretzels, among other options.