‘Hop-Crazy’ & Growing: Long Island Craft Beer Boom Pours On

Lauri Spitz and her husband Matt are the force behind Moustache Brewing Co. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Still reeling from losing her job as a florist when the economy tanked in 2007, Lauri Spitz decided to pursue a different career path. She went back to school to become a teacher—a respectable job, of course—but after graduating, she realized educating America’s future generation wasn’t for her.

Neither was healthcare; a brief stint at Stony Brook University Hospital was just as unfulfilling. So Spitz sought the advice of a life coach, who posed a simple question: If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?

Without hesitation, she replied, “Open a brewery.”

That seemingly audacious statement—to open a brewery without the capital to invest in machinery—wasn’t at all surprising, coming from her. Spitz and her moustached husband Matthew had been home-brewing since 2005, even before India Pale Ale (IPA), hops and porter became common beer slang. They loved it. Better yet, they were damn good at it.

Nearly 10 years later, the affable Spitz couple is about to do just that. In April, Moustache Brewing Co. will open the doors to its Riverhead brewery and a cozy tasting room.

Spitz is expecting a sizeable crowd, made up of friends, family and a burgeoning fan base from the Riverhead Farmers’ Market, where they’ve been doing growler fills on weekends.

“This was totally before the craft beer revolution,” Spitz says of their home brewing origins. “We’ve never been ones to just go with the flow. We were just like, ‘Oh shit, we can make our own beer, great!’”

Moustache Brewing Co. will become the 15th brewery on LI—the Island’s craft beer market has tripled since 2011—and other hopeful beer entrepreneurs are rumored to be joining the “revolution,” as Spitz and many others call the local craft beer boom. Riverhead alone will have three breweries within walking distance: Moustache, Crooked Ladder Brewing Co. and Long Ireland Beer Co. Oyster Bay Brewing Co. is the newest in Nassau. And surprisingly, several brewers tell the Press, they want more brewers to join their battle against America’s beer giants.

Remember folks: this is a revolution.

“I think they’re a little worried,” Duffy Griffiths, one of three founders and head brewer at Crooked Ladder Brewing Co., tells the Press. “The biggest market increase has been craft beer.”

Indeed, during the first half of 2013, sales of American craft beer jumped 15 percent and volume increased 13 percent compared to the year prior, according to The Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group. Meanwhile, American beer giants suffered a 1.7-percent drop in volume during that time, according to Bloomberg News Service. These mighty conglomerates are fighting back, however, either by creating their own “craft beers” or by gobbling up successful craft breweries—just as Anheuser-Busch InBev did recently by poaching Pathcogue-based Blue Point Brewing Co., LI’s oldest craft brewery, for a reported $24 million.

On a recent Saturday inside the Riverhead Farmers’ Market, Spitz, sporting a Moustache Brewing Co. hoodie, was filling a growler when the tap went dry. About three hours into the day all three kegs of Moustache’s flagship beer, Everyman’s Porter—a delightfully dark beer with hints of chocolate and coffee—were kicked.

The journey from turning their home brewing passion into a business wasn’t as smooth as the porter, though. With money tight, the Spitz’s sought donations through a Kickstarter campaign online, which netted more than $31,000 in 30 days. A deal to open a brewery in Bellmore also fell through.

But things are rounding into shape. This month, Moustache will add its second pale ale to the menu—One Stop Pale Ale—to join Maiden Voyage, the very fist beer brewed at the brewery. Their winter seasonal, You’ll Shoot Yo’ Rye Out, a scotch ale, is also in the works.

“We don’t want to ever lose our home-brew spirit,” Spitz says.

Crooked Ladder has drawn rave reviews since opening for business last July. Its intimate tasting room, which offers a full view of the brewery, was packed recently with families and a new generation of beer drinkers.

Duffy Griffiths, co-founder and head brewer of Crooked Ladder Brewing Co., has been brewing beer for years. The brewery always has eight beers on taps, including its top-seller, Gypsy Red, a medium-bodied red ale. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
Duffy Griffiths, co-founder and head brewer of Crooked Ladder Brewing Co., has been brewing beer for years. The brewery always has eight beers on taps, including its top-seller, Gypsy Red, a medium-bodied red ale. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Griffiths, the head brewer, says eight beers—ranging from IPAs and brown ales to red ales and porters—are always on tap. Crooked Ladder also has at least 11 other beers, many of which can be found at local bars and restaurants from Wantagh to Greenport. Its top-seller, Gypsy Red, a medium-bodied red ale, is a variation of a recipe Griffiths imagined on his own.

When Griffiths was the head brewer at John Harvards in the late ‘90s, “You couldn’t sell an IPA to save your life,” he recalls. Still to this day, some IPAs can be considered annoying and obnoxious from the moment the pale ale hits the lips until its rocky trip down. But Crooked Ladder now brews at least four IPAs.

“Now,” Griffiths says, “America is hop-crazy.”

Steve Pominski, founder of Barrage Brewing Co. in Farmingdale, which opened Jan. 20, grimaces while recalling some overly hoppy beers he’s tasted. Yet, he describes himself as a “hophead.”

One of Barrage’s first brews—Second Avenue IPA—isn’t overly bitter, an accomplishment Pominski strives for. The full-time Long Island Rail Road employee used his garage as his personal brewery before he converted it into a bar—thus the name, Barrage.

Barrage boasts a list of brews with eye-catching titles: Red Riding Hood Ale, One Ryed Monkey (our personal favorite), and Honey Buzz, among others.

Pominski has had so much early success that it’s been hard to keep up with the orders. The brewery does not have a tasting room, but beer lovers are welcome to visit the space to fill growlers on the weekends. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, handling orders and distribution, though he does get help from his son, who ironically, is a teetotaler.

“It’s very daunting,” Pominski says of the microbrewery business. “We’ve already had a couple of trips and stumbles here and there; we can’t keep up, we don’t have enough beer.”

The good news is people love his concoctions. Barrage won an online vote for best beer in advance of the Winter Wings and Beer Festival in Rockville Centre in late February, a certificate prominently displayed in Pominski’s office.

If it was up to local brewers, there’d be more Pominskis and Spitzes, says Griffiths.

“I don’t know one brewer that just wants to drink his beer,” he says. “He wants to go out and try other things, too.”