Summer means not just beach season, but also beer festivals. (Photo by Karl Mischler)

With locally brewed craft beer now widely available across Long Island, the region’s beer festival organizers have begun offering attendees a more diverse experience beyond just  tasting lots of different suds.

A great example is the evolution of LI’s premier summer beer festival, the Long Island Craft Classic, being held this year on Aug. 11 at Heckscher State Park in East Islip. In its inaugural year of 2007, the festival was known as the North Fork Craft Beer Festival and held on the grounds of Martha Clara Vineyards in Jamesport.

“We had no idea at the time that craft beer on Long Island would take off the way it has,” says Andy Calimano, owner of Bay Shore-based festival company Starfish Junction Productions. “We had just a handful of local breweries, so a large part of the festival was bringing in craft beers from around the country to educate people about different styles.”

Calimano and his wife, Lynda, founded Starfish Junction in 2005 and saw an opportunity to produce professionally run festivals in the specialty beverage sector. In addition to local beer and hard cider festivals, they also produce the Coffee & Tea Festival NYC, which just held its 13th annual show in March, and beer fests off LI.

Starfish Junction staged its first beer festival in May 2007 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The positive response led to the North Fork Festival and a fall festival at the Uniondale arena. The beer festivals moved to Belmont Park while the coliseum underwent renovations. After its reopening, the fall festival moved back to the coliseum and the spring festival stayed at Belmont.

After eight years on the East End, Starfish Junction moved its summer festival further west.

“As part of the Taste NY program, New York State wanted to hold a festival in central Suffolk County,” Calimano says. “In addition to New York craft beer, the festival now also focuses on New York wine and hard cider.”

Rechristened the Long Island Craft Classic, the festival was held at the new, easier-to-reach location last year and, according to Calimano, was a great success.

“Many of our festivalgoers are coming out in groups to meet up and taste some beers and listen to music, and then going out after for a nice dinner,” he says.

This year’s Craft Classic will again feature a unique brewing competition for Long Island craft breweries, with the winner selected by festivalgoers. All the competitors in the Brew’d Competition must use a specially preselected ingredient in their beer. The winner of the 2017 Brew’d Competition, made with the special ingredient of peach, was a collaboration beer from Destination Unknown Beer Co. in Bay Shore and Greenport Harbor Brewing, a Berliner Weisse-style ale called Fuzzy Flamingo.

One of the hallmarks of all Starfish beer festivals is connecting with local charities to raise awareness and funds. This year’s main event will help three charities: Islip Arts Council; Kids Need More, serving child cancer patients; and the National Heritage Trust, which supports parks, conservation and historic preservation across New York State.

For more information on the Long Island Craft Classic, visit licraftclassic.com.

CRAFT BEER AT SUMMER STREET FESTS

Craft beer is a big part of free summer street festivals on Long Island, including:

Farmingdale Music on Main
July 12, July 26, Aug. 9 and Aug. 23. Live music on Main Street sponsored by Lithology Brewing, Croxley’s, Dark Horse Tavern, Library Café, That Meetball Place and more.

Patchogue Alive After Five
17th annual event on July 19, Aug. 2, 16 and 23. Six stages of live music, food trucks, craft vendors, activities for children and more. Sponsors include Blue Point Brewing, BrickHouse Brewery, Bobbique and others.

Riverhead Alive on 25
July 5, 12 and 26, and Aug. 9. Features live music on eight stages, food trucks, classic car show, local wine and craft beer from local breweries including Moustache Brewing, Long Ireland, Greenport Harbor and more.

Bernie Kilkelly is the editor and publisher of LIBeerGuide.com.

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