Craft beer lovers visiting Bay Shore will soon be able to taste brews from two of Long Island’s best breweries with just one stop.
Fire Island Beer Co. (FIB) plans to open its new tasting room this fall at the back of the building at 25 Drexel Drive where Great South Bay Brewery (GSB) has been operating its popular tasting room for the past five years.
“I couldn’t be happier to have Fire Island join Great South Bay so we can
attract a larger customer base,” GSB’s owner and founding brewmaster Rick Sobotka said.
The two breweries have been sharing the 40,000-square-foot building since 2016, when FIB leased 15,000 square feet that GSB was not using. The pairing of these two breweries in one location is fitting since both were founded in 2009 and named for natural South Shore treasures.
Sobotka grew up in Upstate New York, where his father was an award-winning homebrewer and brewing was a family tradition dating back to his great-grandfather, who distilled his own whiskey in Poland. After polishing his homebrewing skills in college and apprenticing at breweries in San Diego and Colorado, Sobotka took the leap to start his own brewery on LI, where he had settled down and established a practice in medicine as an anesthesiologist.
“I really enjoy anesthesia as a career, but I always knew one day I would start my own brewery,” he said.
His operation touts a 30-barrel brewhouse along with canning and bottling lines. GSB opened its 4,000-square-foot tasting room and party space in 2013 and regularly hosts festivals and events at the brewery.
Since then, GSB has emerged as one of LI’s leading craft breweries, winning awards for its beers under the direction of head brewer Greg Maisch. GSB has won gold medals at
the Great American Beer Festival for Hog Cabin Maple Bacon Porter and Jetty Ale and gold and bronze medals at this year’s TAP New York festival for Nauti Girl IPA and Pilsner Lager. Jetty Ale also won a bronze medal this year at the prestigious World Beer Cup competition.
FIB was founded by a trio of homebrewers: two brothers, Bert and Tom Fernandez, and their cousin Jeff Glassman. They homebrewed at their summer house on Fire Island in the 1990s and sold some of the beer at a concession shack they ran at Atlantique. The positive feedback, including the amber ale that became the flagship Lighthouse Ale, encouraged them to take the plunge into commercial brewing by contract brewing Lighthouse Ale and Red Wagon IPA while searching for a location on Long Island.
In 2014, Simon Leonard, who had been the primary contract brewer for FIB at Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut, purchased 90 percent of FIB and officially came on board as brewmaster, while Bert Fernandez continued as head of sales and marketing. Leonard, a British native who previously worked in finance, had caught the brewing bug and helped develop the recipes for FIB’s newer beers including Sea Salt Ale and Sunken Ferry Stout.
The long search for a permanent location for FIB came to fruition in 2016 when Sobotka reached out to longtime friend Fernandez and offered to sublease space that wasn’t being used in his building. FIB installed a 15-barrel brewing system with four 15-barrel fermenting tanks and four 30-barrel fermenting tanks. They began brewing on the new system last year under the direction of Dan Moss, who joined FIB as head brewer after brewing at Black Forest Brew Haus in Farmingdale and at Brooklyn Brewery.
With the new system now fully operational, FIB stopped contract brewing and is producing all of its beers in Bay Shore. In anticipation of the coming opening of its tasting room, FIB has begun introducing limited Tap Room Series beers, selling cans of the first two Tap Room Series beers, Maibock and Kettle Sour Ale, at local beer stores. Fernandez said FIB’s core beers will be available to purchase in cans at the tasting room but the taps will mostly be dedicated to the Tap Room Series beers.
“We’re excited about being able to play around in there,” said Fernandez, “and experiment with new styles and seasonal beers.”
Fire Island Beer Co. and Great South Bay Brewery are located at 25 Drexel Dr. in Bay Shore. For more info on FIB visit www.fireislandbeer.com and for more info on GSB visit www.greatsouthbaybrewery.com.
Bernie Kilkelly is the editor and publisher of LIBeerGuide.com.