One of Long Island’s best craft breweries, Great South Bay Brewery, was founded in 2009 by fourth-generation brewer Rick Sobotka, whose family tradition dates back to his great-grandfather distilling whiskey in Poland.
Growing up in upstate New York, where his father was an award-winning homebrewer, Sobotka took up brewing and later apprenticed at breweries in San Diego and Colorado while pursuing his medical studies in anesthesiology. After settling down on LI and establishing a successful practice, he decided to follow his dream.
“I really enjoy anesthesia as a career, but I always knew one day I would start my own brewery,” Sobotka says.
Sobotka enlisted Greg Maisch, who began his brewing career at Blue Point Brewing, to serve as head brewer and GSB quickly built a reputation for inventive, high-quality, award-winning beers. One of the original beers, Blood Orange Pale Ale, is now GSB’s best-seller, with distribution in cans and bottles across the tristate area.
In 2012, the brewery set up shop in a 39,000-square-foot building on Drexel Drive, which houses a 30-barrel brewhouse with its own canning and bottling lines. It features a 4,000-square-foot tasting room and party space, which is open every day except Tuesday and features regular weekly events such as Game Night on Mondays and Trivia Night on Thursdays, in addition to annual festivals with live music. BayFest has grown into one of the Island’s most popular beer fests and Punktoberfest has become a mainstay.
GSB has also partnered with the Greater Long Island Running Club to host popular road races, including the annual Mardi Gras Run to GSB in February and the inaugural Aloha Run to GSB that will be held on August 18.
“It has been great to see the overlap between the beer world and the fit world,” says GSB’s general manager Rob Donahue.
Since its founding, a wide variety of GSB’s beers have won gold medals, ranging from lighter brews such as Pilsner Lager, Kismet Saison and Jetty Ale to more robust beers like Nauti Girl IPA and Hog Cabin Maple Bacon Porter.
Sobotka has also been a strong supporter of the homebrewing community and start-up breweries. For the past several years, GSB has hosted the annual homebrew competition of Long Island’s oldest homebrewer club, Brewers East End Revival (B.E.E.R.). GSB hosted the Handgrenades Homebrew and Craft Beer Club in June for a Big Brew Day at which club members brewed at GSB and received ingredients and brewing tips.
Many start-up breweries have used GSB’s brewhouse to contract brew their recipes and some have continued to contract brew at GSB to meet demand for canned and bottled beer. One of the newest start-ups brewing its beers at GSB is not a stranger to the brewhouse. Billy Powell, head brewer at Sand City Brewing Company, began his brewing career at GSB and is now making his own beers using GSB’s brewhouse under the Nightmare Brewing label.
In 2016, GSB sublet 15,000 square feet of its space to Fire Island Beer Co., which set up its own brewhouse and planned to open a tasting room. Those plans fell through in 2018 and Fire Island Beer shut down, but the space recently gained a new tenant, Ghost Brewing Co., which plans to open its brewery and tasting room this summer.
Ghost Brewing’s new brewmaster is Paul Komsic, who moved over from Patchogue’s BrickHouse Brewery, where he was head brewer for more than eight years at the popular brewpub. At Ghost Brewing, Komsic will helm a 15-barrel system and plans to focus on wood-aged beer, including working with a barrel maker in Medford.
Based on past experience, we can expect to see collaboration beers between GSB and its new neighbor in the near future. GSB brewed a collaboration IPA in 2017 with fellow Bay Shore breweries DUBCO and Brewers Collective, and recently brewed a collaboration Kiwi Sour with Brewers Collective that will be on tap for thirsty beachgoers this summer.
Great South Bay Brewery and Ghost Brewing Company are located at 25 Drexel Drive in Bay Shore. For more information visit greatsouthbaybrewery.com or @ghostbrewingco on Facebook.
Bernie Kilkelly is the editor and publisher of LIBeerGuide.com.