Brewing With Restraint and Growing Without Bounds at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
Greenport Harbor Brewing Company is getting bigger, and fast. The company launch in 2009 with little more than two owning partners and a brewer. Four years later, the brewery employs more than a dozen workers and is in the process of building a second brewhouse. But the brewery’s quick expansion has not swayed its resolve to maintain control over their own product and quality.
I recently met with Head Brewer DJ Swanson. He pulled his head out of a steaming fermenter to greet me upon arrival at the fire house-turned-brewery that dates back to the early 1900s. The cozy historic structure fits well in the quaint village of Greenport and houses the brewery’s production facility, tasting room and retail shop. Luckily, the serene quiet that takes over the town during the winter months like a nasty winter cold has not infected the brewery. In fact, it seems that it’s exactly the opposite. By 1:00 p.m. DJ and his crew have already kegged their Otherside IPA, power-washed the floor, and begun sanitizing tanks to start brewing their seasonal Spring beers in 18 hours. “Production is pretty much the same this time of year,” DJ yells over the powerwasher. He notes, “We might even get a little more done,” which is mostly due to the absence of the frequent summer passerby poking his or her head in to ask the painfully obvious ‘Hey…You guys brewing beer in here?’
DJ’s excitement over the brewery’s expansion in the next year is palpable. With the acquisition of a 13,000-square foot building on the corner of Route 25 and Peconic Lane in Peconic, GHBC hopes to triple its production in the upcoming year. The building is currently in the process of being prepped to become their second brewhouse. Four new stainless stee,l 90-bbl fermenters will make the Peconic brewery location a 45-barrel brewhouse, dwarfing the 15-barrel original in Greenport, which will continue to function as a production facility.
To put that volume in perspective, most of us are used to seeing half-barrel kegs (15.5gal). This size is the kind you see college kids hanging onto with both hands and hose in their mouth. In 2013, Greenport Harbor is working to increase their production from 2,800 to 6,000 barrels. Obviously, the demand for their beer is growing faster than a frat guy’s gut.
Perhaps most exciting for GHCB, and more importantly, for beer-drinkers statewide, is the addition of a bottling line. With mostly kegs and growlers available, the number of customers that get to experience their beers is limited. Once in bottle, GHBC beers will be available to almost anyone with access to a good beer store. Additionally, without the commitment of opening a 64 oz. growler (note: this is a commitment I have no problem with), more beer drinkers will be willing to give it a try. Restaurants and retailers from outside of the area will also be able to carry their Harbor Ale or Black Duck Porter with minimal investment.
Now let’s talk about the beer — because it won’t matter how much you make it if it doesn’t taste good. What I found most appealing about the four beers I tasted was that not a single beer was “over-done.” If you’ve ever had an IPA that tasted like grapefruit juice from a can, or a porter that you could smoke salmon in, you understand what I’m talking about. DJ brews with restraint — not extreme-ness — which he explains as ”I try to focus less on what everyone else is doing.” That being said, they still push the envelope on some of their brews. Personified, their Otherside IPA would be a chain-wielding, hairy-chested repo man and the Black Duck Porter an Ex-Amish convert turned drag queen. After checking things out in the cellar, DJ and I headed up to the tasting bar, located just upstairs from their fermenting wort, to taste a few current releases.
Nut Brown Ale: 4.5% ABV.
This ale, pours almost stout-like into the glass with the darkness only giving way to brown by holding it up to the light. A light thin beige lacing contrasts with how dark the beer itself is. Juicy raw barley and caramel on the nose also give you the slight impression that something huge and smoky is coming. But alas, there is balance in this style of beer, which is overlooked too often, in my eyes. The coffee and chocolate flavors are kept in check by the subtle fruitiness of just-enough hopping and a crisp dry finish. This was definitely one of the shining stars for me.
Otherside IPA: 7.5%ABV
This beer was the hoppiest of the bunch….and me likey. Pale golden in color with a thin head with the piney notes that you might expect with the dry hopping, meaning the addition of hops post-fermentation, that is done to this ale. The light malts (mostly light crystal and carapils) held up well against the vibrant and generous hop influence on the tongue. Mostly peach, apricot and a little pine flavors zap the palate with a finish that goes out kicking and screaming. This is part of the brewery’s Project Hoppiness, which involves a rotating production of different hop-forward beers. These experimental small batch productions are part of what make craft breweries so interesting.
This is GHBC’s take on a winter ale. This brooding ale keeps you warm without the fireplace. And at 7.5% ABV you probably shouldn’t be playing with an open flame anyway. It pours a deep reddish brown with a finger head. A bready, yeast quality on the nose and palate bring a little complexity to this beer. The palate is dominated by cocoa and espresso with a nice crispness that gives this beer just enough liveliness. A touch of sweetness and a long finish make this beer a perfect match with roasted poultry dishes.
Gobsmacked IPA: 5.7%ABV
This was probably one of the few “session” IPAs I’ve tried recently. It is touted as an “International Pale Ale” on the tasting room’s chalkboard — mostly because the style sways away from the piney-citrusy west coast style IPA and is pretty approachable. Again, this brew has a nicely balanced malt/hop profile but I found there was just a little too much bitterness on the mid-palate. It’s unique in that it approaches the style of an IPA without the overpowering alcohol and hop character. This would be a great growler choice for kicking back on the couch for an afternoon of football watching and ravenous wing-eating.
Overall, GHBC is definitely expanding in the right direction. They have an impressive lineup of beers and maintain control of their production, as mentioned in Greg Doroski’s op-ed piece last month. With several Spring beers in the making, including a Black Saison (Canard Noir), Havre Rouge, and Spring Turning, GHBC ales are stepping up their game and portfolio. Check out their Facebook page where they announce their new-release parties across Long Island and the five boroughs. Remember to look out on your shelves this summer for one of their fresh bottles, or poke into their new location to ask if they’re making beer.