2014 Businesspeople of the Year: Riverhead’s craft brewers

By Joseph Pinciaro for Riverhead News-Review
Photo by Barbaraellen Koch

When Long Ireland Beer Company owners Dan Burke and Greg Martin opened their microbrewery in 2011, it was hard to imagine that several more breweries would open in the 11901 Zip code over the next few years.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Two and a half years after Long Ireland began brewing on Pulaski Street, Crooked Ladder Brewing Company opened less than a mile away, on West Main Street. Not even a year after that, Moustache Brewing Company opened on Hallett Avenue, near both other breweries.

The rapid and continued growth of the industry has put Riverhead on the map, quite literally, as a destination for craft beer on Long Island. In fact, a map on the Long Island Craft Beer Guild’s website notes that nearly 20 percent of the breweries in Nassau and Suffolk counties — that’s four out of 21 — are in Riverhead.

Our local brewers have enhanced Riverhead’s image as a destination while creating unique new products in a blossoming industry. For that, the owners of Long Ireland, Crooked Ladder and Moustache are the Riverhead News-Review’s 2014 Businesspeople of the Year.

It’s a story that’s been repeated more than once, perhaps most recently at the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce awards dinner in December, where Mr. Burke and Mr. Martin of Long Ireland were named Entrepreneurs of the Year.

Back when the duo were first considering locations for their business, including Brookhaven Town, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, then in his first term, welcomed them into his office. He also dispatched members of his staff to find a location for their company in Riverhead. After visiting a few buildings around town, Mr. Burke and Mr. Martin settled on the former Agway building.

A craft beer drinker himself, Mr. Walter said that while he’d seen Riverhead from the start as a place where the beer industry could grow, he didn’t expect that growth to happen as quickly as it has.

“Is it something I thought would take off to three, four or five breweries in three, four or five years? No,” he said. “But I always knew getting Long Ireland to town would be a nice way to kickstart businesses.”

The supervisor had a similar sit-down with husband and wife Matt and Lauri Spitz, owners of Moustache Brewing Co., who had considered locations in Nassau County and East Islip, but found the building process there too cumbersome.

Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association, said the New York beer industry’s “greatest growth is in the Finger Lakes and on Long Island. A lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s a heavy wine presence and built-in wine trails. So a built-in tourism base is already set.”

Crooked Ladder arrived in Riverhead with a partially built-in base of its own: David Wirth and Duffy Griffiths launched the brewery with David’s brother, Steve Wirth, who also owns Digger’s Ales and Eats, located right next door.

Each of Riverhead’s breweries has enjoyed a ride on a nationwide wave of increased interest in craft beer. And the list of local breweries continued to grow when Riverhead welcomed Twin Forks Brewing Company in December. That business is still in its infancy and its owners, twins Pete and Dan Chekijian, are in the contract brewing stage, paying another operation to brew their product — as Long Ireland did before coming to town. They also plan to eventually open a brick-and-mortar brewery and tasting room.

According to the Brewers Association, a national industry trade group, New York State was home to 75 craft breweries in 2011. That number more than doubled in the next two years — to 165 — as entrepreneurs worked to take advantage of increased demand for the product.

Mr. Leone, whose position was created by the New York State Brewers Association 18 months ago, said his group is currently developing an economic study of state breweries.

No doubt, Riverhead should get a mention or two.

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