The bestest and freshest place to taste a brewery's suds ain't a pub; it's straight from the source, inches from where the beers are made, at the brewery's taproom.
22 Mill Creek Road, Port Jefferson, 877-475-2739, portjeffbrewing.com; Daily, 12:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Did You Know? Port Jeff's uses just-picked hops from Condzella's Farm in Wading River and Wesnofske Farms in Peconic to brew Fresh Hop Ale, its aptly named celebration of the annual harvest (typically sometime in August or September). This pungent pale ale is crafted within hours of harvesting the plants at their peak ripeness, unleashing unmatchable hop aromas and flavors.
After a decade of homebrewing in Port Jefferson, Michael Philbrick opened the harbor-hugging town's first modern-day brewery in 2011. While distribution has expanded every year since, with suds now traveling as far as New York City and Westchester County, the only spot to comprehensively taste Port Jeff's crew of nautical-named brews is its pint-size taproom, where 12 drafts are poured from a boat-shaped bar. Ale-hoy! A visit will definitely prompt an encounter with Schooner Ale, the brewery's flagship (an English-style pale ale), but also expect frequent appearances by different one-off cask beers infused with interesting ingredients—like a rose hips-flavored, honey-sweetened Schooner. Port Jeff has accumulated over 25 wooden barrels to mature beers and all final products are bottled—until now. It will start canning in-house this month, starting with Overboard Russian Imperial Stout, aged in Heaven Hill Distilleries bourbon barrels for four months.
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Ryes N Bok: A swerve from the classic German style, this weizenbock substitutes wheat for rye to educe a spicy, earthy character and uses the Weihenstephan Weizen yeast for delicate notes of banana and clove. 7.1% ABV
Party Boat IPA: This heavily hopped IPA possesses boatloads of orangey aroma and snappy bitterness. It's also packaged in cans—ideal for one’s boat. 7.7% ABV
Apple Brandy Barrel Cold North Wind: Port Jeff’s latest 22-ounce bottled beer is a version of Cold North Wind matured for three months in apple brandy barrels. This souped-up strong ale is only sold in-house. 9.5% ABV
Overboard Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout: A thick stout aged for four months in Heaven Hill Distilleries bourbon barrels, each sip reveals a marriage of chocolate, dark-roasted malts, and oak—and, of course, bourbon. Port Jeff’s newest canned brew. 9.3% ABV
42155 Main Road, Peconic, 631-477-1100, greenportharborbrewing.com; Mon-Thu, 3:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m., Fri, 3:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Sat, 12:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Sun, 12:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Did You Know? Greenport Harbor makes a proprietary beer for Salvation Taco, a taquería in Manhattan, which is also often available at both of the brewery's taprooms. Devil's Plaything is a spicy and citrusy IPA made with oranges, limes, bitter orange peel, and chiles.
Since launching Greenport Harbor from an old firehouse in 2009, John Liegey and Richard Vanderburgh have confidently blazed the North Fork's Ale Trail; and the beer-mad buddies' pioneering torch continues to burn brightly, as the peninsula's first brewery has become Long Island's first to expand to two facilities—and two taprooms. The newest space, in Peconic, eases the maxed-out progenitor and converts a former car dealership into a 13,000-square-foot beer-driven operation. Its 30-barrel brewhouse provides brewmaster DJ Swanson with the capacity to quadruple production. The larger equipment also allows Swanson to creatively travel beyond the brewery's everyday recipes and test-drive more adventurous, small-scale beers like Cuvaison, an annually produced Belgian-style blonde ale injected with grapes from different North Fork wineries (last year's showcased Jamesport Vineyards). A new chapter on terroir, Cuvaison surely fits the ambiance of Peconic's barn-evoking, 14-draft taproom. Note: Greenport will also start bottling on Main Road sometime in 2015, packaging six-packs of Harbor Ale, Black Duck Porter, and Otherside IPA.
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Spring Turning Rye Saison: The return of spring is celebrated appropriately with this quaff-friendly saison; its finish is deliciously dry and peppery, the latter from a dose of rye malt. 6.2% ABV
Harbor Ale: This wheat-driven pale ale cruises carefree with a citrusy aroma and light hop bitterness; Greenport's flagship, refreshing and always available at both taprooms. 5.3% ABV
St. McCain's Dubbel Trouble Pancake Sauce: The brewery's fifth anniversary beer—#5, a dark, sweet, and tart Belgian-style dubbel aged with sour cherries—returns for another limited engagement, without the injection of cherries. 6.0% ABV
Canard Noir: Greenport's Black Duck Porter has migrated to Belgium. Canard originated simply by fermenting the brewery's espresso-scented classic with a saison yeast. The recipe has evolved; expect a complex blanket of fruity flavor and pepper-like spiciness atop the foundation's roastiness. 6.5% ABV
920 Lincoln Avenue, Holbrook, 631-942-3255, spiderbitebeer.com; Thu, 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Fri, 3:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Sat-Sun, 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
Did You Know? Spider Bite was the winner of TAP New York's F.X. Matt Memorial Cup, the festival's annual award for Best Craft Brewery in New York State, in 2012.
A summer of swatting the shuddersome spiderwebs bridging their homes incited frequent attacks by the silk-spinning architects, which inspired the name of Larry Goldstein and Anthony LiCausi's brewery. The longtime neighbors had contracted all beer since launching in 2011 until last month, when they opened a brick-and-mortar outlet to supplement the outsourcing; its taproom has eight legs—err, drafts. While most of Spider Bite's "alerachnids"—First Bite Pale Ale, Eye Be Use Imperial IPA, White Bite Wheat Ale—are still outsourced to Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswitch, Massachusetts, Goldstein is using his new 1.5-barrel brewhouse to experiment with rare species exclusively for Holbrook. This will include barrel-aged versions of existing beers—a whiskey-soaked Boris The Spider, the brewery's potent imperial stout—and new sour ales spiked with wild yeasts and fruits—Bohemia Raspberry, a blonde ale fermented with Brettanomyces and matured with fresh raspberries.
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P.I.T.A. IPA: After a day of troubleshooting, or troublebrewing, Goldstein referred to this intensely hopped IPA—Citra delivers bright notes of passion fruit and guava—as a "royal pain in the ass. Luckily it came out delicious." 7.0% ABV
Rophenia: A brash riff on The Who's 1973 album, Quadrophenia, this Belgian-style quadrupel is colored ruby, lightly kissed with sweetness, and tastes of caramel and cherries. 10.0% ABV
Ale X: This black-as-Shaft IPA is exclusively dosed with Simcoe hops to provide musky, citrus-like character. It’s dizzingly strong and delightful. 11.5% ABV
Fundur Session IPA: This low-alcohol IPA, presenting wonderful grapefruit and floral aromas, is insanely easy to quaff. Funder is Icelandic for "session" and Beeric for "crushable." 4.7% ABV
Photo: Rob Seifert